DEL MAR — What do spinning wheels, a chili contest, distilled spirits, a Ford Mustang and gospel music have in common? They could all be seen on a recent Saturday at the San Diego County Fair.
In its third year, the search for the area’s best chili maker, which is one of about a dozen local competitions held annually, drew 13 entries.
On June 27, five judges sought the best-of-the-best in three categories — white or green chili, traditional and no meat — based on flavor, originality and appearance and texture.
Some paid careful attention to ingredients and assigned each entry percentage points while others simply used a good, better and best rating system.
The winner in each class won $25. Second- and third-place finishers walked away with bragging rights and plans to tweak their recipes in hopes of taking home the blue ribbon next year.
North County’s top chili chefs are Jim Martin from Carlsbad, who won for his green chili and chicken, and Encinitas resident Darlene Rahmel, who garnered top honors in the meatless category.
The fair also holds contests to find the best recipes for a variety of foods, including salsa, chocolate and Spam, which contest supervisor Adrienne Brown said is the most popular because the winner goes to the national championship in Hawaii.
The final competition for 2015 is the Gold Medal Flour cookie contest July 4. Visit the fairgrounds website for details and an entry form.
The fact that two of the chili categories had only two or three entries, thus making everyone a winner, didn’t dampen any spirits.
But had that been the case, the fair was ready with its inaugural San Diego Spirits & Cocktail Festival featuring personally crafted distilled spirits and educational presentations explaining the distilling process.
One of the biggest winners was Ballast Point Spirits. The local brewery that began making distilled products in 2008 took home 11 of 37 ribbons, including first place for its Horchata Fugu Vodka and Three Sheets Barrel Aged Rum.
While sipping spirits fairgoers could listen to sounds from the 11th annual Gospel Festival that featured artists on five stages and ended with a Grandstand Stage performance by Tamela Mann and Donald Lawrence.
A 1964 Mustang was on display in “It All Started at a Fair,” this year’s theme exhibit that showcases items introduced during World’s Fairs.
That list also includes hot dogs, the Eiffel Tower, Seattle’s Space Needle, Cracker Jacks, the Ferris wheel, air conditioning and ice cream cones, which were introduced at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair when an ice cream seller ran out of cups and borrowed some inventory from a neighboring waffle vendor.
As for the spinning wheels, they were being used in the Home & Hobby section by the San Diego County Spinners.
The group competes in the international Back to Back Wool Challenge that requires participants to blade shear a sheep, spin and ply yarn and knit a sweater in one day in an effort to promote wool and raise money for cancer research.
Their record time for the U.S. is eight hours, nine minutes and five seconds.
New events are on tap, spinning and cooked up daily at the fair, which ends July 5 following an 8 p.m. concert by Eliminator.