The courtyard at Water Street Market on Main Street in New Paltz will host the seventh annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge fundraiser this Saturday, January 24 from noon to 3 p.m. Those visiting the marketplace can sample two-ounce portions of chili sold for $1 per serving, with all proceeds benefitting St. Joseph’s non-denominational Food Pantry. The organization feeds hundreds of local families each year, with donations a need that sometimes falls off the radar once the holiday season is over. But the need remains no matter what time of year, and this event typically raises at least $1,000 for them. Two years ago, according to event organizer Theresa Fall, the Chili Challenge raised a record $2,200 for the pantry.
“Most of our events [at Water Street Market] benefit Family [of New Paltz],” she says, “but they do send some people to St. Joe’s for help and they don’t get as much attention, so I try to do one event a year just for them.”
So who will be making the chili? Professional and home chefs alike are welcome to apply to compete in the challenge, with up to 25 applicants accepted. There is no cost to enter the competition, but participants must commit to donating at least three gallons of their best chili — preferably more, as the supply tends to run out before the end of the event — and they need to be there for the duration to dish it out to the hungry throngs of chili fans who attend every year.
And since the event is intended to promote local sustainability along with raising funds for the food pantry, the chili must contain at least five local ingredients sourced or grown in the area. The ingredients can be the basis for the chili — tomatoes, peppers, onions, turkey or beef — or those extras that give a chili a unique kick, like locally produced honey or craft beer. The more local ingredients used, the more weight it carries with the judges for the competition part of the event. A panel of judges will choose a first- and second-place winner in five categories: Best Overall, Best Vegetarian, Best Professional (made by a restaurant or professional chef), People’s Choice and Most Original. Winners receive bragging rights.
Water Street Market will provide the two-ounce portion cups and spoons for the event. And several local businesses are offering participants a discount to purchase ingredients to make their chilis, including The Gilded Otter’s 15 percent discount off any of their beer and In Good Taste Spirit Shop’s 15 percent discount off spirits.
In the event of heavy snow or icy road conditions, the event will be moved to Sunday, January 25. If the weather looks borderline on Saturday, visit “Seventh Annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge and Fundraiser” on Facebook before hitting the road. Last year a big storm and icy roads in the area kept the turnout much smaller than usual, but even so, the event still managed to raise about the same amount of money they usually do, in large part because of the generosity of the owner of P&Gs, Mike Beck, who wrote a check to cover the difference between what was raised ($750) and the usual $1,000 the event generates at minimum.
Fall came up with the idea to hold the Local Ingredient Chili Challenge seven years ago after taking over as events planner at Water Street Market. Searching for a fun winter event to hold outdoors, the organizing committee also wanted something that would have some meaning to it; something that would raise money for a good cause and promote sustainability, too.
So the idea of a chili challenge was merged with the idea of sourcing food locally. “And people are really taking it to the next level,” says Fall. “They only need five local ingredients, but they get very experimental.” Some people have told her, she says, that they plan ahead during the growing season in order to have local ingredients in the winter, and others shopped the winter market run by Winter Sun Farms at the New Paltz Community Center on the second Saturday of the month, where frozen and preserved foods from local farms are offered.
“There’s plenty you can work with here during the winter,” Fall says. “The idea is to look for local no matter what time of year it is. And I find that it’s becoming easier and easier in our area to find local ingredients. When we started this seven years ago, it was more of a challenge. But now I feel like we have more farms, more meat-producing farmers… there is just more available than there was even seven years ago, and people are thinking like that all the time now. We’re lucky the trend is heading that way and that our area can support that.”
There will be a few new entrants in the competition this year, she adds, with Moxie Cup and the Village Market and Eatery in Gardiner both participating for the first time along with returning favorites A Tavola, Rock and Rye Tavern, P&G’s restaurant, Curbside Cuisine, The Mudd Puddle, Jar’d Wine Pub, The Gilded Otter, Bridge Creek Café and Bridge Creek Caterings. Home chefs as of press time include Matthew Flusser, the New Paltz Fire Department and William Gheris.
Water Street Market is located at 10 Main Street. For more information, visit www.waterstreetmarket.