Two dozen or so chili-makers will bring at least three gallons of their best chili to compete in the annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge at Water Street Market this Saturday, January 23 from noon to 3 p.m.
Paul Schembri of Curbside Cuisine will be one of them. He’ll go up against two dozen or so competitors to defend his win for Most Creative Chili last year. “The thing is, it’s the same one I’ve been doing since this started,” he says. “My chili is a combination of sweet and spicy; I use different kinds of pork mixed together and then I’ll do your typical chili powder and Cuban hot spices and things like that. But then I also use things like maple syrup and apple cider, and sauté apples into it so it gives it that sweet and salty kind of mix.”
Schembri says he’s been so busy lately he considered skipping the chili challenge this year. “But I decided to do it again because it’s one of my favorite things every year. Of all the things I like about the Water Street Market, what Theresa [Fall, events coordinator] has done there, with the movies in the summer and the music and all that stuff. This really gives people something to do in the winter, too.”
No matter what type of weather that day, he adds, “A lot of people still come out. It’s for a good cause, and I want it to keep building so more and more people come out.”
Attendees can buy tickets to sample 3.25-ounce portions of the chili made and donated by local home and pro chefs. Tickets cost $1, or six tickets for $5, twelve for $10 or 25 for $20. All proceeds benefit the non-denominational food pantry at St. Joseph’s Church. The annual event typically raises at least $2000.
In addition to raising funds for the food pantry, the chili challenge supports local food producers. Each chili must contain at least five ingredients sourced or grown in the area. They can be the basis for the chili — tomatoes, peppers, onions, turkey or beef — or those extras can give it a unique kick, like honey or craft beer. The more local ingredients used, the more weight the judges award them in the competition part of the event.
The categories this year are Best Overall Chili, Best Vegetarian, Best made by a Professional Chef, People’s Choice and Most Original Chili. Home chefs must have use of a commercial kitchen to make their chili.
Some of the regular participants train for the event all year, canning and freezing chili ingredients grown in preparation. Others shop the once-a-month Winter Sun Farms market at the New Paltz Community Center. A few local merchants offer discounts to competitors on products purchased to use as ingredients in their chili: The Gilded Otter and In Good Taste both give chili-makers a 15 percent discount on their locally produced beer and spirits.
James Walsh of Yard Owl Craft Brewery in Gardiner is a competitor who can supply his own beer. He’s making three different types of chili to contribute to the challenge this year, all made with different handcrafted brews. The beer acts as a stock in the chili, he says.
“We’re going to use one of our dark beers in a brisket chili,” he disclosed. “That makes it heartier, with rich cocoa and coffee flavors. I have a lighter chili that we’re using a blonde ale in, which gives a little more citrusy flavor. And the vegetarian one has a farmhouse ale in it that gives a more rustic flavor.”
Walsh says he makes chili often for their Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters and Cafe at the brewery location, rotating it in with homemade soups. “I try to make it all as local as possible. I use meat from Full Moon Farms in Gardiner. and I’m getting beans grown locally.” He also uses the coffee roasted on site in his chili recipe, too. “It adds another level of flavor and more depth.”
Yard Owl will be selling beer by the glass at the chili challenge, too, and that product, as Walsh points out, will go well with every chili in the competition.
The event is organized by Theresa Fall, Water Street Market’s community events coordinator. She’ll participate in the competition with Matthew Sweeney, her partner in a new venture coming to the marketplace in March: The Parish Restaurant & Bar in the space where Bridge Creek Cafe was. Fall will continue to run her Jar’d Wine Pub there.
The chili challenge promises some new faces in the competition this year, including Todd Greger of Upstairs on 9 Cafe at the New Paltz Golf Course and Jeremy Phillips of Schatzi’s Pub opening at 36 Main Street in February.
Other returning challengers include Bill Gerhis of Bradley Farm, who’s planning a meat-and-veggie version of chili. Home chefs Seth and Ann Tyler will vie for chili honors again. So will Thomas Ingoglia of P&G’s Restaurant and Cory Wirthmann of the New Paltz Fire Department.
The chili challenge is a fun event to be a part of, Walsh says. “It’s a great community event, and a fun thing to do in the winter. Chili is a great thing, anyway. Everybody loves chili! And it’s for a good cause as well.”
Jessica Winchell of the Global Palate restaurant agrees. “Participating in the chili contest is a win-win. You support a great cause and promote your business as well as playing an active role in the community.” What was her secret to winning Most Creative Chili and the People’s Choice award in the 2014 challenge? Winchell says she let the local ingredients be her inspiration. “Creative cooking is inspired by first thinking outside the realm of normal but still staying within the confines of classic expectation.”
Water Street Market is located at 10 Main Street in New Paltz. For more information, visit the Facebook pages for Water Street Market or Local Ingredient Chili Challenge.