February 23, 2004

Chili Ithaca

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The sixth annual Great Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-Off and Winterfest took place on Saturday as 26 local and regional restaurants convened on the Ithaca Commons to serve original chili to a large, hungry crowd.

Kristen Ciferri, event coordinator of the Ithaca Downtown Partnership, expected a good turnout because of the relatively mild weather and estimated that “over 10,000 people [would] attend.”

The festival hosted live music by “Missing in Action”, provided by platinum-nation.com as well as fire jugglers, ice sculpture demonstrations and a mechanical bull ride.

According to John Macbeth, operator of the mechanical bull ride, the bull was brought by gotbull.com, a Washington State-based company.

The bull, which is stored in Buffalo, N.Y., has been seen on two commercials for MTV as well as on the Jerry Springer Show and the motion picture Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

The Statler Hotel took the 2002 and 2003 first place prizes, but this year sported new chefs. The new chili engineers, Moises Sabina and Jeremy Thayer, created a chili made of black beans, rib eye steak, chipolte, mulato, New Mexican peppers and a peanut butter cup.

According to Sabina, “what makes the chili is the peanut butter cup at the bottom of the bowl.”

The Statler Hotel’s former chef, Arthur McGruder, is now employed by Bridges Cornell Heights. He was looking for his third straight personal win on Saturday.

He said he has participated in the cook-off for four years because “of the challenge.”

He added that he enjoys the ability to “compete with [his] peers on something that’s fun.”

According to Sabina, “there’s a bit of drama” in the competition between him group with the Statler Hotel and Bridges, and said that “we would like to go home with the trophy tonight.”

Other participants in the competition were 104 West, State University of New York at Binghamton dining services, the Tower Club at Ithaca College, Simeon’s and Bistro Q, which claimed it had made the hottest chili ever created.

They required tasters, recruited by repeated screams of “Who wants to get burned?” to sign a waiver before sampling their chili.

This year’s Cook-Off consisted of two contests: the Ithaca Cook-Off, and the Chili Appreciation Society International (CASI) competition. The winners of the CASI competition would be eligible to compete in the state and possibly national CASI competition in Texas.

The CASI competition has much more stringent rules than the Ithaca contest. Ingredients such as beans and pasta could not be used, and the chili had to made on-site. Only 15 restaurants participated in this contest.

The first place CASI prize went to Vince Capozzi of Binghamton University dining services.

The Ithaca chili judges were Michelle C. Berry MPS ’92, Common Council member for Ward Two; George Holets, general manager of the State Theatre; Chef Ralph Moss of Ralph’s Ribs; Jake Gervin, circulation manager at the Ithaca Journal; Todd Mallinson of I100 Radio and Fred Bonn of the Ithaca Chamber of Commerce.

Each judge was furnished with a supply of water, crackers, pretzels, antacid and beer.

Mallinson said he decided to judge because “the beer is cold, and the chili’s hot.”

The chili were judged in a traditional chili division, a vegetarian chili division, on presentation, and on the people’s choice.

The presentation award went to the Boatyard Grill.

In the vegetarian division, the third place prize went to the Tower Club at Ithaca College and the second place prize went to Moosewood Restaurant. The first place prize in the vegetarian division went to Greenstar Cooperative Market for the second straight year.

In the traditional chili division, the third prize of $100 went to the Boatyard Grill, the second prize of $200 went to the Tower Club at Ithaca College, and the first prize of $300 went to the Mahogany Grill.

Leo Carrion, chef at the Mahogany Grill, said that the winning chili was a “kitchen project,” and that it is “sometimes served at the restaurant.”

The announcement of the people’s choice award is scheduled for today, after the tallying of the votes.

“It’s pretty nice to go to a chili contest that has a lot of vegetarian options,” said Ben Blyberg law ’02.

Prof. Scott Conroe, communication, thought that Simeon’s and the Haunt had the best chili.

He added that the Cook-Off was “a nice way to spend the day.”

Over 75 volunteers, organized by On-Site Volunteer Services, helped with selling tickets, running the mechanical bull ride, putting up signs and doing other odd jobs.

The main sponsor of the event was Sciarabba, Walker & Co., LLP.

Archived article by Eric Finkelstein