MARCO ISLAND — They came, they tasted, they voted. Over 300 paying customers, either chili lovers, fire department supporters, or both, showed up Saturday afternoon at the Esplanade for the “First Annual Jerry Adams Chili Cook-Off,” to benefit the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Foundation.
With “first annual” events, it’s always an open question whether there will be a second annual, but event organizers had to be “full of beans” about the enthusiastic turnout. Cook-off chairman Martin Roddy showed up in his pith helmet, perhaps emblematic of hunting down the Island’s premier chili cooks. Fire-Rescue Foundation chairperson Dianna Dohm, who started out her busy day with the Kiwanis 5k run, said the response was a great turnout to late Firefighter Jerry Adams, whose son traveled to Marco for the event, and an indication of how the island loves its firefighters.
A total of 14 entries were grouped into three categories, actual “firehouse” chili made by firefighters, groups, and individuals, with each winner collecting $200 donated by Mutual of Omaha Bank, where Dohm is business development officer.
Despite being the hometown favorite, with a recipe cooked up many times by Adams, the FD’s “chili master,” Marco fell to the visitors. Top honors in the firehouse category went to the East Naples Fire-Rescue Department’s chili. Of course, they had a ringer in the kitchen, Lt. Craig Weinbaum, who has appeared on national TV as a top finalist in a “firehouse chef” competition.
For individuals, the “Black Pearl” pirate chili of Joni and Chuck Leedy took first prize. The recipe, said Chuck, included “six kinds of meat no roadkill all commercially available.”
Among the group entrants, Mango’s Dockside Bistro, around the corner from the courtyard in the Esplanade where the chili sampling took place, won for their wildly different take on chili, from the imagination of executive chef Eric Delano. Each sample included Kobe beef shish kebab, and mango red pepper marmalade “sushi stix.”
All around the courtyard, diverse takes on chili, with a wide array of ingredients, spices, and presentations tempted the tastebuds. Jason McKinney’s “tropical sweet and sour” chili uses pork sausage, because “beef is just too lean any more.” Tony Ferrara’s chili was inspired by wife Cheryl’s “State of Maine” baked beans. Barb Canton turned in a tasty and satisfying vegetarian chili.
“When you put in the meat, it draws out all the flavor,” she said. Elaine Orr added Fritos to the chili cup, which made it, she said, into a “walking taco.”
Fire-Rescue Foundation board member Jack Patterson found a way to pitch in, emptying all the trash people had been pitching in to the trash. The event, he said, highlights “what I like about Marco Island. It’s that small town atmosphere. Everyone supports the fire department.”