Sylvester--- Communities like to have their own special events in the spring, such as festivals, opens houses and cook-offs. Many of them need judges, and in Poulan this past weekend, a lawman took off his badge and become a judge.
An old train station in Sylvester houses the police department, and inside Chief Tony Strenth must have a flexible schedule, doing more than paperwork. "Helping officers on the street; I have to do it all," says Chief Strenth, sitting at his modest desk with a black telephone with a white, coiled cord hanging on the wall, and reviewing decisions from night court.
The police chief has a hot case to dispose of, and he comes to a special court where he becomes a judge for a few minutes. Chief Tony Strenth becomes Judge Strenth. "Because of good taste buds," says the judge, who likes to eat chili.
The case he will help to decide: Which one of the 19 white Styrofoam containers holds the best chili.
One contestant looked as if he was saying a prayer for his entry after he sat his cup on the judging table. But he comes to the courtroom with a bias. "I don't like anything hot, has pepper in it," says Judge Strenth, sitting in what looks like a big red barn in the Poulan community, about two miles east of Sylvester.
He gets a hot tasting entry early in the proceedings. "Some of it made my head itch a little bit," says Judge Strenth, who joins 11 other judges evaluating the chili, in essence, making a state supreme court of chili judges. "A little strange," he says with a quick laugh.
The guilty party, who has the best chili, automatically qualifies to face the Chili Appreciation Society International Supreme Court. No open and shut container in Poulan.
Judge Strenth smells the evidence, sometimes twice. "One of the things you judge on is the smell," says Judge Strenth. He notices the chili's consistency, looking to make sure the meat has a uniform size throughout the container. Then he looks for its red color, since chili should be red. Then, he tastes the entry, noting if it goes down easily, and creates a tang in his throat.
He spends a little more than a minute judging each entry, quipping, "Good stuff", after eating a taste of one in particular. Judge Strenth then gives an overall score for that entry; Followed by a bite of a saltine cracker and a drink of water clean his palette between cases, restoring the taste buds that found all chili isn't created equally.
"There was some hot. Some mild. Some dry," says Judge Strenth after tasting all 19. "It was all good," says Judge Strenth as the court adjourns until next year.
But why would a real policeman give up part of a nice Saturday afternoon to become a chili judge? "Gets people out to fellowship. That's part of life," says Judge Strenth. Where justice was served and a sense of community recharged with a lawman becoming a special judge with a strong case of chili breath.
How did Judge Strenth overcome his bias against hot chili? He found that he can taste the hot ones, but he doesn't want a big bowl of hot-tasting chili to eat.
So, what candidates won their case? Bobby Bagganly of Forsyth placed first, Harford Field of Big Canoe placed second, and Chris Mills of Macon placed third. Tracey Hughes and the Georgia Party Hawgs of Cordele won showmanship.
All four winners get a chance to represent Georgia in the Chili Appreciation Society International contest the first week in November in Terlingua, Texas.
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