The City of Tustin has hosted the Annual Tustin Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off for 37 years, and the Tustin Police Department has been keeping visitors and vendors safe during the event since the beginning.
Planning for the same event for 36 years should make the preparations for the 37th year routine, but this year has been anything but routine for the 2021 street fair and chili cook-off, which was held on Sunday, Aug. 15, 2021.
The event, thought to be the largest single-day chili cook-off in the nation, is usually held in the streets of Old Town and has drawn up to 35,000 visitors. Last year, the event was cancelled. This year, the turnout was limited to 5,000 due to the ongoing pandemic, and was held only in the area around Peppertree Park and C Street in Old Town Tustin.
“Tustin has always been a community oriented city and we wanted to bring back that sense of community” said Lt. Ryan Coe, who has overseen Tustin Police Department’s involvement in the chili cook-off for the past six years. “We made the footprint a little bit smaller because of the rising numbers of COVID-19.”
The 2021 Tustin Street Fair and Chili Cook-Off featured live music and entertainment on two stages; a Kids Fun Zone with games, bounce houses, and more; craft beers and wine; and exhibit featuring crafters, community organizations, and — of course — an ample supply of chili. Proceeds from the event benefit local nonprofit organizations and service groups.
First, second, and third place awards for best tasting chili were given out in six categories. The OC Professional Firefighters team took home first place awards for Ballot Chili and Judges’ Salsa. The first-place award for Best Restaurant Chili went to Tustin’s Black Marlin Restaurant. Tustin’s own St. Cecilia School Chili Team won the Chairman’s Most Spirited Booth award and took third place in the Judges’ Chili category.
The International Chili Society (ICS) first place award-winning red and homestyle chilis went to Paul Sauerhammer and Cory Catalano, respectively. The ICS contest specifies its red chili must be meat cooked with red chili peppers, spices and other ingredients. Beans, rice, and pasta (and other non-vegetable fillers) are not allowed in ICS red chili. ICS homestyle chili includes meats, vegetables, and beans, cooked with chili peppers, spices and other ingredients, according to the ICS website.
The winners at the Tustin event qualify to compete in the multi-day ICS World Championship Chili Cook-off.
The festivities also included donut, watermelon, and jalapeno-eating contests, and a beer stein holding contest.
Sgt. Sarah Fetterling was involved in planning for the event and attended meetings six months in advance with representatives from City of Tustin Parks and Recreation and other departments.
“Usually there is this blueprint and we do the same thing over and over, but obviously with COVID-19, things needed to be modified,” Fetterling said. “A lot of extra effort happened just to plan for staffing and working with the (Orange County) Health Care Agency on what we can and can’t do.”
The Tustin police were ready for anything.
A response vehicle was positioned on site and riot gear was stored nearby, Coe said. Police personnel and private security were stationed near the entrances and layers of fencing were installed to help guard against vehicle attacks.
Tustin Police Department units securing the chili cook-off included Patrol, Traffic, Professional Standards and the Special Response Team. Mechanisms were also in place to bring in outside agencies quickly if needed, the lieutenant said.
Orange County Sheriff’s Department deputies with bomb sniffing K9s swept through the area before and during the cook-off.