Empty your stomach and fire up your taste buds. The 11th annual Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff, Salsa and Beer Tasting will challenge the cooking skills of the few and the taste buds of many on Sunday, April 27.

Chili Empress Laura Sunday founded the Chili Cookoff in 1998 and has been overseeing the event ever since.

?It?s a chance for the entire community to come together, let down their hair and have a good time. There?s a great spirit of friendly competition,? said Sunday.

This year, 37 teams will face off in a battle to win over the panel of judges who will award ?Judges Choice? trophies and the grand prize, ?2008 Grand Champion Chili? award, to one lucky and talented team.

Teams can register as individuals, businesses, restaurants and service organizations. This year, challengers will come from all over the Bay Area, including San Francisco, Burlingame and Milpitas. Some competitors include the Petaluma Fire Department, Infineon Raceway, McNear?s and Tres Hombres Long Bar and Grill.

The event will also feature 15 teams of breweries all competing for the best beer award. Beer from the Lost Coast Brewery, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company and Third Street Ale Works will all be available for tasting as well as wines from 3 Alarm Cellars.

Four ?People?s Choice? trophies will be given out for the best Meat Chili, Veggie Chili, Salsa and Beer. Additional awards will be given for best booth decorations, best team costumes, most spirited team and best salsa and chili display.

Each year, attendance increases by about 100 people. Sunday anticipates that 1,200 to 1,300 people will attend this weekend?s event.

?I think people really enjoy the cookoff because it is really festive and a lot of fun,? Sunday said. ?Everyone has a great time. You get to judge chili, salsa and beer. What could be better??

All of the proceeds from the event go to the Cinnabar Theater Children?s Programs.

?My children went through Cinnabar?s programs and they became wonderful adults. I want to thank Cinnabar for helping my kids turn out to be really interesting and creative adults,? said Sunday. ?I want to make sure I can help any kid who wants to become involved in the performing arts.?

The Chili Cookoff will take place on April 27 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. inside Herzog Hall at the Sonoma-Marin Fairgrounds in Petaluma. Admission is $25 for chili and salsa, $35 for chili, salsa and beer tasting, $10 for children under 15 years old and free to children 10 and under. For more information about the Great Petaluma Chili Cookoff, visit www.greatchilicookoff.com.

(Contact Casey Pomicpic at argus@arguscourier.com)