Chili Fest draws 1,000

Published 9:48 pm Saturday, April 18, 2009

For the second year in a row, about 1,000 chili enthusiasts converged on Bennett’s Creek Park Saturday to sample chili, listen to music, make new friends and support a good cause.

“I think it’s a beautiful day, and a good crowd,” said Greg Phillips, the chairman of the event for the Bennett’s Creek Sertoma Club. The local branches of the organization – whose name is taken from the phrase “SERvice TO MAnkind” – were raising money to help local children with speech and hearing impairments. The organization also helps the Children’s Center and the Special Olympics.

“We try to keep the money local,” Phillips said. The local branches used to do a golf tournament in the fall, but wanted to begin a spring event to bring in cash, as well.

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Casey Downey, owner of Clean Cut Image Lawn & Landscape, won people’s choice chili last year, and returned this year. His chili — the version offered to the public — featured beans, meat, spices and “some special ingredients.” The crowd favorites, however, were the toppings – shredded cheese, sour cream, a flour tortilla chip and some fresh cilantro.

“The cilantro is giving it the special little kick,” Downey said.

Downey entered last year’s competition “for advertising,” he admits, bringing out the landscape trailer and constructing a walkway, complete with shrubs, for his booth. However, once he got started, he had fun.

“It’s good to get out,” he said. “I had to come back and defend my title.”

Downey later learned that the judges voted his team first in chili and first in booth design. He also earned the nod from the public, coming in first in a tally of the people’s choice ballots.

Next door to Downey, John Distasio was stirring chili with some rather unusual ingredients, including olives, Italian sausage and red wine.

“I’m a part of the club,” Distasio said, referring to the Sertoma Club. “We’re helping out the children with cochlear implants.” A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing.

Distasio wasn’t the only one of the seven chili teams that used alcohol – Blame the Dog chili maker Greg Kniemeyer poured three bottles of Guiness into his chili pot.

Check next week’s Suffolk News-Herald issues for complete lists of winners and more photos from the event, or visit to view the photos.