While some people love to make and eat chili year-round, it’s especially welcome when the weather is chilly and raw. Every year for 14 years now – with only 2021 skipped on account of the danger of spreading COVID – fans of the spicy stew have been drawn out into the cold to gather outdoors at the Water Street Market in New Paltz to sample a wide variety of chili recipes. When you buy your tickets ($1 per taste, 12 for $10 and 25 for $20), you even get ballots to vote for your favorite contenders.
Originally conceived as a January event meant to lure foot traffic to the Water Street Market in the off-season, the much-loved Local Ingredient Chili Challenge returns this Saturday, March 18, from 12 noon to 3 p.m. “Last year we held it in March due to the pandemic and decided that it would be best to hold it in March rather than January going forward, to help avoid snow cancellations. Of course, the date it would have been in January was 65 and sunny, and this week we are getting snow! We can’t win,” says longtime event coordinator Theresa Fall. “It won’t stop us! We are excited to raise much-needed funds for the St. Joseph’s Food Pantry and to just all be together as a community and support one another’s sustainable culinary efforts.”
The sustainability piece of the Chili Challenge lies in the requirement that each entry include at least five ingredients farmed or otherwise produced in the Hudson Valley. When you browse around the tables that circle the plaza in front of the Antiques Barn at the southern end of the Market, waiting your turn to try a two-ounce portion of each of the competition entries, you’ll see ingredients lists posted alongside each vat of chili, letting you know exactly where the chefs obtained what they used in their concoctions. It’s a great way to promote local agriculture – and also inspire visitors to try their hands at farm-to-table cuisine.
Categories in which entrants will compete include Most Creative, Best Home Chef, Best Professional, Best Vegetarian and People’s Choice – the latter to be determined by on-the-spot voting. This year’s panel of judges consists of former deli owner Joan Fall, chef/bar manager Patricia Lowden and caterer/former food truck owner Paul Schembri. There are first- and second-place winners in each category.
Some competitors come back year after year; you may have spotted plaques commemorating their victories displayed at a number of local bars and restaurants. “We are happy to announce that the New Paltz Fire Department will be back in the competition! It’s been several years since they took part,” notes Theresa Fall.
All proceeds from this event go to support St. Joseph’s non-denominational food pantry, which is in dire need of supplies to feed hundreds of local families. The Chili Challenge typically raises at least $2,000 each year. So, come on out: It’ll warm your heart along with your belly.