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25th Annual Chili Cook-Off Small but Spicy

Annual chili cook-off moves to Hard Times Café parking lot.

Alexandria’s 25th annual chili cook-off is going back to basics — smaller but just as yummy.

This year's cook-off will be held in the rear parking lot of The Hard Times Café at 1404 King St. on Saturday, Aug. 14, from noon-6 p.m. It will benefit First Night Alexandria.

“We are very grateful to Fred Parker and The Hard Times Café staff for sponsoring this fun benefit to help with fund-raising for First Night Alexandria,” said First Night executive director Ann Dorman.

This event began in Old Town when Fred and Jim Parker started The Hard Times Café.

That first year, it was held in the parking lot of the King Street Metro station, before it even opened for business. The following year the event moved to Waterfront Park. In 1986, the cook-off moved to Oronoco Bay Park, where it remained until this year. Since 1986, the cook-off has been a major fund-raiser for the National Kidney Foundation of the National Capital Area. Also, since the late 1980s, the cook-off has been the official International Chili Society's Chesapeake Regional event. The winner of this event has qualified to cook at the world championship in Las Vegas for a $25,000 first prize.

As the event has grown, production costs for entertainment have also grown. The National Kidney Foundation has decided not to be the charity sponsor of the event because of the return on investment. Because of the downsizing, the International Chili Society has moved its Chesapeake Bay Regional event to Rockville. Nonetheless, the Old Town cook-off this weekend remains an ICS District cook-off. The winner will qualify to cook in the Las Vegas Last Chance cook-off in October.

“For a cook-off to be sanctioned, it must have a charity, and although First Night Alexandria might not consider itself a charity, it is a great local Old Town event that the Hard Times is glad to help support,” said Fred Parker.

There will be 12 cooks at Saturday's cook-off, and samples of their entries will be available to attendees for a donation. “This is what cooking competition chili for charity is all about. There will be plenty of chili dogs and cold drinks,” Parker said.

In addition to food and drink, there will be a raffle. “We’re going to raffle two First Night Alexandria fun packs, which consist of four admission badges to our 2004 New Year's Eve event, dinner certificates to Hard Times Café, noisemakers and venue maps,” Dorman said. The fun packs are valued at $100 each.

Entertainment will be provided by four local rock bands, performing throughout the day from the back of a flatbed truck. The headliner is Morris, starring former Hard Times

Chili cook Mike Maloney. Other bands include Phoebus, Gist and Parker and O’Neil.