Virgen: A day of great food and great fun

Allan Mansoor, the California assemblyman (R-Costa Mesa) and former Costa Mesa councilman, isn't all about politics when it comes to the Halecrest Chili Cook-Off in Costa Mesa. He blends in with everyone.

He just enjoys being part of the community and having fun, which is why he returned to the event Saturday at Halecrest Park.

He said he's been part of the event since 2005, when it used to be at the cul de sac on Donegal Place. But it was at the park this time with 12 contestants and a few other booths promoting and raising money for Costa Mesa athletic teams.

"It gets better every year," said Mansoor, who entered his "Mansoor's Hometown Chili," in the cook-off. "Everyone in the community comes out and has a great time, and the food is great too.… It's great to be here with the community. It's just a great day to relax and have fun."

The Halecrest Chili Cook-Off does get better every year, apparently. This year, yours truly was asked to be a judge. Mike Brumbaugh, an organizer of the event, was smart to ask me. He'd get some press. Plus, who better to know about chili than a sports fan?

Sports and chili, or tailgate food, go hand in hand.

I was among four judges, who also included Mike Decker, pastor at Palm Harvest Church in Costa Mesa, Louie Feinstein, a Costa Mesa resident and part owner of The Bungalow restaurant in Corona del Mar, and Mike Close, a chili connoisseur and Costa Mesa resident.

We didn't all agree on the top chili, but we sure agreed that we had fun and enjoyed everyone's generosity throughout the day.

Mansoor's chili did not win, but I thought it was great and spicy. Spicy is my favorite. He also said he included whiskey and beer as ingredients, and that doesn't hurt.

But the "Two Guys Grillin'" chili won me over with caramelized bacon, six different kinds of beans and chuck roast beef that had been cooked for four hours.

You could easily tell that Art Steinhaus and Mike Barton put a lot of effort into their chili concoction. All the people in the community voted theirs No. 1. Steinhaus said it was his wife, Reyna's, recipe and that it included 38 ingredients.

"This is the type of food people like," Barton said. "We cook in our backyard. We have them in mind. Winning the people's choice award is most important."

But Saturday's event wasn't really about winners, or even great food. It was about community.

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