More than 8,000 fans of hot chili con you-name-it got to sample 21 different recipes Saturday during the Sheriff Department’s annual Fun In the Sun Chili Cookoff and fundraiser at the Jack Bones Equestrian Center in Castaic.
Admission was free to all, but chili lovers paid $5 each to sample the 21 concoctions and vote for their favorite. Proceeds went to Special Olympics of the SCV, Wives Behind the Badge and LASD Motorsports. Event organizer Sgt. Gerri McCorkle, the ranch sergeant for Pitchess Detention Center, said the event brought in around $20,000 for the charities.
Taking overall top honors was the team from Homicide, repeating its Grand Master victory from 2011; the Judge’s Choice chili was brewed by Century Station; the COPS Bureau earned the People’s Choice plaque; and the Altadena Station’s swampy stew was chosen as the hottest of the hot.
It was the closest overall competition yet, with .45, less than half of a point, separating Homicide Bureau and Century Station for Grand Master.
Only two points separated the first- and third-place winners of the People’s Choice Award, the closest ever for that category (COPS Bureau finished with 119 votes, TST North/ALADS finished with 118 votes, and Personnel Bureau finished with 117 votes).
Altadena Station’s swampy chili won First Place in the “Best Tasting Hottest” category | Photos by Stephen K. Peeples
In the Booth Awards, top honors went to North County Correctional Facility for “Best Theme,” Medical Services Bureau for “Most Creative” and the Transportation Bureau/ALADS for “Best Spirited.”
The chili’s consistency ranged from thick paste to pungent soup, the aroma tantalizing those with adventurous taste buds to wave their “chili cards” and get a sample.
This year’s chili judges came from various groups, including credit union staff, members of the SCV Senior Center foundation, a former deputy’s father and a CHP officer, thrown in to spice things up. Most of the judges were first-timers, removing the possibility of favoritism.
Some of the cooks had been at it for hours; cooking down pounds of ground beef, steak and chicken, mountains of beans of all descriptions and fillers like tomatoes, corn and of course, chili peppers.
The chili cookoff is one of the ways the public gets to see the Sheriff’s Department and its staff — which includes much more than patrol deputies — in a different setting. While the cookoff itself is held on one end of the Pitchess Detention Center, the deputies bring their families for the fun, which included games, activities and a petting zoo for kids as well as demonstrations of department skills.
The 21 competing units — either bureaus such as Homicide and Special Victims or different stations, such as Century or units at the jail, such as PDC South and North, and everything in between — were down a few from the 24 entrants in 2011, but the crowd this year was larger than last year’s, McCorkle said.
On the opposite side of the street from the chili booths were booths set up by local nonprofit groups, or sponsors of the event, as well as local vendors including a booth selling hand-made soaps and another that sold hula-hoops.
“We had 21 chili booths, 19 of those were unit booths within the Sheriff’s Department and then we had one from the District Attorney’s office and the Special Olympics booth,” McCorkle said. “What it does is it allows these teams to team-build, bring out their families and partners for the social atmosphere.
“And then the community has the opportunity to see how we outreach to a charity,” she continued. “They get a different feel or light on law enforcement. They see us and the department displays helping our children, and it really is a family event. It really brought out a lot of kids, and you get the feel as you’re walking up the street, the camaraderie, but also the partnership with the community. Every year we go through the event and we don’t have any incidents. It’s just a really impressive family fun day.”
Sheriff’s Department folks are big supporters of Special Olympics, participating in medal ceremonies, a variety of “Tip a Cop” restaurant fundraisers and the annual Torch Run with other law enforcement agencies.
The department has a charitable giving campaign and events like the Fun In the Sun Chili Cookoff help all participating units make their contributions, covering their obligation to Special Olympics and the other designated charities, so they can use funds collected at the station to help support their own staff.
Medical Services Bureau’s autopsy chili display won the “Most Creative” booth award.
The crowds attending aren’t all deputies and their families, but a mix of supporters from the public as well as friends and family.
The event also helps raise money to enhance the equestrian facilities at Bones, used by the posse and department mounted groups for practice and training, as well as a place for retirement gatherings and other events.
McCorkle also gave credit to the more than 200 volunteers who work before, during and after the cookoff to make it a success, in addition to the units who turned out two weeks earlier to start building their booths. Their efforts have turned the chili cookoff into an eagerly anticipated annual event.
“I received a call from the Andy Gump company and they wanted to know if we could utilize their services,” McCorkle said. “The girl and I had a conversation and I said we were already using their services, and she said, ‘I love that event. I grew up there, I’ve been going there since I was a little girl.’
“It’s pretty neat that we have something that is a community event and something she looks forward to,” McCorkle said.
Altadena Station’s swampy chili won First Place in the “Best Tasting Hottest” category, up from third place last year.
Carol Rock contributed to this story.
2012 FUN IN THE SUN CHILI COOKOFF WINNERS
Grand Master — Homicide Bureau
Medical Services Bureau
LASD Fire Camp
Medical Services Bureau
North County Correction Facility (NCCF)
Mira Loma Facility
Parks Bureau, Lakes