Thanksgiving is behind us and Port St. Joe is gearing up for a staple of the holiday season: the fourth annual Junior Service League Chili Cook-off.
The event will kick off at noon this Saturday in its new location in the Sailor’s Cove parking lot, located next to the Haughty Heron.
The cook-off will bring together 20 local teams to battle it out for the title of “Best Chili in Port St. Joe.”
Held amidst the Christmas on the Coast celebration, each team will pick a name, set up a table and attempt to wow attendees with their recipes. Last year’s event brought 13 teams to the challenge, but this year, the JSL wanted to go bigger.
“Our goal was 15 teams and 20 have already signed up,” said JSL member and event organizer Kaci Rhodes. “That’s awesome!”
Each team will be assigned a secret number and a panel of judges will conduct a blind taste test on each group’s concoction. First-, second- and third-place prizes will be awarded based on taste, texture and appearance.
A spirit award will also be given to the team who decorates their table with the most eye-catching setup.
During the event, tickets can be purchased for $1 each to be spent toward a cup or bowl any team’s chili, along with cookies, brownies and various beverages.
The team with the most tickets at the end of the day will receive the People’s Choice award.
Rhodes was nominated by the JSL committee to organize the cook-off and was responsible for acquiring beer licenses, advertising, picking promotional posters and gathering sponsors for the event.
She attended the cook-off for the first time last year and enjoyed it so much that she couldn’t wait to helm the next installment.
“It was wonderful,” said Rhodes of the 2012 event. “I really enjoyed sampling each team’s chili.”
Rhodes joined the JSL last year and has helped with the annual Easter Egg Hunt and bartended at local fundraisers. While she sees the cook-off as a hometown tradition, she doesn’t lose sight of the JSL’s goal for the event.
“Our mission is to help kids,” said Rhodes. “The money goes back to the community.”
In the past, Rhodes has been part of an event that took 50 local kids to Sears to purchase clothes for the holiday season. Guidance counselors at Wewahitchka and Port St. Joe schools each chose 25 students based on need and those kids were taken to the department store and given $100 to buy necessities.
This year’s shopping trip will take the children to Kohl’s in Panama City.
“I have a passion for helping kids,” said Rhodes on her choice to join the JSL. “When I knew they were heavily involved, I had to join.”
During a previous holiday, Rhodes tried to purchase clothes for children in the community, but because she organized the project alone, the logistics quickly became overwhelming. She saw the positives of teaming up with a local group in the community.
“We can do more with more people,” said Rhodes.
All funds raised from the teams, tasters, sponsors and 50/50 raffle go towards supporting the community service work that the JSL performs in Gulf County.
In addition to gallons of tasty chili, live music at the event will be provided by Konkrete Soul, a bouncy house will keep the kids entertained and adult refreshments will be available for purchase.
Team Registration forms can be picked up at the Welcome Center, Haughty Heron, Persnickety and A&A Homecare in Wewahitchka or by contacting any member of the Junior Service League.
“It’s a good time of year, and a busy day for our area,” said Rhodes. “I hope people will help support the League so that we can give back to the community.”