New recipe whipped up for Chili Cook-off

With a new location, a new event partner and a new time of day, Cayman’s Chili Cook-off took place on Saturday 1 July at the Royal Palms Beach.

In recent years, the Chili Cook-off was held in conjunction with the Taste of Cayman event on an empty lot near Safe Haven. But for a variety of reasons, the event moved to the Royal Palms and paired with another annually scheduled event, Wet Fest.

The changes were made for several reasons. The Safe Haven lot was no longer available, so that necessitated the change in venue.

In addition, after the Taste of Cayman was postponed by bad weather twice last year – which ultimately led to its cancellation – organizers decided to move the event from the Constitution Day holiday weekend in July to early November.

However, since the winner of Cayman’s Chili Cook-off gets to represent the Caribbean region in the annual World Championship Chili Cook-off held in October, Cayman’s event had to take place earlier than the Taste of Cayman.

When it was combined with the Taste of Cayman, the Chili Cook-off took place in the evening, and included live entertainment and other attractions such as fireworks and the raffling off of an automobile.

This year, it took place from noon until 6pm and the other main attraction was the Wet Fest event, which is designed to give residents the ability to take part in a variety of watersports activities at deeply discounted prices. Admission to the combined Chili Cook-off/Wet Fest event was only $5.

Organisers were disappointed that the Chili Cook-off only attracted four participating teams this year. In 2004, 22 teams participated, said event organizer and head chili-head Mike Flowers.

‘We had six [competitors] register, but two didn’t make it,’ he said.

Rod McDowall, immediate past president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, which runs the event, said he thought part of the reason fewer teams participated this year was because in the past, many of the restaurants competing in the Taste of Cayman event on Saturday would decide just to keep their booth up two more days and participate in the Chili Cook-off on Monday as well.

The Chili Cook-off has a long history in Cayman. It was first held in 1986 by the Lions Club, an event which Mr. Flower’s restaurant the Lone Star Bar and Grill won.

After a year off, the old Cayman Islands Restaurant Association started running the event on an annual basis. It was held in Lone Star’s parking lot one year, then at the old Holiday Inn on Seven Mile Beach, then at the Treasure Island Hotel and then at the Safe Haven site. Eventually CITA took over running the event.

At its height at Safe Haven as part of Taste of Cayman, the Chili Cook-off drew 1,500 to 2,000 people, Mr. Flowers said. A little more than 300 people attended this year’s event.

While it might not approach its peak numbers again in the near future, both Mr. Flowers and Mr. McDowall are optimistic it can become an important item on Cayman’s event calendar.

To start with, there’s a plan to increase the competition in 2007, Mr. McDowall said.

‘Next year we’ll be throwing out the gauntlet and coming up with a challenge event for the restaurants,’ he said. ‘And we’ll dress up the booths a little more.’

The event will also move back to its usual holiday Monday date, Mr. McDowall said, noting that for whatever reason, Saturday did not seem as popular.

‘That was something we learned,’ said Mr. Flowers, noting that the World Cup quarter-final matches were going on at the same time.

Mr. Flowers said that they hope to grow the event by adding things like fireworks back to the mix.

‘Hopefully, we’ll do it with the government’s support,’ he said.

The change in days will hopefully help the Wet Fest, too.

‘The disappointing thing was, that the Wet Fest is an event that is designed to allow the local population to enjoy tourist watersports,’ he said. ‘But we didn’t get as many local people or children as we would have liked.’

Discounts during Wet Fest were substantial: dive trips cost $20; wave runner rides $10; Atlantis submarine rides $20; parasail rides $25; and banana boat rides or kayak rentals only $5.

Regardless of the disappointments, Mr. McDowall thinks it was good to have the Chili Cook-off again.

‘It was a good start to the reintroduction of the event,’ he said.

This year’s Chili Cook-off was won by Red Sail Sports, which won a trip to four to the World Championship Chili Cook-off in Omaha, Nebraska from 6-8 October.

‘They not only know how to swim, they can cook,’ said Mr. Flowers.

Second place went to Hurley’s Entertainment Group.