Harlem becomes Columbia County's spiciest locale Saturday as chili chefs and aficionados converge on the city for the third annual Mayor's Chili Challenge.
Amateurs, professionals or anyone with a great chili recipe are encouraged to pit their meat-and-bean concoctions against others for the first place and People's Choice title, said Denise Carter, an event organizer.
Harlem Mayor Scott Dean has one hope for his namesake competition: to take the top prize for the first time.
"I haven't won it," Dean said. "My own competition, and I haven't won it yet. That bites."
Dearing Mayor Sean Kelley took both top prizes last year, and a city employee and her grandfather won first place in 2006.
"They do take it seriously," Carter said of Chili Challenge competitors, who often travel from throughout the Southeast.
Cooks, who can join the competition for a $25 entry fee, cannot precook ingredients, excluding canned or bottled tomatoes, sauce, pepper sauce, peppers, beverages, broth and ground or mixed spices. They can begin cooking at 9 a.m. and must have two quarts of chili ready for the judges and two gallons for the People's Choice Award ready by noon.
Carter said the event offers a great variety of chilis for the public to sample for the People's Choice Award.
"You can buy samples," Carter said. Samples cost 25 cents and a bowl costs $1. "By buying samples, you get to vote for your favorite."
Judging begins at noon. Chili dishes will be judged based on flavor, meat texture, consistency, blend of spices, aroma and color. First prize is $100; second prize is $50; and third prize is $25.
Dean, who plans to compete for the third year, said the competition is a lot of fun for competitors and visitors. He said there is always some good-natured ribbing involved.
"It'll be great," he said. "We'll have a good time. We have fun doing it."
Proceeds will go to the city's Laurel and Hardy Museum, Carter said.
For more information or for an entry form, call Carter at (706) 556-0043 or visit www.harlemga.org.
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