One of the pleasures of winter in the Hudson Valley is the abundance of public chili cook-offs. Whether you like yours loaded with savory meat or pristinely vegan, this beloved transnational dish raises humble peasant cooking with frugal ingredients to lofty heights of culinary glory while it warms the innards. Every chef makes chili differently, and an opportunity to compare and contrast is a fine, satisfying way to spend a cold afternoon.
Among the longest-running chili-themed annual celebrations in our neck of the woods is the Chili Bowl Fiesta put on each February as a fundraiser by the Binnewater-based arts organization, the Women’s Studio Workshop (WSW). Twenty or more local eateries donate great vats of delicious chili, both meaty and vegetarian. But what makes this two-decade-old event uniquely artsy is the fact that you first choose among nearly 1,000 ceramic bowls and mugs handmade for the occasion by WSW staff, interns and volunteers in the months leading up to the Fiesta.
Prices for the vessels, to be loaded with the chili of your choice, typically range from $10 to $100. If you can’t find one that you want to take home, you can still purchase servings of chili in paper bowls; but if you’ve attended the Fiesta in the past, you already know that the temptation is far greater to invest in more bowls than you can consume their contents. It’s all for a good cause, and many attendees come back every year to build up their collections of beautiful handcrafted crockery.
The down side of attending the Chili Bowl Fiesta has long been its great popularity, which has often resulted in long lines snaking out the door of the Rosendale Recreation Center. (Excellent live music, most years from the great Rosendale-based kindie-rock band Dog on Fleas, helps pass the waiting time.) To ease the crush, the artists at WSW have found a new, more spacious venue to host the event this year: the cafeteria at SUNY-Ulster, located at 491 Cottekill Road in Stone Ridge.
Women’s Studio Workshop’s 20th annual Chili Bowl Fiesta opens at 2 p.m. on Saturday, February 25. For the first two hours – meaning best pick of the eating vessels – there is a $5 admission charge. Arrivals from 4 to 7 p.m. get in free. For more info, call (845) 658-9133 or visit www.wsworkshop.org/chili-bowl-fiesta.