Holiday season kicked into swing with the first annual Winter Warm-Up and Chili Cook-Off at the civic center Nov. 15. This new event was sponsored by the Key Peninsula Civic Center Association and replaced the previous Holiday Arts and Crafts Fair, which had a long history on the Key Peninsula.  Included this year were an Artists’ Gallery Row and Kids’ Crafts Corner which was sponsored by Two Water Arts Alliance.

Chili cook-off winners accept trophies: Joyce Niemann accepts third place for the Key Peninsula Historical Society, Leona Britt recipe; Shanon Klink, with his son Koen, accepts second place; and Debbie Lang accepts first place and $100 prize money award. Photo by Danna Webster

By 10 a.m. the gymnasium, filled with 50 displays of crafts and arts, offered a shopping spree opportunity. Overlooking the shoppers, on the balcony, was a children’s craft area where kids made holiday ornaments. The kitchen bustled with cooks and helpers preparing chili and hot dogs; and the Whitmore Room was set up for relaxed dining. The VFW Room collected an assortment of crock pots as 18 hometown cooks carried in their chili specialties for the afternoon judging. During the chili judging hour, contestants and their fans browsed the museum. Shoppers carried away bird houses, soaps, jewelry and bags of gifts. Glamorous bowling balls were sold out in a hurry. Vendors and shoppers exchanged contact information and business cards for future reference.

At 1 p.m., seven judges- Oliver Coldeen, Scott Gallacher, Tim Kezele, Jud Morris, George Robison, Ben Thompson and Chuck West gathered in the VFW room to determine which hometown chili cook would walk away with the $100 first place prize money.

The judging began with an elimination round which determined the top four contestants. The judges went through dozens of saltines and several bottles of water to clear their palates. After a brief break, when the disqualified contestants picked up their crock pots, the judges returned at 2 p.m. for the final round of tasting. The entries were scored on aroma, consistency, color, taste and aftertaste. The hometown cooks shared a few secret ingredients as they waited for the results. Hints of 15 beans, barbequed chicken, a dash of whiskey, a splash of tequila and a secret recipe for Uncle Greg’s 3-Day chili were bantered around. The judges awarded first place to Debbie Lang of Lakebay, second place to Shanon Klink of Lakebay, third place to the Key Peninsula Historical Society of Vaughn with chili prepared by Leona Britt, and fourth place was awarded to Linda Johnson of Lakebay. When cook-off contestant Larry Mayer overheard chili judge Chuck West’s lament that there was no beer to wash down the chili, Meyer advised a trip to Peninsula market for some cottage cheese. “Best thing for stomach acid,” he said.

The civic center’s event coordinator, PJ Calahan, appreciated the exquisite tasting capabilities of the seven judges. Calahan presented the trophies and prize money to the contestants on stage.

After the event, Calahan was asked for an email response about the first Winter Warm-Up and Chili Cook-Off. “We couldn’t be happier with the turnout. The quality of arts and crafts vendors was great, as well as the chili cook-off entries. I especially appreciated the help of our volunteers, including our chili judges, KP Lions, Senior Society, KP Historical Society, KPCCA Board, and Peninsula and Gig Harbor High School Key Club members. People are already asking about next year, so I’m sure we’ll be back again in 2009,” she stated.

Jeanette Brown and Colleen Slater contributed to this story.

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