A Brief History of the OB Chili Cook-Off Festival
In 1984, Ocean Beach had its first Chili Cook-off Festival with Mike Akey, the current board of directors member of the OB MainStreet Association, as its founder. Back in the 1970s, Mike and his father Angie Scaramuzzo were chili enthusiasts and often traveled to chili cook-offs in the likes of Las Vegas, Balboa Island, Cabo San Lucas, and Guadalajara, just to mention a few. Mike’s dad once went to the world competition in Rosemond, California (a ghost town), to compete with his “Scaramuch Chili.” Angie also founded the Lake Havasu City Chili Cook-Off which is still going on today.
Mike thought about starting a cook-off in OB and made the decision to do so in 1984. For the first three years, the chili cook-offs were sanctioned by the International Chili Society (ICS), and the winner was eligible to go to the State Cook-Off, which could have potentially led to the National Cook-Off. In 1987, Akey and his committee decided to change to an Amateur Cook-Off, though they still use the basics from the ICS for judging.
The Cook-Off also used to have a Shoot and Holler Contest – basically a shot of tequila and then a shout in the microphone . . . the loudest person got the award. "We also enjoyed the Mr. Hot Sauce and Miss Chili Pepper Contest during the same time period. We eventually had to stop that," said Mike. "It got a little too risqué and was developing into a bikini contest."
In the early days, bales of hay lined part of the 4900 block of Newport Avenue to provide seating for the Chili Cook-Off. Eventually, the OB Chili Cook-Off moved to the OB Pier parking lot, but the blacktop was just too hot. The move to Veterans Plaza on the grass really filled the bill and has been the site for our Cook-Off ever since, with over three times the number of contestants!
Thanks to Mike Akey and his dad for founding the OB Chili Cook-Off so that we can all enjoy it again this year.