By Reggie Ellis
The wet weather couldn't wash away the warm feeling left inside all who attended the fourth annual Chili Cook Off last Saturday.
Friends and family gathered under tents and umbrellas in the puddle splattered parking lot on F Street next to city hall to enjoy hot and spicy chili that seemed to be complemented by the weather.
"This is the first year it has rained during the event but it still turned out great," said Charlotte Correia, organizer of the Chili Cook Off.
Despite the rain, people came from all over the Valley to taste Exeter's finest chili. Jon and Valerie Mikaido and their son Kevin, 17, are chili chasers from Fresno. Jon said the they go to Madera's Chili Cook Off, one of the largest in the Valley, on an annual basis.
"Madera's is fun but it is very big and commercial," Jon said. "Here they treated us like family."
Earlier in the afternoon, Valerie had gone through downtown Exeter beginning her Christmas shopping. Bringing people into Exeter to shop has always been the primary goal of any downtown event.
Soaked by the rain, most booth operators didn't seem to mind cooking in the drizzle. In fact, a sign on the door of "Out House" chili said "Drizzlers welcome." While that isn't quite what they meant, it still seemed appropriate for the booth sponsored by Drew Turner Construction in the sprinkling rain. Melissa Lane, one of the people operating the booth, said it was her group's first year participating in the Cook Off.
"This would be a fun event rain or shine," she said. "We will definitely do it again next year."
Another booth seemed ready to launch if the drizzle turned to a downpour. Brian Schaap and friends brought a boat from his cousins dairy, Ankeridge Dairy on Avenue 256. Schaap said they were planning on bringing the boat even before they heard the weather forecast for the day of the event.
"We are ready to launch this thing," Schaap said. "Rain, sleet or snow the Cook Off must go on."
But everyone's favorite booth seemed to be Exeter Tire "Where the chili and chicks are on fire." Cooks Molly and Elly Freeman's firey chili were supported by young woman in red tops, jean skirts and knee-high leather boots. Correia said the People's Choice seems to bring in the most money so next year the event will award first, second and third place for People's Choice.
The Exeter City Council disagreed. They approved Dave Heaton's booth sponsoring the Exeter Future Farmers of America as its chili champion, good for a $750 prize. Second place, a $450 prize, went to Dennis Kelly's 4-K Bar and Riata Ranch. The $300 third place prize went to El Nuevo Mexicali No. 4.
Best Booth was Lee and McLean Attorneys of Law from Visalia. Their theme "Hillbilly Honeys," featuring women in jean shorts with rope belts, was surrounded by bails of hay. Best Costume went to Tom Smith's "Tom Cats," with woman in tuxedo jackets and bustiers. Best Booth and Best Costume will receive $250 each. Kevin Kirkman won the $500 drawing. Winners of the $100 drawings were Mike McLean, Dewayne Faulkner, Dennis Kelly, Rodney Grimsley and Jesse James.
But the real winners were the non-profit groups that split the proceeds. Exeter Youth Football, Exeter Little League and Friends of Daniel Lovik each received a check for $1,000. Daniel, who was released from the hospital on Nov. 3, was on hand to pick the winners for the drawings out of paper bag. Daniel spent three months at Children's Hospital of Central California following a Sept. 6 car wreck where a drunken driver ran a red light and crashed into the passenger side door of Daniel's father Brian's pick-up.
The man charged with driving under the influence and causing the collision will be arraigned on Nov. 21. His preliminary hearing was held on Nov. 7. (See story on page 1)