Last Saturday afternoon was the perfect day for a bowl of chili: in a word, cold. Cold enough to need to wear a hat, if you were attending the 11th annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge at the Water Street Market (though holding a cup of hot chili in your hands could temporarily compensate for having forgotten one’s gloves). Attendance was brisk and lively, and most of the 50-plus gallons of chili on hand was enthusiastically scarfed up well before the event was scheduled to end.
Still, when it came time to announce the prize winners, Village of New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers needed to warm up the crowd with a few quips. He asked how many of the attendees would prefer to see the Challenge held in the spring or fall instead, and quite a few applauded the idea. But it was just a tease. “The whole idea is to support the nondenominational food pantry at St. Joe’s,” said the mayor, lauding the efforts of Joan and Theresa Fall to get the event established more than a decade ago. “In January is when they need the support…That’s why we gather here each year in the cold.”
All the chili — a minimum of five gallons per entrant, using a minimum of five locally produced ingredients — is donated, Rogers pointed out. The proceeds of the sales of tickets to sample the contents of ten different steaming cauldrons go entirely to the food pantry. This year about $2,400 was raised, according to the Water Street Market Facebook page.
Rogers was part of a team of judges that also included Rich Souto and Joan Fall, and ticketbuyers were also entitled to put a token in a jar indicating their favorite chili recipe as a basis for the People’s Choice award. First-place winners in each category received a gift box from Winter Sun, and second-place winners a Water Street gift certificate. The actual award is a wooden cutting board, painted to indicate the specific honor received.
As many contestants come back to participate year after year, some of the winners already have similar awards hanging on their walls. The 2019 winners were a bit reminiscent of the Oscars some years, when a small handful of movies seem to sweep all the laurels. There were four entrants who claimed two prizes each: The Mudd Puddle’s vegan concoction, spritzed with Apple Chili Hot Sauce (made with apples from Dressel Farms) and served with focaccia beer bread on the side, came in first in both the Best Professional and Best Vegetarian categories. The Hermannator, as Upstairs on 9’s Todd Greger calls the chili formula that he named for his late father, took First Prize in the Most Creative category and was also the overwhelming People’s Choice.
Though the Hermannator has been a longtime strong contender, Greger seemed especially pleased with this year’s batch and the results of some tinkering with the recipe. He experimented by fire-roasting the three different kinds of peppers and using roasted garlic. “It gave them more of an earthy flavor, made them smokier…took the bite out of them,” he noted. He uses smoked brisket and ribeye steak, Andouille and chorizo sausage, all locally raised, plus maple syrup, honey and Gilded Otter Winter Wassail beer. A dollop of goat cheese topped it off. The crowd liked Greger’s formulation so well that he ran out early. “It’s like in Jaws,” he quipped. “I’m gonna need a bigger pot next year.”
There were two more double prizewinners. Bill Gehris, standing in for Ray Bradley — who was off in Brooklyn at the Grand Army Plaza Farmers’ Market, as usual on Saturdays — presented two separate Bardley Farm entries: a vegan chili that included kale and dried porcini mushrooms, which took Second Prize in the Vegetarian category, and a meaty, brothy chili called Whole Hog that came in first in the Best Home Chef category. “We raise our own hogs. We treat them right,” Gehris said. Slightly dislodged from their long domination as first-place Home Chefs were Seth and Ana Van Gaasbeek, whose “deconstructed burger” bison chili — a tomatoey mix flavored with bacon, cheddar and jalapeño — came in second in that category, and in the People’s Choice slot as well.
The other two prizewinners were the Parish, whose “Parrain’s Should-Be-Famous” chicken chili took second place in the Most Creative category, and this visitor’s personal favorite, second place under Best Professional: À Tavola’s dark, smoky brew of veal, lamb, pork and beef from the Hudson Valley Cattle Company, dusted to your preferred heat level with a custom-blended chili powder. Its not-so-secret ingredients included a Belgian Dubbel from Hudson Ale Works and some Krause’s Dark Chocolate.
Beer is already one of my go-to ingredients when I make a batch of chili at home. Now I’m thinking that I’ll need to try throwing in a dollop of chocolate next time. As usual, the Local Ingredient Chili Challenge supplied a dose of inspiration, along with the perfect food for a cold January day — not to mention well-stocked pantry shelves for our neighbors in need.