Spicing up Baldwin Park

Chili times in Orlando

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  • | 10:52 a.m. February 23, 2011
Photo by: Isaac Babcock
Photo by: Isaac Babcock
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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If it’s the ingredients that make a recipe a success, then the 2011 Orlando Chili Cook-Off at Baldwin Park should be a winner.

It’s good food, good drink, and good music — all for a good cause.

The second annual event is from 11 a.m. to sundown on Saturday, Feb. 26, in Blue Jacket Park, off Lakemont Avenue, adjacent to Lake Baldwin. Along with chili samples, adult beverages and live music, there will be children’s activities, food vendors, sponsor booths and more fun for the whole family.

Organizer Kenneth Roberts, of Events for Change, Inc., expects 50 to 60 chili connoisseurs to compete in this Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) sanctioned event, up from the 44 teams that competed in last year’s event.

About 3,500 people and 44 cooks from several states attended last year, and the group raised $15,700 for Special Olympics Florida.

Sizing up the competition

Competitors can compete in the open category and the sanctioned CASI category, or both, as well as the new veggie and the restaurant category, which is only open to eateries. To compete in the CASI category, and earn points toward regional and national cook-offs, a competitor’s chili must include only meat and spices — no beans or “fillers.” All chili must be cooked from scratch on site the day of the cook-off.

In the open category, anything goes. Chili can be made in advance of the event or on site and can be made with no restriction of meat, beans or fillers.

Baldwin Park resident George Miarecki did the home team proud in 2010, taking first place in the Open Category and winning the People’s Choice Award. His booth, Al Gore’s Nightmare Chili, won first place in Showmanship.

Miarecki also placed eighth in the CASI, not bad, he said, “considering I broke some rules!”

Adding to the overall “spice” of the event will be the musical entertainment. This year’s lineup of bands includes Southern rockers Thomas Wynn & The Believers, reggae horn funk band Spiritual Rez, indie rock band Plain Jane Automobile, soul funk from Big Sam’s Funky Nation, funky R&B soul with a hint of jam band from the Gerry Williams Band, alternative rock with an acoustic flair from Roger Docking, and eclectic orchestral rock courtesy of Cure for Caska.

Stir in some fine spirits provided by Miller Lite and Barefoot Wines and you’ve got yourself a party!

Getting the party started

Inspiration for the first Orlando Chili Cook-Off at Baldwin Park grew from annual holiday tradition, Roberts said, where friends would gather each December to celebrate the season and taste some chili.

When the economy took a slide in 2009, and he and his friends were no longer able to contribute to their favorite charities as they had in the past, Roberts and his wife, Nadia, created Events For Change Inc., and hatched the plan to start a chili cook-off.

“Our business had been affected and as a result they weren’t able to give to our charities of choice like they had in previous years,” said Roberts. “We decided to develop a non-profit that would put on fun, community centered events to raise money for local charities — good times for great causes!”

Buy a ticket, buy a gold medal

The proceeds from the second annual Chili Cook-off will again sponsor Special Olympics Florida, whose mission is to provide year-round sports training and competition to children and adults with intellectual disabilities, as a means to achieve physical fitness, self-esteem and the life skills necessary to be productive, respected and contributing members of their communities.

Founded in 1972, Special Olympics Florida is one of the largest volunteer-driven athletic organizations in the state. About 15,000 athletes participate in 20 different sports, 300 local competitions and six program championships, all at no cost to the athlete or their caregiver, thanks to the support of local and statewide events, such as the Orlando Chili Cook-Off.

Last year, the event raised $15,700. It costs from $250 to $500 for one athlete to compete in one sport, such as track and field, for one season, said Amie Dugan, vice president for marketing and communications for Special Olympics Florida.

“We have to buy soccer balls and we have to buy uniforms,” she said. “A family of four who comes (to the chili cook-off), they might have just bought that athlete’s uniform for soccer.

“Your admission ticket could literally buy an athlete a gold medal.”

Roberts said the committee’s decision to continue sponsoring the Special Olympics Florida was an easy one.

“We also realized over these last two years how many of our committee members, sponsors and cooks have been touched by Special Olympics,” he said. “Nieces, cousins, friends, etcetera. It has hit closer to home than expected for many of our team.”

In fact, five or six Special Olympics families live in Baldwin Park, Dugan said. The Dean family is one of those families.

Learn more

The Orlando Chili Cook-Off at Baldwin Park is 11 a.m. to sundown Saturday, Feb. 26 in Blue Jacket Park, off Lakemont Avenue, adjacent to Lake Baldwin. Tickets are $10 the day of the event and $7 in advance. Children 12 and younger are free. Visit www.orlandochilicookoff.com for more information.

Max Dean, silver medalist

The three Dean brothers are the epitome of boys, rambunctious and full of the energy. Mom Krista wishes she had just an ounce of that energy. To look at them racing around the room, you would not readily realize that 9-year-old Max, the middle child, was born with Down syndrome and autism.

“He was a double whammy,” Krista said. “Five to 10 percent of the children with Down syndrome also have autism. With Down syndrome, he has intellectual disabilities, a lower IQ and hypotonia, low muscle tone, which is not so much the strength, but the control of his muscles.

“That’s what is so great about Special Olympics. It helps work on some of those things that you would have done in a therapy session, and they are doing it in a fun way.”

Max has been involved with Special Olympics for about two years and participates in track and field and swimming. “He loves swimming,” she said.

“I think Special Olympics has been really great for Max,” Dad Geoff Dean said. “With his disabilities, it’s very hard for him to participate on a level playing field. It’s a great organization for him to get out and exercise and hang out with other kids, and have a lot of fun doing it.”

Max won a silver medal in one of his running events.

“It was so great at the state games — we saw people in their 30s, 40s and 50s still competing. You can do it for the rest of your life,” Krista said. “It’s a great support network for Max. It’s a great support network for the family.”


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