News

Palo Alto Chili Cook-Off aims to be less spirited

Palo Alto recreation officials want to tone down rowdy behavior and flow of booze at annual July 4 event

This year's July 4 Palo Alto Chili Cook-off will be less rowdy and less spirited than in past years, under a new "code of conduct" adopted by the city's Recreation Department, which sponsors the annual cook-off.

Excessive rowdiness of some teams and free-flowing alcohol "bribes" to judges will be curtailed under a new set of rules.

The rules prohibit public drunkenness and "inappropriate behavior" by chili team members. They also ban teams from "bribing" judges with alcohol.

"Conduct that violates these rules may result in exclusion and/or removal from the event and loss of eligibility to participate in future Chili Cook-Off events," the code of conduct states.

The department established the code following an incident involving an individual team in last year's cook-off. The "Top Gun Chili" team was initially banned from competing this year as a result of their "highly intoxicated behavior" and "use of inappropriate language and gestures," Recreation Supervisor Minka van der Zwaag said. The ban was lifted after the group appealed, but the team has decided not to compete this year anyway, she said.

Top Gun Chili last year won the "Curtis Berger Spirit Award" for the event.

"We had no policies in place to support an exclusion," van der Zwaag said. "We spoke to the team about what happened last year and got assurances from them that it would not happen again and an understanding of the family-friendly nature of the Chili Cook-Off."

Although the code of conduct stemmed from Top Gun Chili's behavior, recreation officials intended to institute the rule against bribing judges with alcohol anyway.

"We would like to re-focus this fun, lighthearted event on the chili," van der Zwaag said.

In the past, bribes have involved teams passing Mardi gras beads as well as margaritas to judges. Although the bribes are "fun," the cook-off "is first and foremost a family event," van der Zwaag said. "We want the atmosphere at the cook-off to reflect this and hence have banned gifts of alcoholic beverages to the judges."

The Annual Summer Festival and Chili Cook-Off will feature live bands, line dancing, food vendors and a Kids Area complete with inflatables and face painting. The festival will be held from noon to 5 p.m. at Mitchell Park. Public chili tasting begins at 1:30 p.m. For more information about the Palo Alto Chili Cook-Off, visit www.cityofpaloalto.org.

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Comments

Like this comment
Posted by Defector
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2009 at 2:08 pm

I'm actually forgoing this year's Chili Cook-off. Last year's cook-off was so ridiculously crowded that most of the stalls had run out of chili by the time I made it to the front. And yes, I got there right when the tasting started. Without the chili, it's definitely a fun time. But standing in line for half an hour, only to be told, 'Sorry, we're out!' is so not worth it...


Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:18 pm

I think Palo Alto should just ban fun. Saves time in the long run.


Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2009 at 4:21 pm

Defector-

That's a shame that you didn't get to try any of the chili. Our group actually made a mid-day run to Piazzas to buy more meat and supplies to make a second round of chili when we were close to running out.

Yes, the lines were long, which is why our team made a concerted effort to "back-serve" the patrons at the end of the line, thereby attacking the problem at both ends. Hope you change your mind and go again this year, and Top Gun Chili will see you in 2010!


Like this comment
Posted by Fairmeadow 2nd grader 1966
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Thank God medical marijuana is still legal there! It goes better with the chili anyway.


Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 18, 2009 at 11:02 pm

Was there always such emphasis on "family events" and "family fun?" Are there any downtown, outdoor events for adults? It's wonderful that there are so many activities for families and children, but they are not the only people of Palo Alto. It might be nice to have a few city sponsored activities where grown-ups may drink and enjoy lively festivities without worrying about offending anyone.


Like this comment
Posted by Cooked
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2009 at 3:21 am

Ooo line dancing. No bribes? What is this, Bay to Breakers. I agree, this never was a "family" event, why must we homogenize and regress to the mean in this city.


Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:27 am

There's no need to spend the whole day in lines. I just go to the booths with very short lines and get some interesting and tasty chilis anyway. I think the "usual winners" are over-hyped.


Like this comment
Posted by somebody
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:39 am

Why do we need separate fun events for adults and kids? Is it really so scarring for a kid to see some young adults being drunk and having fun? This ban is ridiculous. I never suspected Palo Alto to be capable of such snobbery.


