Chili Challenge

It's good to be the queen -- of the throne: Last year's monarch Judy Waldman

With beans or without? With meat or without? Sirloin, veal, how about pork? The great chili controversy rages on. It's an argument not often heard in these parts, for chili is mostly thought of as a dish of the Southwest, a spicy comforting stew that warms one in cool weather, something South Floridians sorely lack on a regular basis. Appropriate for Miami, however, is the passion and competitiveness chili seems to arouse in people. An international organization is devoted to the stuff, and cookoffs galore go on all over the globe. More than 300 contests took place in 2000, says the International Chili Society, a group that sanctions such events (often benefiting charities) and holds the annual World Champion Chili Cookoff, which it boasts is the world's largest food contest.

Our own ICS-approved event will occur this weekend when Chili in the Village takes over Pinecrest Gardens. Co-sponsored by the Gardens and the Junior League of Miami, the competition welcomes everyone who can wield a spoon with divisions created for novices, restaurants, and corporate folks. Makers of salsa, peripheral to chili and a serious staple condiment for more than just the Southwestern diet, will also be invited to vie for prizes. Top honors will go to the best restaurant brew and the people's choice. As folks gorge themselves into abdominal cramps, the Eighteen Wheelers, the Flying Turtles, Grant Livingston, and the Hot Java Band will serenade them.

Around the same time a few miles south, the smell of beef, beans, spices, tomatoes, and gosh knows what else will fill the air at Prime Outlets, host of the tenth annual Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce Super Chili Bowl Cook-Off and Charity Outhouse Race. A small fee allows you to sample and pass judgment on the various blends. Entertainment for the whole family includes the Great Tomato Race (yes, a contest for lowly vegetables) and the Refrigerator Art Booth, where kids can get creative and make their own works.

And for those scatological references that just can't be escaped when it comes to events featuring big runny bowls of meat and beans, a toilet seat-painting contest will be held highlighting elaborately decorated functioning or nonfunctioning bathroom fixtures. The coup de grace, however, has to be a race between custom-built outhouses on wheels. The winner will be crowned king of the throne, or even queen as in last year's winner, Homestead Councilwoman Judy Waldman. With all the spicy chow and cheap thrills, those who lack cast iron-lined guts shouldn't leave home without one thing: the Pepto.

The Greater Homestead/Florida City Chamber of Commerce Super Chili Bowl Cook-Off and Charity Outhouse Race goes on from noon to 4:00 p.m. Saturday, January 31, at Prime Outlets, 250 E Palm Dr. Admission is $5. Call 305-247-2332. Chili in the Village takes place from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday, January 31, at Pinecrest Gardens, 11100 SW 57th Ave. Admission ranges from $3 to $5; a chili sampling/judging kit costs $15. Call 305-669-6942.

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