People can get a taste of home-cooked comfort food with the inaugural Long Bech Vegan Chili Cook Off.

Ten chefs of varying skill levels will offer their best recipes of the dish from 2 to 8 p.m. this Sunday, Jan. 28, at 4th Street Vine (2142 E. Fourth St.). Long Beach Vegan and the eatery are presenting the age 21 and older event. People can purchase tasting tickets at the event for $5 and vote for their favorite dish. 

Co-organizer German R. Verdilak said he gives credit to the V-Room's (918 E. Fourth St.) chili cook off for inspiring the event. And he said he expects about 200 people throughout the day.

"I went to it for the first time in 2015 because a friend of mine was making a vegan chili," Verdilak said. "When I went back this year, there were three vegan chilis. I love the V-Room event, but I also thought about how great it would be to have an all-vegan chili cook off, where we could try all of the chilis."

Verdilak noted he became vegan in 2003 for animal rights reasons and quit eating meat immediately. He also said he was vegetarian in high school and during college a roommate who worked for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) helped inspire him to veganism. 

"There was no easing into it," Verdilak said. "I had to learn to cook my own meals right away, since back then vegan restaurants weren't as abundant as they are today. I quickly realized the health benefits of the diet, and also the benefits to the environment. These days I've tried to live as cruelty-free as possible. I use all-vegan products."

He added he tries to buy clothes and other items from companies that care about the people who make their products.

For the past two years, Verdilak said he's been organizing vegan-centric events. The Green Saturday Marketplace in partnership with Mary Medellin was the first, he said, and last year the Long Beach Vegan Social was created at 4th Street Vine. He also said he started a vegan Instagram account to highlight the vegan food choices in Long Beach, which led to the organization, Long Beach Vegan's creation. In December, he said he and 4th Street Vine owner Jim Ritson began discussing having an all-vegan cook-off.

"Jim (Ritson) has been very receptive of the event and when I approached him about the chili cook off, he was very excited about it," Verdilak said of the 4th Street Vine owner. 

Verdilak also said DJs will play tunes, beer will be on tap, and tasting begins at 3 p.m. Up to $500 will be awarded to Judges' Choice and People's Choice winners, he said. Entrants include professional chefs and amateur cooks, he said.

"Believe it or not, a few (contestants) aren't vegan, but said they would like to try it out," Verdilak said. 

Gabriel Bolaños Chamorro said he and his wife, Megan Bolaños, were new to the concept and to the city, and wanted to meet some people.

"My wife and I decided to try a vegan diet this month," Bolaños Chamorro said. "We did it for many reasons, but a big one was to force ourselves to explore new recipes and expand our repertoire in the kitchen. I happened to make a surprisingly good vegan chili a few weeks ago and then, a few days later, saw this event on Facebook, so we decided to enter." 

Former vegan Megan Grint said she had to become vegetarian due to health issues, but still eats and cooks vegan dishes, including chili.

"I have gotten a lot of compliments on my chili in the past and have never entered a cooking competition before, which is why I entered," Grint said. "I feel like vegan food is fun and accessible to everyone, whether they are vegan or not, which is another reason why I was interested in the event."

But Verdilak said he wouldn't offer a dish.

"I've made it a few times," Verdilak said. "I don't think mine's very good, but I like it."

For more information, visit www.facebook.com/events/160345514606925 or www.instagram.com/lbvegan.

Emily Thornton can be reached at ethornton@gazettes.com

Emily is a staff writer covering higher education and other various topics for Gazette Newspapers. She has a background in weekly and daily newspapers and a bachelor’s in communication from La Sierra University.

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