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All Potatoes All the Time in Bunnell’s Festival

| May 15, 2010

Old Kings Elementary's own Ronald Dimpflmaier, showing how to devour one's way through a mashed potato contest. Ronald placed second. (© FlaglerLive)

The potato may no longer appear on Flagler County’s official logo. But on Saturday afternoon, the potato was still king in Bunnell. (For a photo gallery of the day, go here.)

The city held its second annual Potato Festival, livening up lanes and lawns next to the old city hall and giving Flagler’s second city a second boost of pride in as many weeks: Two weekends ago Bunnell put on a show for a passing Amtrak train in hopes of convincing the rail line one day to restore the passenger stop Bunnell lost in 1968.

The Potato Festival was devised by the Bunnell and Flagler County chambers of commerce as a marker of Bunnell’s (and the potato’s) place in the county’s agricultural heritage, a way to remind the rest of the county that Bunnell is more than where State Road 100 and U.S. Route 1 meet, and also a way to raise money for high school scholarships awarded to students in need. That’s what the money raised at many festival venues on Saturday (like the dunking booth, the cooking contest and the playground) will underwrite.

Dan Quayle was not here. (© FlaglerLive)

The festival, held under a blue sky and a warm but not unbearable sun, featured clusters of games, contests, barbecue, ribs, beer, french fries made from local sebago potatoes, the usual mix of festival booths of clubs, jewelers, face-painters, politicians and the odd newspaper, and the less usual but more important awareness booths, such as that of the Flagler County Sexual Assault Task Force.

From afar, that booth looked like that of any old t-shirt vendor. It wasn’t. The shirts on display were all made by children, some of them victims of abuse, with messages or drawings reflecting their experiences, their hopes, their appeals. The booth was held by Angie Hatfield, in charge of records for the Bunnell Police Department and a member of the task force.

This being a festival, the serious and the fluffy forcibly mixed, and this being a festival, the fluffy necessarily, happily won out: children lined up to dunk into a pool of allegedly bluish water, with force and glee, Richard DuPont, the principal at Bunnell Elementary and one of several dunkees throughout the day. (Another was Mick Cuthbertson, Bunnell’s community development director, who managed, within moments of emerging from the tank, to reappear unscathed and groomed, as if ready for an official meeting.)

The day’s two highlights were the mashed potato eating context and the cooking contest. The cooking contest featured four individual or collective chefs:

  • Tina Alcindor’s beef and potato curry.
  • Sandra Piquet’s Pastel de Papa a-la-Nico (meaning potato pie nico style), a dish from Argentina. (Piquet was representing Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, Inc.)
  • The Flagler County Supervisor of Elections staff’s Cowboy Rib-Stick ‘n Stew.
  • Team Dance’s beef bracciole and garlic mashed potatoes, which was really the work of Marylyn Dance, wife of John Dance, brother of Andy Dance, the school board member with a local genealogy almost as long as Abraham’s (Andy and John Dance are the sons of George Dance, who owned, with Tom Lennsen, the 500-acre T Double L Ranch at the end of Old Kings Road at the Volusia County Line. Both George Dance and Lennsen were presidents of the Flagler County Cattlemen’s Association. The association sponsored the cooking contest on Saturday.)

And the winners? Best overall, and a $250 prize, went to Piquet’s Pastel de Papa a-la-Nico. Most original dish went to Alcindor’s beef and potato curry. Best table went to Team Dance, which also won the people’s choice award. The judge was Joe Bonasia of the Bunnell State Street Diner, with help from Bunnell Mayor Catherine Robinson and Flagler County Tax Collector Suzanne Johnston, whose Coca Cola pot roast was last year’s overall winner (Johnston didn’t enter this year’s contest for logistical reasons: she was busy judging another contest in the morning and didn’t have time to cook.)

Leave it to Julie Stetson: she gets it done. (© FlaglerLive)

Just before the cooking contest was the mashed potatoes eating contest. That was almost a bust: no one had signed up for it. Then Judi Stetson, the day’s true hero, took charge. The city’s grants director knows how to recruit. Within minutes, she had a list with ten names on it, including County Commissioner Bob Abbott, who took a break from collecting petitions for his re-election, wheeled himself over to the contest table with a knife, a fork, a napkin, salt and pepper, and prepared for the gorging contest like a guest at Buckingham Palace. He won, too–in a special category created just for him afterward: “Special Mention for Eating With a Fork and a Knife.”

Mouth to Mouth: Sounds of the Mashed Potatoes Eating Contest
Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

The actual winner when it was all said and devoured was Jerome Smith, with Bunnell’s public works, who ate at an impressive velocity but without ever looking like he had competition, or somewhere to go. He looked like he was in a zone of his own, the more impressively so for having nowhere near the girth that eating-contest winners generally bring to, or bump against, the table.

Second place went to Ronald Dimpflmaier, a 4th-grader at Old Kings Elementary who, for a moment there after finishing his pound of potatoes, looked like he, and everyone assembled, might have a second look at what he’d just made disappear. But no, Ronald held on, was actually directed by the master of ceremonies to finish up some sudsy spuds clinging to his paper holder, and soon was raising his hands in the air like Lance Armstrong finishing a Tour de France. Third place went to 14-year-old Emily Ribich.

But words don’t always do a festival justice. Give us a few more minutes: a rich photo gallery of the event will post very soon.

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