Like this comment
Posted by Sylvia
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:48 am

The success of the Chili Cook-off is wonderful. But it's true that the lines are daunting. Last year I forgot my sun block and got a very tired arm holding up my fanny pack to shield my face from the rays while in those long, long lines. I was not aware people were trying to "bribe" the judges, so a policy against this sort of makes sense. Insofar as rowdiness and excessive alcohol consumption, the article was a bit confusing. I assume you meant the group competing and not the patrons themselves. I've gone for quite a few years and the behavior of the attendees has always seemed exemplary. I don't think I've ever seen anyone acting out or appearing intoxicated.

An idea I had probably is impractical and would involve booth redesign or perhaps more volunteers in those booths. But, if the booths were wider and staffed with more people, perhaps four people at a time could have chili ladled into those little cups.


Like this comment
Posted by BP person
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 11:54 am

I wish the Chilli Cook-Off would restrict the giving out of alcohol from the chilli booths and have it only where they sell beer and margaritas. It is very easy to give it to teens when it is available at the chilli booths.


Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 19, 2009 at 12:26 pm

BP, is that something that you have seen in the past? I've never seen teens drinking at the Chili Cook-Off before. Is the concern here about things that have happened previously or about things that could happen possibly?


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Posted by General Wastemoreland
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2009 at 1:16 pm

Golly, trading something of value for special treatment by judges is perfectly congruent with the behavior of much of Silicon Valley where the Defense industry has used these techniques, forever, to gain favor with military brass, DOD, and Defense Appropriations committee members.

How many of us are beneficiaries of the DOD largesse that ripples through our economy? Has there ever been a major weapon system that wasn't sold through back door dealings?

How else to teach children how the remaining major business of the US of A is really done?


Like this comment
Posted by Ken Lay
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 19, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Excellent point, General.

I think Palo Alto should bring back fun for adults. I also think residents should be classified as city employees since we now have to tote three trash/recycling/yard waste containers to the curb.

Maybe we can get some benefits besides rate hikes and qualify for utility discounts for change?

Can other great minds help to make this worthy cause a reality?


Like this comment
Posted by Lynn Ware
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 19, 2009 at 1:56 pm

My kids have participated in the Chili cookoff for the past four years. Last year they won first place in the Vegetarian category. I must say I was surpised when the intoxicated team won the "best Spirit Award" at the festival. Why reward that kind of behavior if it is unwanted?

I am glad the family focus will be back this summer. Chili Penguins will rise again!


Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2009 at 2:33 pm

How many teams competed for the best vegetarian chili award at the cookoff? Three? We had to beat out all 20 for the best spirit award!


Like this comment
Posted by Ace Snake
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 19, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I wonder if anything is to be said about the judges selected for the cook off? Them being so susceptible to bribes and whatnot, why not select judges with the integrity to keep the event pure for residents ages 6 and under.

Why not hold a pacifier and diaper-off, obviously more suitable for the intended audience. Instead of housing chili teams, the booths could be changing rooms and private breast feeding areas. A bunch of babies could organize the entire event to exclude adults! Oh wait...


Like this comment
Posted by Hoozat
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 6:25 pm

Fun for adults in Palo Alto? Only in the big private estates behind closed doors maybe. Remember a few years back one of the bigger bars near University was going to put on a female mud-wrestling event one weekend, and the Palo Altans were just so outraged they got the cops to put the kybosh on the whole thing. What a joke. What we need is a Hooters in Stanford Shopping Center, with no prerequisites for waitresses so some of the Atherton dames would have a shot. Just the ticket!


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 9:32 pm

I am sure the chili cook-off will have the same feel as in years past. Those who are overtly disobeying the rules will now no longer be tolerated. I am sure this policy is to give the city recourse so that they have a leg to stand on in future years.

We are as excited as ever to bring back our award winning chili again!

For those of you looking for events for adults- head to Redwood City...they have over 130 events this year on Courthouse Square. Something almost daily. Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 19, 2009 at 9:48 pm

"I wonder if anything is to be said about the judges selected for the cook off? Them being so susceptible to bribes and whatnot, why not select judges with the integrity to keep the event pure for residents ages 6 and under."

Not sure if this is sarcastic or not, but wanted to state that the bribery is all in good fun. We have given gift bags, cookies, beads, and even fed them while fanning them with palm leaves. All of the chili awards (except spirit & people's choice) are blind taste tests.

Lighten up :-)


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2009 at 1:22 am

Wow... I doubt if the mayor had anything to do with this. He seemed to enjoy top guns antics. It seemed most attendees enjoyed them.

Maybe encourage more chili makers to participate to shorten the lines.

No alcohol? Maybe a way to reduce attendees? It does get busy out there. Doesn't give the regular chili makers much incentive to participate in this long standing PA tradition.

