Donna Fantana liked the Flagler County Fire Rescue’s chili the best. She was not the only one. The Fire Rescue team’s entry was the Fan Favorite at the fifth annual Guns & Hoses Chili Challenge.
Christopher Walsh won the Judges’ Choice Award in the first responders’ culinary competition presented by the Flagler Woman’s Club on Saturday, Jan. 27, at Veterans Park in Flagler Beach.
“I liked the texture and the kick. It was delicious,” Fantana said. Community paramedic Rob Errett, who served up the Flagler County Fire Rescue’s chili with Gil Aspinwall and Alex Patton, said the key is “lots of love.” That and smoked chuck roast along with ground beef and three kinds of beans, he added.
Walsh, representing the Ormond Beach Police Department, was competing in the challenge for the first time. He was accompanied by his wife Jessica and 6-year-old son Christian.
A retired Connecticut state trooper, Walsh said the OBPD is his “retirement job.” Walsh got to take home the Judges’ Choice traveling trophy and a $100 prize.
I liked the texture and the kick. It was delicious.”
— DONNA FANTANA on the Fan Favorite from Flagler County Fire Rescue
The Flagler Woman’s Club created the event as a way to recognize and support local first responders. The Guns & Hoses Chili Challenge was canceled in 2021 and 2022 because of COVID but returned last year.
In addition to the chili and a chance to meet local first responders, the event included music, raffles and a bake sale.
Tasters purchased a wristband and an all-important plastic spoon for $10 for the right to taste the chillies at 12 booths manned by first responders or retired first responders. The chilies were served in small plastic cups with no spoons provided on the tables.
In a blind taste test, the five judges chose Walsh’s chili as their winner. The judges included SunBros Cafe owners Travis and Leigh Anne Sundell; Chris Marlow, owner of the Golden Lion and Next Door Beach Bistro; Mark Woods, owner of Fun Coast Bartending; and Flagler County Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord.
The judges’ runner-up was the Bunnell Police Department’s entry, which also finished third in the fan voting. Bunnell Police Chief David Brannon and Detective Sgt. Shane Groth said their chili was a secret recipe.
Linda McCann, a retired domestic violence responder and EMT in Burlington County, New Jersey, won the Judges’ Choice award in 2020 and 2023 and put her recipe out in the sunshine. The framed copy of her recipe featuring ground beef and mild Italian sausage sat right next to the Judges’ traveling trophy.
Flagler County Fire Rescue was the judges’ third-place choice.
The FDNY Orlando Central Florida Retirees had the second most votes among the fans. FDNY retirees Tom Coleman and Fred Gleissner of Palm Coast said there are about 100 members of their group in Flagler, Volusia and St. Johns counties. They won the Fan Favorite trophy in 2020 and showed off other awards they have won in other chili contests.
“We start off with sweet red peppers,” Coleman said of their recipe. “Then the heat comes on from the jalapeño peppers.”
Other booths included the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit; the Flagler Beach Police and Fire Department; and Surf 97.3 radio DJs “Hod Rod” Eddie Caisse, a retired firefighter from Connecticut, and Ramblin’ Russ Hatfield, a retired policeman with the New York Police Department.