There’s nothing quite like a cold day to cultivate a taste for steaming hot chili. With the temperature hovering around freezing, it’s a good thing that there were 14 varieties on hand at Water Street Market last Saturday. Each was an entry in the ninth annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge, a contest and fund raiser that benefits the food pantry at St. Joseph’s church.
Water Street Market events coordinator Theresa Fall said that the challenge usually brings in the largest cash infusion to the food pantry all year, which is something considering that the fourth Saturday of January — when it’s always held — is typically frigidly cold and perhaps snowing, and the competition takes place out-of-doors. The reason for the big take is not just enthusiasm to try chili, with sample tickets starting at a dollar apiece. For the past several years, a donor has matched that amount dollar for dollar.
“We started it to educate people to think about where to get local products in the middle of winter,” she recalled. In the early years, Fall needed to keep a list of suppliers handy to ensure contestants could comply with the five-local-ingredient minimum, but she finds it’s no longer needed. “There’s so many places to source local ingredients now,” she said.
That was evident in the ingredients list provided by the purveyors. Many of the cooks boasted 14 or more local ingredients in their chili recipe. The meat versions almost always included locally-grown livestock, and the plethora of nearby farms served as fodder for many of the meat and vegan offerings alike. Bill Gehris, serving up a vegan chili from produce all grown at Ray Bradley Farm, said that it’s “as local as you can get.” Jessica Winchell from Global Palette Restaurant made her own chili powder. Ram Richard, purveyor at Rams Valley, offered customers three levels of spice from the line of hot sauces he’s developed (and which he expects to be in local supermarkets soon).
The Schatzi’s entry was bacon and jalapeno, with an avocado crema. Topping chili is de rigeur, after all. Perhaps because they only had to trundle their pot a few feet from the kitchen, there were both meat and vegan entries from the Mudd Puddle Cafe; that’s ten gallons of chili in total, which included the coffee which is roasted right on the premises. From Upstairs on 9 one could sample a goat-cheese chili rife with lime and cilantro, topped with honey. Melissa and Shane Henneberger, among the few home chefs, used a “secret combination of spices” along with local cider.
There was a Mohonk Mountain House entry for the first time after a break; Eric Gullickson said that it included locally-sourced beef and produce from Wright’s Family Farm. True to form, the entry from Gadaleto’s featured northeast-caught swordfish. Owen Maloney, entering for the first time on behalf of the new Shea O’Brien’s, said most of his produce was donated by the owner of My Market because it was for charity. Mocha chili came by way of Jar’d, Fall’s other business at Water Street Market (she herself was not a judge).
Categories include people’s choice (voting by those who paid to try the different varieties), most creative, best vegan, best home chef and best overall. This is not an easy contest to enter for the home cook. For starters, five gallons must be made to keep up with demand. Since it’s being served to the public, it has to be prepared in a commercial kitchen certified for resale. Fall, who runs the Parish upstairs at Water Street Market, said she opened that restaurant’s kitchen to some entrants. Of those hardy cooks, who also had to stand outside on a frigid afternoon serving their creation to members of the public, Fall could not say enough. “We ask a lot of them,” she said, and because it’s a charitable event, there’s no monetary prize, just the glory of being crowned the maker of the best-in-show chili for 2017.
The winners of this year’s chili challenge were: Best Professional — Rams Valley, runner up — The Parish; Best Home Chef — -Seth and Ana, runner up — Melissa Met; People’s Choice — Rams Valley, runner up — Bill Gerhis; Most Creative — Mudd Puddle, runner up — Schatzi’s; Best Vegetarian — Bill Gerhis of Ray Bradley’s farm, runner up — Mudd Puddle.