July Fourth notebook: Park Strip fun despite the weather

nherz@adn.comJuly 4, 2013 

CHILI COOK-OFF -- Mike DeSpain was happy to talk up the chili he was making for a cook-off on the Delaney Park Strip on Thursday. Just don't ask for his recipe.

"If I told you, I'd have to bury you out back," he said, revealing only that he uses seven different kinds of meat.

DeSpain was one of 16 contestants in the eighth annual Midnite Sun Chili Cook-Off, which was sanctioned by the International Chili Society.

Contestants were vying for titles in three different categories: green chili, red chili and people's choice.

The premier category, the red, carries a $600 grand prize.

Entrants are grading using the F.A.R.T. system, said organizer Wayne Ronsman.

"Fragrance, aroma, richness, and texture," he said.

What's a winning chili taste like?

DeSpain's, which last year won the people's choice, was intensely sweet, with a slight tomato tang and some small chewy chunks of meat.

Cooks rely on conventional spices like paprika and cayenne, and sometimes use tricks like raw potatoes to soak up excess salt, and cilantro powder for green color.

Some use special chiles, like Puyas and Guajillos -- just not too much, said competitor Chris Daw of Wasilla.

"My motto is: chili shouldn't hurt," he said.

* * *

SALUTING THE FLAGS -- Henry Dunbar was toting a copy of "The Star Spangled Banner" at the Delaney Park Strip on Thursday morning.

But it wasn't a CD or an MP3. It was a flag.

Dunbar, an Anchorage resident and member of the National Sojourners veterans group, was preparing for a 1 p.m. ceremony showcasing nine different American flags -- including a banner that was used during the War of 1812.

"It's kind of a history of how the American flag evolved," Dunbar said of the ceremony.

He and three other Sojourners dressed in colonial military uniforms will start by hoisting the Bedford flag, which Dunbar said flew over the Minutemen after Paul Revere's ride in Massachusetts in 1775.

The ceremony will finish with the U.S.'s current stars and stripes, first used in 1959 after Hawaii became a state.

"The 50-star flag will be the last one," Dunbar said.

* * *

HOT DOGS AND MORE -- Vendors on the Delaney Park Strip were eagerly awaiting the arrival of the health inspector Thursday morning so they could start dishing out breakfast and lunch.

Lemongrass marinated halibut tacos, fries and watermelon were on the menu at Two Fat Guys Catering's tent, said Lee Sandbak of Anchorage, who makes up half the eponymous duo.

"And of course, we've gotta have a hot dog on the Fourth of July," he said.

Sandbak arrived at the Park Strip at 6 a.m. to prepare his stand. He said he didn't expect the drizzly weather to keep customers away.

"It's Alaska -- most of these are locals anyway," he said. "They know it's going to be wet."

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