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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Smoke on the River festival lights up riverfront

TAMPA — A new event featuring Steve Otto’s longtime chili cook-off and other hot offerings made for a smokin’ good time Saturday evening next to the Hillsborough River.

In its first year, the Smoke on the River festival drew a crowd to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park in downtown Tampa.

The festival featured craft beers, authentic cigar rolling, various chili recipes and live music.

Proceeds from the charity event will benefit Friends of the Tampa Riverwalk.

The smell of fresh-cooked chili wafted through the air at the waterfront park adjacent to the Riverwalk. Nearby, 20 teams competed for bragging rights at the 24th Annual Steve Otto Chili Cook Off.

Tampa Tribune Columnist Steve Otto said he likes his namesake event’s latest venue.

“It has been a movable feast for many years,” Otto said. “It’s been everywhere.”

He cited a long list of previous sites, among them the Tampa Museum of Art, University of Tampa, Florida State Fairgrounds and Channelside.

Otto hosts the chili cook-off as a fundraiser for area charities, hospitals and nonprofit organizations.

“We have raised a lot of money” for organizations such as the Judeo Christian Clinic, Joshua House, and Children’s Cancer Center, Otto said. “Every year we raise from $15,00 to $20,000 for charity.”

Jonathan and Terri Toner, owners of Pirate Jonny’s of Clearwater, made 14 gallons of “pirate chili” for their debut in the competition.

They participated as a vendor last year, selling their gourmet pirate rubs and seasonings. The couple, decked out in pirate gear, said they wanted to join in the fun.

Members of the Hillbilly Chili All Stars are longtime participants. They came into Saturday night’s competition as the reigning salsa champions at the cook-off.

This year they decided to go for the big prize in the chili cook-off, said Corey Canfield of Brandon.

Smoke on the River and the Steve Otto Chili Cook Off handed out awards for top prizes in the Hothead and People’s Choice Awards.

A team of judges, including Otto and Tribune food columnist Jeff Houck, named first-, second- and third-place winners for best taste.

The Tampa Tribune was a sponsor of the event.


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