Vintage Grocers - Chili Cook-Off

Pictured, from left: Chef Sonja Randall of Smokin’ Bar-B-Quties; Sergio Torres, food service manager and head chef at Vintage Grocers and chef Darrell Gilcrease of Mestico Catering. The two chefs, winners of the 2019 Malibu Chili Cook-off, have their chili available to-go from the shelves behind them.

Chili lovers no longer have to wait until next year’s Malibu Chili Cook-off to enjoy a bowl of prize-winning chili. As of last Saturday, Vintage Grocers at Trancas Country Market is now selling the 2019 first place winners—the traditional “Love Muff Chili” as well as the vegan/vegetarian winner, “Sonja’s Sweet & Savory.” 

Both of the winners, Chef Darrell Gilcrease of Mestico Catering and Chef Sonja Randall of Smokin’ Bar-B-Quties, are cooking their respective chili in their own facilities, then personally delivering their freshly made delicious creations to Vintage. Neither has ever sold a commercially available product before.

Gilcrease won this year’s judging contest as well as the “People’s Choice” award; he’s has been a fixture at the Malibu Chili-Cook-off for the past several years. He has many repeat customers from year-to-year, including one fan he described who loves his chili so much she comes to his booth wearing a backpack filled with empty containers that she asks him to fill up with chili. She returns every day of the carnival for refills. 

“I don’t know if she’s freezing it or what!” he laughed. 

He describes his traditional “Love Muff” chili as beef and bacon based, with flavors that are an Afro-Latin blend with Cuban influences and Mexican spices. 

“The recipe was born from the Malibu Chili-Cook-off,” Gilcrease said. “I really enjoy the people of Malibu, because they’re receptive to new cuisines.” He also said his chili is kid-approved. “Kids love it—it’s sweet and savory, not hot and spicy.”

In fact, the photo of a bowl of chili on Mestico’s product label at Vintage was taken by a Malibu customer at the cook-off.

The Malibu-based vegan/vegetarian winner, Sonja Randall, has participated in the annual Malibu Chili Cook-off for the past four years and also competes in other chili cook-offs.  She wins big at the much larger Santa Clarita Chili Cook-Off every year. In addition, she enters contests and wins first prizes for her beef tri-tip. She described her winning vegetarian chili as sweet and savory with a barbeque base and 17 ingredients. She came up with the recipe 14 years ago and said she never changes it, because it’s her best seller.

The idea of selling the chili at the grocery store began at the 2019 Chili Cook-off. Malibu local Maggie Luckerath, who’s been head judge of the Chili Cook-off for the past several years, approached Adrian Casso, store manager at Vintage, the sponsor of the chili competition. She told him, “I have an idea—how about you sell the winners of this year’s chili cook-off on your shelf and in your hot food bar at Vintage Grocers?”  

Casso loved the idea and said, “Let’s make it happen.” They immediately went to the chili booths to talk to the winners about what they needed to do and, “Both were very excited,” Luckerath wrote.

Sergio Torres, food service manager and head chef at Vintage, runs the department that’s selling the hot food bar and cold take-home versions of the winning chili. He said in an interview that the store’s philosophy is to “Get local, stay local and support local, and to give opportunity to anyone local who wants to try [to supply the store with a product].”

Torres pointed out the many local products already on the store’s shelves and said the customers—both locals and tourists—really respond to the idea of locally sourced food items. 

“We want to be a destination for great food and all the great chefs out there,” he said.

The annual Malibu Chili Cook-off event is a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu, as well as other local nonprofits. Vintage Grocers is located at 30745 Pacific Coast Highway.

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