A hungry crowd packed the pavilion at J.F. Gregory Park on Friday night for the 13th annual Chili Cook-Off in Richmond Hill. Holiday music played over a loud speaker as attendees strolled past vendor booths, stopping frequently to sample the offerings, which ranged from spicy to mild.
Santa Claus, played by Frank Rushing, listened as children shared their Christmas wish lists and smiled as scores of parents snapped photos. The portrait backdrop, courtesy of volunteer artists from Arts on the Coast, featured a fireplace, wreath and Christmas tree.
Robin Allison brought her daughter, Lilly, 5, to see Kris Kringle. As Allison used her cellphone to capture the moment, Lilly asked for an American Girl Doll for Christmas.
Several groups entertained the crowd, including dancers from Life Moves and Dancing Unlimited studios, and the Richmond Hill School Chorus. Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler officially lit the city’s Christmas tree, and a crowd gathered around the stage as Bethel Baptist Children’s Choir sang a faster, upbeat version of “Angels We Have Heard on High” and another number, “The Answer is Yes! Do Whatever God Says!”
This year, 12 teams participated in the chili cook-off. The Richmond Hill Police Spouses Association won the grand prize; Moonshadow Café was the first runner-up; Faze II Ryderz was the second runner-up; and Notch 8 was the third runner-up. The people’s choice vote went to Century 21, and the Richmond Hill City Center won the best booth prize.
“I love it,” Richmond Hill resident and second-year cook-off attendee Marian Hickman said as she enjoyed a bowl of chili from Flatland Farm. “I won’t miss it next year.”
Hickman came with a friend, Lonnie Laxton, who also enjoyed the festivities.
“It’s great. There are a lot of good people here,” Laxton said. “And the chili is excellent. There’s a lot of meat in it.”
“This year’s chili cook-off went really well with a huge crowd in attendance. [It] continues to grow and evolve each year,” said Jennifer Sowell, a Richmond Hill zoning administrator who served as the lead event coordinator. “We would like to encourage more performers next year. We’re looking at having a second bouncy house next year. After the first of the year, the chili cook-off committee will meet and discuss things to improve upon at next year’s chili cook-off.”
Amanda Styer, who works for the city of Richmond Hill, also helped plan the event.
“We moved the time up from last year and that seemed to help. We’ve had a good crowd that’s been going strong since six o’clock,” she said.
Last year’s cook-off ran from 7-9 p.m. and the crowd didn’t last.
Styer said she appreciated the artists from Arts on the Coast who painted the backdrop for pictures with Santa.
“We called them up, they said they would do it, and I didn’t think about it again. When I saw it, it looked great,” she said.
This year’s chili cook-off participants were: Moonshadow Café, Notch 8, Espresso Hill, Bryan Masonic Lodge 303, Richmond Hill Fire Department, Faze II Ryderz, Flatland Farm, Litchfield Place, Century 21, Richmond Hill Police Spouses Association, Victory Haven Café, and the Richmond Hill City Center.