If it is not broken, don't fix it!!!

Seems like an individual is pushing their vision of what the cookoff should be.
Unfortunately these people are out there. Like the person who thought a Britney Spears half time show during the superbowl is a good idea. That led to Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake :\ . Let's tear down the old Stanford theatre while we are at it.


Like this comment
Posted by General Hershey Bar
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2009 at 12:03 pm

Last year's judges (who awarded Top Gun Chili the "Curtis Berger Spirit Award) included Council Member John Barton and Parks and Recreation Commissioner (and Palo Alto Weekly blogger) Paul Losch: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by P.A. Native
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 20, 2009 at 1:02 pm

"For those of you looking for events for adults- head to Redwood City..."

Yes sir! Sorry to offend your sensibilities!


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2009 at 2:00 pm

The PA chili cookoff has been our (the people who live in palo alto) adult event for 25 some odd years... Mt view resident.

Goto safeway and your backyard for your family chili event.

This event is a cellebration of homemade chilli. That is the focus. The chillimakers are the stars of the event. Let them do as they wish. This has never been an event to get your kids out of the house although they are welcomed to attend.

As far as the judges drinking? Should be determined by the chili makers.



Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of University South
on Jun 20, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I have heard that one of the teams - Chugalug - will not be participating in this years event - supposedly not invited back - maybe due to their team name - funny they have been a participant for 21 years - and one of their team members passed away (at the cookoff) and now has the spirit award named after him - pretty sad if you ask me.


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 20, 2009 at 7:45 pm

I highly doubt Chug-a-lug was not "uninvited" back. They have been a staple at the event for years, we have shared a booth with them for many of them(back when the cook off shared booths). If they are not coming back, it's because they are taking a break or throwing in the towel.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr Chugalug
a resident of another community
on Jun 21, 2009 at 12:25 am

Chugalug University entered our first Palo Alto Chili Cook-off 21 years ago. Over those years we experimented with our ingredients and made some really tasty chili which resulted in winning some tyoe of award each year although I think there were two years where we winless. We started out as a bunch of college grad knuckleheads some of whom had known each other since kindergarten at Garland and Walter Hays.

Who would of thought cooking chili on July 4th each year would have become such a tradition for us, our families, friends and loyal chili tasters. Two years ago we were again on top of the world for once again winning best overall chili while celebrating our 20th cook off. The joy of that day was quickly taken away when our dearest Curtis suffered a massive heart attack while cleaning up the booth after the awards ceremony. The courageous PAFD did their best for Curtis that evening but he was unfortunately gone. All this occcurred while the band was playing Green Day's Time of Your Life which just made the whole thing so surreal for all of us that day and beyond.

Last year at the cook off we decided to cook in honor of Curtis's memory, an event he would try to perfect each year. So although we cooked that day, we did not compete but rather celebrated what the cook off has represented over the years to the teams, their families and friends, and the community that supports the event which ultimately benefits the PA Recreation Foundation.

I am sure that Curtis would have been honored that the Spirit Award was renamed after him and somehow he probably knows that. When a bunch of yahoos named Top Gun Chili won the spirit award, that team reminded us of our first cook off and how crazy things were back then with over 70 teams competing.

I have read the newpaper articles surrounding all the controvery around alcohol supposedly being served to teens and not being at their booth all day, I am not going to pass any type of judgement on that subject but obviously no one is going to condone under age drinking. I can tell you that the team showed the upmost respect for Curtis's widow that day with consoling comments and their push to take a few photos to remind everyone of the happy times the cook off brings to people.

Alas the team was in a quandry this year to decide if we would once again compete with our famous smoked turkey chili, but just could not make a timely decision. I can tell you that we did not receive the usual registration letter in the mail inviting us back this year. Possibly an oversight, but my intention is not to detract from the event and what new rules have been inacted. More importantly, I hope the spirit award in not unnamed this year in Curtis's honor, because that just would not be right.

So if you love chili, get on out on the 4th to the chili cook off as the chili teams work really hard to make that perfect pot of chili for you!!!

Paul




Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

I feel like I live in that bass ackwards town from Footloose... I have heard that a particular organizer from the Palo Alto Parks and Rec is starting an initiative to ban dancing as well. We will have to bring in Kevin Bacon (Ren) to read a few passages from the Bible.

Does anyone know who initiated this "code of conduct" policy?

