With lots of competitive entries, a five-way tie for first place emerged Saturday at the 41st annual St. George Island Regional Charity Cook-off and Auction, but following a second and third round of judging, the Tallahassee team of Firefighter Forever took home the top prize of $500, and a golden ticket to compete at the International Chili Society’s 2024 World Championship Chili Cookoff. In photo above, team leader Neal Trafford’s granddaughter Lyla holds the golden ticket as she sits in the arms of her dad Kyle, while Trafford holds the winning check. At left is Kyle’s wife Catalynn, and their younger daughter Olivia. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]
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Chili and eternity

Victory arrives for Firefighter Forever team

Fourteen years after Davie firefighter Brian Nolte passed away from brain cancer, the competitive chili cooking team that he founded punched their golden ticket to the world championships.

After a knife blade-thin first round that saw a five-way tie, Tallahassee’s Firefighter Forever team, led by Nolte’s friend Neal Trafford and Nolte’s widow Joan. emerged victorious among the top three in a second round of judging, with a third round deciding the teams that would be fourth and fifth.

Trafford and Nolte had enjoyed glory days together in the South Florida chili circuit dating back to 1990 with the KISS Country Chili Cookoff.

They won a qualifier in 2001 that took them to the world championships in Reno, Nevada, and then continued competing after Trafford moved north to Tallahassee in 2004.

In 2005 the team tried their first St. George Island Regional Chili Cookoff, and has been competing on and off ever since, in Nolte’s honor following his death in 2010.

On Saturday, at the 41st annual regional cook-off, Firefighter Forever emerged tops among the 16 chilis adjudicated by the eight judges, winning $500 and a golden ticket to the Worlds.

That there were 16 teams, including four by the dominant Spice Boys teams that swept the second through fourth place slots, was significant, since the International Chili Society that sanctions the event, and enables its winner to advance to the Worlds now requires a minimum of 15 contestants.

Earning the second place prize of $300 was the Spice Boys IV team, helmed by J.G. Carver out of Vestavia, Alabama, followed by third place and $200 that went to Spice Boys I, stirred by Scott Abercrombie, of Huntsville. In fourth place, just out of the money was Spice Boys III, cooked up by Hyun “Trevor” Ho, from Huntsville. 

The last of the four college buddies who have come to the island for years to compete, Greg Machamer of the Spice Boys II team, earned a couple of first place votes, but ended up finishing sixth in the razor-thin finish.

The Spice Boys, from left, J.G. Carver, Greg Machamer, Hyun Ho and Scott Abercrombie, prepare their entries. [ David Adlerstein | The Times ]

Earning the fifth place spot was the Grill Deal, led by Tommy Darsey, out of Columbus, Georgia.

Grayson Shepard, longtime organizer of the judging panel, told the crowd that the cook-off organizers are considering expanding the cookoff held in the center of the island next year to include non-ICS entries as well.

For the fourth year in a row, the cookoff weekend has been broadened to include a Crawl, in which several locations around the island feature homeowners that whip up their best chilis, regardless of any formal competition, and then turn the proceeds over to the St. George Island volunteer fire department.

Once again, the Crawl has proven to be a remarkable fundraiser and crowd-pleaser, and supplied a big piece of the whopping $150,000 donated to the fire department last year.

Phyllis Lewis, owner of the Seaside Cotton clothing store, was one of the stops on the Crawl, and she said she “sold” out all 22 quarts of the chili she cooked up, and was just about out of the 200 jello shots she also offered up for donations to wash it down.

On the grounds of the cook-off itself, the Water Dog team, one of the cookoff’s longtime competitors, earned the honor of being the People’s Choice, given the nearly $900 they turned in to the fire department coffers.

The firefighters and their fellow volunteer crew were busy all day long serving up funnel cakes and various foods.

Capt. Jason Timbert, who oversees the crew of 19 certified first responders, said last year there were 235 such emergency calls. This compared to about 15 fire calls, handled by a firefighting crew which now is reaching up to about 10 who hold certification as Firefighter I, a distinction that calls for completing a 216-hour course.

As a consistent provider of mutual aid to other departments within the county, the island fire department “can support the entire county,” Timbert said. “It (the cook-off) is a win-win for us, it’s a win-win for the whole county.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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