This Saturday, May 8th, marks the 13th Annual Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting.  The event has become a Petaluma institution and is always a crowd favorite.  This isn’t hard to believe with over 40 chili and salsa teams battling it out for top honors.  And don’t forget about the outdoor beer garden, the raffles, and the music and entertainment.   The event is held from 1pm – 5pm in and around Herzog Hall (Petaluma Fairgrounds) and benefits Cinnabar Theater’s Young Repertory program.  Think of it as doing your good deed for the day, with food, drink, entertainment, and great Petaluma energy as an added bonus. 

Tickets are $35 ($25 w/o beer) – a bargain when compared to other events of this nature since your ticket entitles you to all the chili, salsa and beer you can consume.  This is a family style event with special pricing and entertainment for the kids.  For all the information about the 13th Annual Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting visit www.greatchilicookoff.com.  Parking is free, both at the fairgrounds and on the street, and along with the main gate, rumor has it that the Payran Street entrance will also be open this year.

I’ve been waiting for this event all year.  If this is your first time, you have probably heard of it for years and are finally getting your chance to see what all the fuss is about.   Personally, my calendar is marked a year in advance because this is as much of a “must go” event for me as Butter and Eggs Days, the Marching Band Review, the Petaluma Fair, or the Santa Claus river boat parade, but then again, they don’t call me a Petalunatic for nothing. 

The chili and salsa teams are a veritable directory of Petaluma restaurants/caterers, business, and service organizations, competing in their specific category.  You will see teams from Petaluma staples like McNears, Petaluma Market, Preferred Sonoma Caters and Whole Foods going up against new comers such as Roy’s Chicago Hot Dogs, Maguires, Tara Firma Farms and TAPS.  Not to be outdone, the final category is made up of individuals who are participating for nothing more than bragging rights at next year’s competition.  Chili and salsa are unlike a lot of foods in that you are just as likely to find great chili in your grandma’s kitchen as you are in a restaurant.  Well, not my grandma, but you know what I mean.  Speaking of grandma…crowd favorites such as Grandma Po’s, The Krazy Kelts and Tree Huggin’ Hippies have returned to battle it out for top honors again.  Along with the high energy competition of chili and salsa tasting inside Herzog Hall, outside the pace slows a bit and allows you to enjoy the Petaluma spring weather with music, dancing, raffles, people watching and a vast array of libations in the beer garden.  As always, the beer garden is anchored by the highly charitable local favorite and winner of multiple People’s Choice Awards, Lagunitas Brewing Company.  They are in good company with a virtual who’s-who of California breweries, from Full Sail Brewery in the north to Firestone Walker Brewery in the south and just about everyone else in between. 

The esteemed panel of celebrity judges includes nationally renowned chef and food writer John Ash, Petaluma’s own Mayor Pam Torliatt, many of our local food writers/bloggers, and some local characters and radio DJs sprinkled in for added flavor.  But not be outdone, everyone entering through the doors is given a set of ballots cards to distribute among their top chili, salsa and beer choices.  These ballots are tallied for an array of ever popular People’s Choice Awards.  As the competition heats up, each voting card garners more cheering, bell ringing and noise making than the last as the teams vie for these coveted trophies.  This is not just a food and beer tasting “event.”  This is a chance to participate in one of the great Petaluma experiences while supporting a great cause.  Events like the Great Petaluma Chili Cook-off, Salsa and Beer Tasting are what make Petaluma such a great place to live and why so many people want to come back and visit.

Be forewarned because once you taste the variety of chili, salsa and beer and absorb the energy and Petaluma flavor that is the Chili Cookoff, you will be hooked for years to come.  When you hear the word “chili”, whether it be “I could go for chili” or “man, it’s chilly out”…you will think back fondly to this warm spring day, sitting outside in the Petaluma sun, enjoying great food, drink, entertainment and camaraderie.  And then, from way back deep in the recesses of your mind you will hear THAT voice…”Hey, I bet I could put together a team and make a great chili and bring home some chili glory of my own!  I wonder what my family and friends are doing at the beginning of May next year…”