Note: It is known that Catholic Priest's drink wine in preparation before mass. Then have another glass behind the altar during the mass. They perform a number of masses during a Sunday. Some churches used to share the wine with church goers during mass, most notably during special religious holidays.

(I wont mention what else happens before mass, but it is similar to what the "code of conduct" perpetrator is doing to the PA chili cook-off)

Paul, I have really enjoyed and appreciated the chili your team has created for many, many, years and had the honor to meet and converse briefly with Curtis a number of times. He was a lovable, kind soul. He is sorely missed. Thank you for all the great memories.


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 22, 2009 at 12:29 am

Dissapointed,
You crack me up! Yes. Footloose.

Paul,
If I find out Chugaglug was intentionally uninvited, we may just have to boycott.
We'll miss your booth this year and team spirit. You always have a home at Elmo!


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 22, 2009 at 12:33 am

Correction "Disappointed"
Darn blackberry!


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2009 at 11:16 am

I wonder if Minka van der Zwaag was born and raised in America?

Note: A little document called the declaration of independence. One of the most important documents in US history. Approved on July 4th 1776 by the founding fathers/Congress.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

(Chili Makers rights are removed when they sacrifice their holiday to cook for the masses? If an attendee can drink, a chili maker cannot? Does anyone know if PAParks and Rec pull in revenue off of the sweat of the chili makers?)

In 1777, thirteen gunshots were fired, once at morning and again as evening fell, on July 4 in Bristol, Rhode Island. Philadelphia celebrated the first anniversary in a manner a modern American would find quite familiar: an official dinner for the Continental Congress, toasts (alcohol?), 13-gun salutes, speeches, prayers, music, parades, troop reviews, and fireworks. Ships were decked with red, white, and blue bunting.

In 1778, General George Washington marked July 4 with a double ration of rum for his soldiers and an artillery salute. Across the Atlantic Ocean, ambassadors John Adams and Benjamin Franklin held a dinner for their fellow Americans in Paris, France.

The "code of conduct" seems "anti-american"

P.S. I am not a chili maker. I am someone who speaks up when I see something that is just--WRONG. Like a Britney Spears nsync superbowl half time show.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr Chugalug
a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2009 at 4:56 pm

Just wanted to let everyone know that I talked with Minka today and confirmed two things. One that it was her oversight in not sending an invite this year as she thought we were retired. So no intentional exclusion felt by team Chugalug. Secondly the Spirit Award is still named in Curtis's honor which is much appreciated by team Chugalug and everyone who knew him. This is Minka's first year managing the event and now she knows how passionate people are about the cook off. She did offer to squeeze us in this year but we will wait for next year. Expectations are high this year for some great chilis along with a high level of spirit!!!

Paul


Like this comment
Posted by max
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 5:10 pm

Wait it just says you can't be drunk and public or bribe the judges. But it doesn't say chili teams can't drink!?! Or am I missing something? Otherwise I might not be doing the cook off this year!


Like this comment
Posted by J
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 24, 2009 at 5:47 pm

The only rules are:

- No bribing the judges with alcohol
- No drinking in the booth (drink outside of your booth)
- No giving alcohol to minors

Just be smart. The rules are there really to lean on in case of a problem.


Like this comment
Posted by Disappointed
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 24, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Un-american, not anti. Sorry.

Inside the booth, outside the booth, it's all the same thing. Sooo they will probably observe and then mysteriously misplace your invite for next year.


Like this comment
Posted by flipper
a resident of University South
on Jul 1, 2009 at 11:09 pm

'Tis a shame that Chugalug won't be with us this year. After 20+ years, losing a member of the cook-off family is something that should have been avoided at all costs. What are we to sing now? :-)

I've had the honour of serving in their booth,the honour of having my recipe adopted by the team, and the pleasure of the company of a growing family seated outside the booth enjoying an event of immense pleasure and history. We've even had the pleasure of watching a crowd panic as our 2 year old daughter tried the best chili ever and smiled at the 10th spoonful.

I'll be there this year. Maybe next year we'll put together another booth. In the end, it's a chili cook-off. Chili is hot and spicy. An event celebrating it should be the same. Let's not let one bad batch spoil it by making it too mild in the end.

Cheers Curtis.


Like this comment
Posted by Jen
a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2009 at 2:16 pm

I must be one of the few who are actually thankful for this! The Top Gun team was OUT OF CONTROL last year and made inappropriate comments to me as I was walking by. I want to be able to go do something I enjoy w/ my family an not be uncomfortable. There is nothing that says you cannot drink at the event. People are over-reacting.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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