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Sunday afternoon, life on Marco Island was just a bowl of chilies.

Nearly 800 people came out to the Esplanade courtyard Sunday for the fifth annual Jerry Adams Chili Cookoff put on by the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Foundation. The event honors late firefighter Jerry Adams, for many years the chili chef of the department, and is a way for the public to thank the island's first responders.

This year’s cookoff had an extra dimension, coming on the heels of Hurricane Irma. The firefighters, emergency medical technicians and administrative staff of the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Department (MIFR) stayed on duty during the storm, said Fire-Rescue Foundation president Dianna Dohm.

“They displaced their families – sent them up north or with relatives, so they wouldn’t have to worry about them – and then went around and boarded up each other’s homes before the storm," she said. "Their personal expenses were very high.”

More: Marco Island firefighter: 'This is what we signed up for'

To thank them, the foundation presented a check for $1,000 to each staff member.

“We went around to each shift, and handed them the check and a letter of thanks," Dohm said. "Some of the firefighters had tears in their eyes." 

In all, the foundation wrote checks for $40,000, and now it needs to rebuild its coffers.

For those who attended the cookoff, sampling 18 different chili recipes and listening to the sounds of the Ben Allen Band on a beautiful October day was a painless way to “give back.” They sampled as many of the chili entries as they could accommodate, and cast their ballots in the People’s Choice competition.

Professional meat purveyor Wild Jimmy’s booth offered “grass-fed, free-range tri-tip beefsteak, Mexican pork chorizo, with hard cheddar chipotle tuiles and a roasted pumpkin seed oil drizzle.” Next door, “Wild Jimmy” Downey himself was working with the Speakeasy on its chili, which was “all meat, no beans,” and trading accusations back and forth with his spouse, Dale, as to who was the traitor.

Fire-Rescue Chief Mike Murphy had a little family feud going on, as well, with his son Michael Murphy II representing the Naples Fire-Rescue Dept. The home team MIFR won the People’s Choice, though, with firefighter/EMT Ray Ladurini as executive chili chef.

Frankie’s Deli, opening next to Walmart soon, also went with a no-bean chili, slow-cooked since Thursday, said proprietor Steve Schneider. The Hilton, where the restaurant, bar and meeting rooms are open, even while the hotel remains shuttered, featured a “front to back” chili with beef cheeks, oxtail and a goat cheese crema.

People’s Choice awards went to Marketplace Home Mortgage and the Bartos Group under chef Cheryl Stokes, Mango’s in the restaurant division for its chili served over mango bread, and to the Kiwanis, with Marco Island Academy Key Club members manning the table, in the civic association category.

The Sunrise Rotary Club team, which won last year for both its chili and booth decorations, had to settle for “best booth” this year, seemingly a coven of witches who went all in on a Halloween theme.

The official judges gave “best in show” to first-time entrant Island Country Club, using the recipe of chef Jim Grabowski – “like my mother made it.”


Marco Island Fire-Rescue personnel respond to a call of a bicyclist struck by a vehicle on Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News

“This event, and what the foundation does, is a wonderful thing,” said Chief Murphy. “This represents the epitome of community support. It’s not just our department, it was all the city employees helping out after Irma.”

He presented a bouquet to Kay Adams, widow of cookoff namesake Jerry Adams.

CJ’s on the Bay provided sides, including frankfurters so attendees could make their chili into a chili dog, and Coldstone Creamery offered free samples of its ice cream.

While they were still totaling the proceeds, Dohm said that, in addition to having the biggest turnout, this year’s event brought in more dollars than any previous cookoff.

“We made almost $10,000 last year, and we’ll do better, once we figure it out,” Dohm said. But during the cookoff, she said, “I was so busy I didn’t get to taste any of them.”

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