Local Atenas gathering turns into a regional charity tradition

When persons envision Costa Rican cuisine, they seldom think of spicy stewed meat dishes like chili. While it may not be an everyday soda item, a group in Atenas works every year to share this dish with the community through a quest for the best recipe that, in turn, helps charity.

The origin of chili con carne is often argued. Some trace it to México as a planned victory dish of tomatoes, salt and chiles prepared by the Cholutan Indians before their big fight with the Spanish conquistadors. The carne was expected to come from the flesh of the defeated conquistadors.

Another myth equates it to the scribbles of a nun, Sister Mary of Agreda of Spain. Others disagree and say it was a survival dish made by women settlers of the Spanish colony in San Antonio, Texas. Later it was said that Chili Queens sold the dish around San Antonio to make money.

Today Texas holds on to this claim to fame by calling Chili it’s state dish.

Although the chili story is debated, the Atenas cook off history takes the spiced meat stew to 21st century Kay’s Gringo Postres, a popular expat hangout spot, said one event organizer, Judy Timson. Owners Kay and Tom Costello, who are originally from South Dakota, turned the community members small talk about the best chili recipes into a Texas-sized battle in the version of a cook off.

“It started with ‘I have the best chili’ and turned into ‘Let’s put our money where our mouth is’ and was made into a small fundraiser,” said Ms. Timson.

The fundraiser has grown from a small town gathering in a café for a cause in 2006 to persons from different parts of the country and world six years later assembling in the park Quinta Romavista to lend a hand.

Last year 1,000 persons attended the event and organizers raised around $5,000. This year 25 teams of both locals and expats have registered to partake in the 6th Annual Atenas Charity Cook Off, and organizers are expecting to raise between $15,000 and $20,000 through sponsorships, donations and a day of event sales, said Ms. Timson.

Costa Ricans such as the local fire department even bring their own chili fire to the mix.

“We purposely outreached to both parts of the fence because everyone wants to come together, have fun and make a difference,” said Ms. Timson.

All the proceeds will go to Hogar de Vida, a children’s home in the area.

“By raising our spoons and tasting various chilis’ at our Chili

Cook Off, we couldn’t have created a more fun way in
making a significant difference for Hogar de Vida, where approximately 35 children live, ages birth to 10 years old,” said a release.

According to Ms. Timson, this fundraiser is especially important because Hogar de Vida was recently burglarized of $10,000 worth of electronic equipment and money.  As a result, the home is undergoing a phased process to better secure the premise.  Currently in the works is a new wall on the east border, the entry point of the most recent burglary.

“It’s really sad what happened, but what came of it is a community coming together to ensure the safety of these children,” she said.

One new feature of this year’s chili cook off will be raffles of gift packages worth between $600- to $800.  The packages contain services and trips. Also on the schedule is a People’s Choice Award.

“That means anyone who attends will be able to vote for their favorite chili,” said Ms. Timson.

Other prizes will be given to the most decorated and entertaining teams.  Also, those with vegetarian chili recipes will be given the opportunity to showcase their skills.

“We are expecting to see a lot of color, a lot of festivities and a lot of decorations,” said Ms. Timson.  “Whatever it takes to win.”

The Atenas Chili Cook Off will be Feb. 10, the Sunday after the Super Bowl,  from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Quinta Romavista of Barrio Mercedes in Atenas.  The park is located two kilometers off the old Alajuela to Orotina, Highway 3.

Organizers are still accepting chili teams and are looking for volunteers.  For more information, those interested can visit http://www.atenaschilicookoff.com/.

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