Tanya Brown of 95SX's "2 Girls & a Guy in the Morning" radio show had her sights on only one prize at the 12th annual Celebrity Chili Cook-off and Oyster Roast on Saturday.
"At the end of the day, 'Best in Show' is what I strive for," said Brown. "They have other trophies like 'People's Choice.' Nooo! 'Best in Show,' just like in dog shows, is what you want."
And that's exactly what she got. An expert panel of judges awarded Brown "Best in Show" in the celebrity category for the fifth time in seven years for her chili featuring, of all things, peanut butter. Afterward, Brown good-naturedly bragged, "I'm going to have to retire so I can let some other people win."
Local celebrities competing and having fun is part of the recipe that has made the chili cook-off the Charleston Animal Society's second-largest fundraiser over the years. The Furry Affair in April is its biggest.
This year, event director Staci Bennett said the shelter hoped to raise $60,000 and was pleased with the turnout. One hour after opening, 500 people had walked through the gates of Joseph P. Riley Park, a new, larger venue for the event. The cook-off had been held at the Charleston Maritime Center.
"It's one of our biggest crowds we've ever had. I think the move of the venue to 'the Joe' had something to do with it," Bennett said. "While some people complained about moving it, a lot of people were attracted to it being at the Joe and having more room to move around."
The turnout also came on a weekend with a lot of competition from Christmas holiday parades and football games, said Kay Hyman, director of marketing and public relations.
"We have debated changing the date," Hyman said. "But we love December because it's a great month for chili and a great month for giving. … This is partly about thanking our sponsors and partners and partly about raising money. It takes a lot of money to do what we do."
The animal society, working with Pet Helpers and Humane Net, is partnering with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to achieve a 75 percent save rate for homeless animals in Charleston County in 2012.
One of the cook-off's biggest fans is Frank Lee, executive chef at Slightly North of Broad, who has volunteered as a judge for all 12 events.
"I'm a big dog lover, and most people have pets they really care for. The cook-off is a win-win. You get to have a lot of fun and support the SPCA," said Lee, adding that he also loves the event because it's laid-back.
Among the first-timers was Terry Rhone, 46, of North Charleston, who decided to attend because he recently adopted a dog and wanted to get involved in the "animal community." He ran 12 miles earlier in the day to allow himself leeway with the chili sampling.
"I promised myself no more than three beers but all the chili I can eat -- and maybe a hot dog," Rhone said, laughing.