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Weekend to arrive with a bang and a twang

Picture this scene: Kindergarten graduation. Doting parents smiling. Teacher walks a line of cherubs in white caps and gowns, asking them what they want to be when they grow up.

Policeman. Firefighter. Chef.

A bit of silence as parents look at each other and wonder: "What'd he say?"

That was Austin Reale's first public declaration of his goal in life. Now that he's 10 and has tried various dishes on his family, Austin wants to try pleasing a larger audience.

He'll be the youngest chef to compete in the fourth annual Chili Blaze cookoff Friday. In fact, he'll be the youngest to ever compete in the contest, which is sponsored by the Pinellas Park firefighters to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The festivities will continue Saturday with Country in the Park, the annual rite of spring for Pinellas Park residents and neighbors.

Austin became interested in the chili fest last year when he helped his father, Nick, a Pinellas Park firefighter, who collected money for the event. Austin ran errands and, of course, tasted chili.

This year, Austin asked if he could compete. Reale agreed to help as his son's sous chef.

"It's going to be his recipe, his baby," Reale said. "God knows what's going to happen."

Austin's recipe, which has cilantro, meat, tomatoes and secret ingredients, is called Lava Lamp Chili. Austin loves lava lamps and, besides, "chili's like lava lamps. It's hot." He plans to bring his and his brother Nicky's lava lamps to decorate his booth.

Austin, who lives in Seminole, has wanted to be a chef since he was 4, but he can't remember what interested him in cooking.

While on a vacation in New York City a couple of years ago, the Reales happened to walk by the American Culinary Institute. Austin asked to go inside.

They did and a bemused dean gave them a tour of the five-story building. Austin got to meet teachers and students. What was even better, the Reales happened to be there on a "test day," when students cook a particular food. The Reales agreed to be guinea pigs and rate pastries on a 1-10 scale.

Austin loved it. He had a favorite, but can't recall the "big and fancy dessert name."

Afterward, the school sent him books and other cooking information. He wants to attend when he graduates from high school, then open an Italian restaurant.

In the meantime, he gets a bit of practice with Caribbean fare. The Reales are close friends of Edyth James, who owns Saffron's restaurant. James keeps a small chef's hat and coat for the times Austin visits. She also gives him cooking tips.

Austin will have some stiff competition Friday in the open division. They're not intimidated by the "cute factor" of a 10-year-old opponent.

"No kidding," Pinellas Park council member Ed Taylor, a member of one chili team, said on hearing the news. "Oh, I'm going to hate beating him."

Taylor's team won the event in its inaugural year but lost the second and sat out last year. Taylor said they're back in cooking form for this event.

"We are not only participating in it, we are going to win it," he said. "If those Chili Kings think they are going to do anything other than fall under our boot heels, they have another thing coming."

The Chili Kings, with Pinellas Park fire Chiefs Steve McCarthy and Sandy Sullivan, won in 2001.

Taylor's team plans Arsenic-Free Chili, a humorous reference to findings this year that some Pinellas Park firefighters had elevated levels of the substance in their bloodstreams. With no ill effects and the problem apparently solved _ the arsenic came from seafood the firefighters had eaten _ the topic is ripe for jokes.

"Arsenic-free is in," Taylor said. "We'll maybe have some health pamphlets to pass out. Those dirty scoundrel firemen, who knows what they'll have in theirs."

The goal is to win the People's Choice, not just their division, he said. One of the professional teams _ Ker's Wing House _ has won it three years running.

That's because the team has scantily clad servers from the Wing House pick up tickets from voters, Taylor said, who added: "We're trying to find our own scantily clad ladies. Whatever it takes to get the tickets in the box."

At a glance

WHAT: Fourth annual Chili Blaze.

JUDGES: Include Pinellas Park Mayor Bill Mischler, Tampa Bay Buccaneer Todd Yoder, Mark Royal of the Miami Dolphins, and pro wrestler Jerry Saggs, one of the Nasty Boys.

MAIN SPONSOR: Pinellas Park firefighters.

WHO BENEFITS: Muscular Dystrophy Association.

WHAT: 13th annual Country in the Park

MAIN SPONSOR: The city of Pinellas Park.

WHO BENEFITS: Various groups, including Girls Inc., the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Kiwanis, Pinellas Park police Explorers, and Pinellas Park firefighters.

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