The annual chili competition is Sunday at park in Atenas

The event began as an argument between two friends as to who made the better batch of chili.  Now it is a cooking competition that is attracting thousands of visitors and dollars to the quiet town of Atenas.

Seven years ago the first edition of the Atenas Charity Chili Cook Off was held in Kay’s Gringo Postres shop after owner Kay Costello’s husband, Tom, bet his friend he could prepare a superior bowl of chili. The friend left town before the contest, but numerous other contestants entered and the Costello’s were able to raise $300.

They decided to donate the proceeds to a local children’s shelter called Hogar de Vida, setting a precedent that has survived through the subsequent years.

“I call it my baby,” Mrs. Costello said. “And I didn’t feel it was right to keep all that money for myself.”

The latest cook off will be held Sunday. The competition has since moved to Quinta Roma Vista park. Sponsors have already given more than $12,000 towards the festival. Every dollar still goes towards the kids at Hogar de Vida. Event organizer Judy Timson said she expects the proceeds to exceed $30,000.

A mounting list of company donors have allowed that first cook off that raised a few hundred dollars to evolve into a popular attraction that should bring in upwards of 2,000 attendees. “It starts with a passion and an idea,” Ms. Timson said. “Growth has come with our committee going outward and gaining sponsors.”

Key local businesses and community members became so supportive of the event’s cause that the cook off’s committee is able to offer some lucrative raffle prizes that include paid-for trips to Manuel Antonio or Arenal, overnight package deals in Atenas, and a three-day kayaking tour by Bahía Rica. On top of the monetary contributions, a team of 80 volunteers has helped in setting up and working for the 7th Annual Charity Chili Cook Off.

“Like the saying goes, it takes a village,” Ms. Timson said.

This year 24 entrants, a third of whom are Ticos, will try to impress a group of 16 judges enough to earn first prize honors. For normal patrons, the entrance fee is 3,000 colons and allows each ticket-holder to sample each one of the chilies. In addition there will be vendor stalls selling more food (including some of Kay’s desserts), massages, and face-painting, among other offerings.

Sunday’s cook off begins at 11 a.m. and judges will announce winners at 2:30 p.m., which includes a people’s choice award that gives festival goers a say. Additional information can be found at

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