An assemblage of chili-makers, both amateur and pro, will compete in the ninth annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge at Water Street Market this Saturday, January 28 from noon to 3 p.m. Admission is free. Tickets at $1 each — 12 tickets for $10 or 25 for $20 — are exchanged for three-ounce cups of chili. All proceeds raised benefit the non-denominational food pantry at St. Joseph’s Church. The event typically raises between $1,000 and $3,000 for the organization, which helps provide food for hundreds of local families every month that need a little help making ends meet.
“The Chili Challenge is always a fun time that gets the community together for a good cause, and helps break up the winter,” says Matthew Sweeney, co-owner of Water Street Market’s The Parish Restaurant. “No matter how cold or snowy it is that day, people get out and enjoy themselves.”
Chili isn’t something offered on the New Orleans-influenced menu at The Parish — “This will be experimental, to say the least!” Sweeney says — but the beauty of the savory stew is how it can be adapted to reflect any number of cultural influences. “The base for our chili will start with what they call ‘the Trinity’ in Cajun cooking, which is celery, bell peppers and onions. Then we’re putting a twist on it by sautéing the vegetables in duck fat from La Bella’s Farms and adding andouille sausage, which is common in Cajun or Creole cooking.”
The Local Ingredient Chili Challenge is organized every year by Theresa Fall, partner in The Parish and proprietor of Jar’d Wine Pub at the Water Street Market as well as the community events coordinator there. Jar’d will offer a chili made by Cari Heberger, who makes all their chili and soups.
In support of the local economy, each chili must contain at least five ingredients sourced or grown in the region. Those ingredients can be the basis for the chili or those extras that give it a unique kick. The more local ingredients used, the more weight it carries with the panel of three judges in the competition part of the event. The categories this year are Best Professional, Best Home Chef, Best Vegetarian, Most Creative and People’s Choice.
New challengers in the professional competition this year include chef Jessica Tree (not affiliated with a restaurant at present) and local eateries Murphy’s and Shea O’Brien’s. Returning professional participants include Gadaleto’s Seafood Market & Restaurant, The Global Palate, Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters and Café, Upstairs on 9 Cafe at the New Paltz Golf Course and Schatzi’s Pub.
In the home chef category, the New Paltz Fire Department is expected to participate as usual, with additional contenders including Bill Gehris of Bradley Farm, Melissa Henneberger and husband-and-wife team, Seth and Ana Van Gaasbeek, who are known to whip up a batch or two of chili at times other than the annual chili cook-off at Water Street Market. “Chili is a great pot-luck dish to make on a brisk fall afternoon and cold winter night,” Seth says. “We often make a big pot of chili at one of our annual October get-togethers with friends and occasionally on football Sundays.”
The two have entered smoky and sweet-style chilis in past Chili Challenge events, taking home honors as best home chefs at last year’s competition. This year the couple plan to offer a chili in the traditional comfort-food realm, made with a blend of Italian sausage and beef. “We’re going to channel those traditional Italian “comfort” flavors,” says Seth, “infusing and slow-cooking the chili with roasted garlic, fennel and even some Sambuca. We also plan to use some honey from our honey bee hive in our backyard. We’re hoping the community and judges enjoy our local chili blend this year.”
As for why they enjoy participating in the event, the Van Gaasbeeks say they like how it brings the community together. “Not to mention all the money raised goes right to the food pantry!” says Seth. “The chili cook-off is a wonderful community event that raises money for a great cause. New Paltz has so much to offer throughout the year, and the Water Street Market Chili Challenge is a great way to get people out and about in town during the cold winter months. It reminds people that even in the dead of winter we can shop and cook with local ingredients. We wouldn’t want to be the judges, though, because all the chilis are so unique and outstanding, it’s hard to pick winners!”
Water Street Market is located at 10 Main Street in New Paltz. For more information, visit the Facebook page for “The Ninth Annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge.”