The 35th annual Malibu Kiwanis Chili Cook-Off & Carnival was held over the long Labor Day Weekend, attracting thousands of locals and non-locals alike to eat, drink and be merry. The yearly four-day event not only helps the Kiwanis Club raise big money for nonprofit organizations, but is also its way of bringing the community together. 

When the carnival opened on Friday at 6 p.m. — the night billed as “Locals’ Night” — workers were barely prepared for the onslaught of the crowd ready to come in and have a good time. The line of people waiting for admission was a block long at times. 

“We had 4,000 people come on Friday in four hours,” John Paola, Kiwanis Club president, said. 

The adults-only beer and wine area near the live music stage was standing room only.

“It was totally insane — the whole place was packed and spilling out,” Nancy Hoffman, an employee of Hoyt Family Vineyards, said. “We estimate there were about 1,000 people here (in the Hoyt Wine Garden) at one point.”

Carol Hoyt, owner of the winery, concurred. 

“We had to run over to Ralph’s and buy more cups,” she laughed. “This was our sixth year at the chili cook-off, and our space has gotten exponentially bigger every year ... A lot of people have such a good time on Friday night, that they decide to come back again over the weekend.”

The carnival included about 22 rides — including three big Ferris wheels and the heart-stopping “Kamikaze.” There were rows of midway games of skill and chance for prizes, 13 chili booths, five food trucks, vendors of food, services and merchandise, and booths for nonprofit organizations like the Girl Scouts. 

“We always have new rides every year,” Paola said.

An astonishing 22 musical acts were booked over the weekend for both the main stage and the Hoyt Wine Garden, including a number of local acts like The Harsh Carpets, Karma Dealers, The Sposato Brothers, and Mike Hayes & the Malibu Allstars. 

The chili cook-off contest took place on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The same 13 chili vendors competed each day for a first prize of $500, a second prize of $300 and third prize of $200. All of the judges were local volunteers.

“You’re bringing the chili back to the chili cook-off!” Mayor Lou La Monte told judging supervisor Maggie Luckerath, after the number of chili cook-off contestants almost doubled since last year.

Judges rated each chili on color, aroma, consistency, taste and aftertaste; with taste being the main factor. 

Saturday judges were Tara Buran, Fiona Doolan, Darlene Dubray, Yvonne Gelbman, Maggie Luckerath, Diane Peterson, Margott Rifenbark, Olivia Sellers, Charlie Stieger, Lydia Rink-Stieger, Rod Summers and Scott Tallal. The Saturday chili winners were “Ethan the Robot’s Cocoa Chili” by Ethan Long (1st), Tavern 1’s “Smoked Prime Rib Chili” (2nd) and Chef Johnny’s “Three-bean turkey chili with avocado mousse” (3rd).

Marco Gonzales, co-owner of Tavern 1 Grill & Tap House, said the secret to his chili was: “Smoking the meat; roasting the tomatoes, peppers and garlic, and adding a chipotle pepper and a lot of love.”

Chef Johnnie Handal, a private chef with clients in the LA/Brentwood area, said he used to see the chili cook-off festivities just driving by, and finally decided to enter a booth just for fun this year. 

 “Wolfgang Puck bought a $1 sample of my chili; then bought two bowls — therefore I won!!” Handal posted on Facebook.

Sunday judges were Kim Bonewitz, Chef Patrick Brand, Matt Diamond, John Johannessen, David and Denise Kautter, Maggie Luckerath, Jim Marsh, Victor Melchor and Denise Peak. The Sunday winners were Tavern 1 (1st), French Quarter Firehouse Chili by Capt. Derek Bart of the Los Angeles County Firefighters — Emerald Society (2nd) and Alex Rylance of the Malibu Rugby Team with “Beef ‘a’ licious Chili” (3rd). Only Tavern 1 won a prize both days. 

“In my book, each and every one of the chili contestants are winners,” Luckerath said. “They all put a lot of love into their chilies, and I hope to see them all back again in 2017.”

Proceeds from this year’s Chili Cook-Off and Carnival will go toward helping veterans with post-traumatic stress syndrome and traumatic brain injury, the Wounded Warrior Project, and the local Bonewitz family, who adopted five children.

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