The lot located on Civic Center Way, usually empty throughout the year, sprang to life this Labor Day Weekend for the 38th annual Malibu Chili Cook-Off. The four-day event, hosted by the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu (BGCM) for the second year in a row, gave Malibu residents a fun family day despite oppressive heat and a brush fire that occurred Friday afternoon.

38th Malibu Chili Cook-Off

Sheriff’s Special Enforcement Bureau, part of “increased security” during the annual festival

The event took place under the shadow of increased law enforcement presence, which the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Station announced several days before the chili cook-off was “not that [they were] anticipating anything;” rather, Captain Matthew Vander Horck said, “We just want to have their presence there for everyone.”

“We had our special enforcement bureau, which is our version of SWAT, and I think it puts people at ease, their presence,” Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Treinen said during the event on Sunday. “We’ve had several people approach us the whole weekend and say how much more comfortable they feel with these guys and the vehicle here so they can feel safe and have a good time with their kids.”

Treinen said that despite the fire, the event was well attended over the weekend. He said the fire didn’t really worry residents because the fire department was able to put it down quickly.

“I think it did at first, because it was the first bigger-acres type fire since the Woolsey Fire,” Treinen said. “The conditions were good so that means there was no wind and they [fire department] did a great job and everyone was able to enjoy Friday evening.”

Despite the brush fire, BGCM Executive Director Kasey Earnest said the traditional “locals night” event was well attended Friday night.

“I wasn’t worried at all; I saw how quickly firefighters responded to the brush fire and I was a little hectic, but I don’t [think] the air quality was bad—I didn’t notice it,” Earnest said. 

The other shadow cast over the event came from the community—numerous community members voiced complaints, shared with The Malibu Times, over what they saw as exorbitant prices, especially when it came to carnival ride tickets and cut-the-line wristbands.

Despite these complaints, the cook-off remained a hit, with heavy crowds on Locals Night and lots of praise for the winning chilis.

Earnest was in charge of all the professional staff they hired for this year’s event. 

“We have a lot of vendors and local representation along with vendors we think will be interesting for the attendees,” Earnest said. “The Little Market is a new partnership for us, which is great, they’re a not-for-profit store, so we partnered with them to create these signature totes for the Chili Cook Off, which is really amazing. People literally come for the chili.”

Earnest said, in addition to the new vendors, they added a competition contest this year for skateboarders. Earnest said kids and professionals were able to compete and the winner received $1,000.

Mikaela Fleming works as an assistant coordinator with Bob Gail Events and partnered with Vintage Grocers for the Malibu Chili Cook-Off. They provided attendees with free water, seating and a cell phone charging station.

“We’ve been meeting amazing people; it’s been great, and the vendors have been wonderful,” Fleming said.

Maggie Luckerath told The Malibu Times she was head judge for the chili cook-off for the past six years and was told by the attendees how much they enjoyed the comfortable seating and charging station provided by Vintage Grocers. 

Luckerath was also concerned about the brush fire that occurred Friday, but was relieved to hear it was contained by opening hour.

“I was worried that the wind would change direction but, fortunately, it was going the other way,” Luckerath said.

The people’s choice and first place winner for the second year in a row was Mestico’s Afro Latin Cuisine. Owner Darrell Gillcrese has participated for the past five years and said people love the flavor and uniqueness of his chili.

“One of the best things about making chili for this event is using fresh ingredients—it’s not your typical chili,” Gillcrese said. “It’s called ‘Love Muff Chili’— it’s just meant to make you feel good. Kids love it, it’s like, kid-approved.”

Gillcrese complimented the equipment and “top-notch” facilities they were given this year. 

Sonja Randall won the vegetarian chili and has owned Smokin Bar-B-Quties for 14 years. She said she started competing at the Malibu’s Chili Cook-Off three years ago.

“This is my first year placing and winning in Malibu,” Randall said. “I love it; I want to be able to come here every year. I have my catering bus and everything is prepared fresh on site. I can accommodate from anywhere from 20 to 8,000 people.”

Luckerath said both Gillcrese and Randall were given the opportunity to sell their chili in mason jars on Vintage Grocers shelves.

“I’m excited,” Gillcrese said. “Malibu has been really good, they love the food I bring. Hopefully, this is going to be a big success; this is an amazing opportunity to put ‘Love Muff Chili’ in stores and in people’s homes.”

Alex Rylance represented the Malibu Rugby Club and this is the 11th year they are competing in the Chili Cook-Off. 

“I come back every single year and it gets better every year,” Rylance said. “Ever since the Boys & Girls Club of Malibu took over, it just expanded hugely.”

38th Malibu Chili Cook-Off

One of the many attractions at this year's Malibu Chili Cook-Off

Rylance said he drove four hours from his farm near Sequoia National Park for this event.

“The bigger reputation of this event, the more people will come from so many different areas,” Rylance. “The organizers we have right now are very dedicated; they’re doing it for a great cause and the organization and what they’re bringing to the table is second to none.”

Rylance said most of their vegetables are farm grown and their cows are grass fed.

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