If it’s January, then it’s chili season. Really, there’s a chili season? Well, that’s what I was told last June when I asked for chili at a favorite local eatery and was told it wasn’t “chili season.” Having grown up in the warmer climes of the west coast, where we ate chili at all times of the year, this was news to me, despite having lived in this region for years. But there is a case to be made for the connection between a steaming bowl of the savory stew and a cold, snowy day, so I guess it is no wonder that January has become the month to find chili cook-offs and competitions in the area.
The courtyard at Water Street Market on Main Street in New Paltz hosts one of the best competitions, with the 11th annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge fundraiser to be held this year on Saturday, January 26 from noon to 3 p.m. (The snow date is Sunday, January 27.) Admission is free. Tickets at $1 each — or 12 tickets for $10 or 25 for $20 — are exchanged for three-ounce cups of chili made by professional restaurateurs or home chef amateurs who have a great chili recipe.
All proceeds raised will benefit St. Joseph’s Food Pantry. The event typically raises between $1,000 and $3,000 for the organization.
The Local Ingredient Chili Challenge is organized every year by Theresa Fall, partner in The Parish restaurant at Water Street Market, upstairs from her Jar’d Wine Pub on the street level. In her role as the community events coordinator for the marketplace, Fall puts the event together every year. Contestants for the challenge still have time to get involved, she says: interested individuals (including kid chefs), schools or organizations may reach her through the Water Street Market website.
Contestants must make at least five gallons of chili for the event. Visitors are advised to go early, as some competitors sell out before the event is over. The mouthwatering scent of simmering chili permeating the marketplace makes it hard to resist sampling all of the different varieties available, and knowing the profits go to a good cause makes the endeavor entirely guilt-free. And did I say fun? The event draws a huge crowd each year — admittedly weather-related — but with any luck, the current “cold and dry” forecast as of press time will hold.
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. And the more local ingredients used, the more weight it carries with the panel of three judges in the competition. The categories this year are Best Professional, Best Home Chef, Best Vegetarian, Most Creative and People’s Choice.
Contestants so far, as of press time, include Mountain Harbor Deli in Gardiner, The Parish Restaurant and Jar’d Wine Pub from Water Street Market, Upstairs on 9 Cafe at the New Paltz Golf Course, A Tavola, Yard Owl and Mudd Puddle Coffee Roasters. Bill Gehris of Bradley Farm is returning, as are the husband-and-wife duo, Seth and Anna Vangasbeek, who have won the competition in the past as best home chefs for their smoky and sweet chili.
Contestants often put a great deal of thought into their creations, making a different chili for each event. The standard recipe for chili includes beef or vegetables as the foundation simmered with tomatoes, onions, spices and beans (the latter everywhere but in Texas). But chili-makers have been known to substitute meats such as venison, pork or turkey for the beef and include flavorful ingredients such as beer, coffee, lime juice, carbonated soda or chocolate, that take the taste sensations to an entirely different level. (Betty Crocker, of all “people,” even advocates adding honey and a touch of dry sherry for flavor.)
Water Street Market is located at 10 Main Street in New Paltz. For more information, visit www.waterstreetmarket.com.