February 18, 2008

Cornellians and Locals Head Downtown for Chili Cook-Off

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Chili Cook-Off and Iron Chef Competition video
Large crowds, eager to try the unique flavors of chili from local restaurants and chefs, bombarded downtown Ithaca for the 10th Annual Chili Cook-Off & Win­terFest this past Saturday. New this year was an Iron Chef-style cooking contest, “Chili Idol” karaoke, an air guitar competition and a people’s choice chili award.
Many vendors ran out of chili early due to the high volume of people at the event.
“I wish I’d known we’d have 1,200 people,” said Leslie Muhl­hahn, chef and owner of Just Desserts and Queen of Tarts. “We had the longest line for a while. That’s why we were out of stuff.”
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Crowds stretched down The Commons in all directions as people stood on line to get a taste.
“This looked like a really popular event, so I thought I’d come down. But it’s pretty hectic right now,” said Adrian Wong grad.
In order to serve as many customers as possible, Hope’s Way Café and Catering served chili from three sides of their table to minimize lines. All of the chili at the event was for sale only with tasting tickets that had to be purchased on The Commons at specific ticket booths.
“I think they need to develop a better system for getting the tickets out to people faster,” said Beth Ripa of Hope’s Way. “Maybe pre-selling the tickets somewhere else so people don’t have to stand in line so long. The lines are just crazy.”
Hope’s Way prepared a dish called “Gorges Smokey Porter Chili” which was served together with spicy churros.
“Our chili is beef-based, made with sirloin with a tomato base, and it has a special twist to it — it has Ithaca’s own porter beer cooked right in with the chili. It’s served with a side of churros, which is a kind of seasoned deep-fried bread. The two go together great,” said Ripa.
Hope’s Way wasn’t the only vendor to use Ithaca Beer in their recipe — Cayuga Pure Organics also included this ingredient in their chili.
“As far as the secret to great chili, I can’t tell you that. But the venison chili had some Ithaca beer in it, which I think helped,” said Seamus Clancey of Cayuga Pure Organics, which featured locally grown products in their chili.
“For both [types of] chili we used our own beans, grown on our farm right outside of town in Brooktonndale. The vegan chili had red beans, the meat chili — venison — had pinto beans and all kinds of other stuff,” said Clancey.
Many vendors, such as the Green Star Cooperative Market, offered both meat and vegetarian options on their menus.
Julia Littell grad said, “I had both [types of] chili from GreenStar, the vegan and the venison. They’re good, but they’re spicy. I feel like that overwhelms the flavor a little bit.”
Muhlhahn’s kitchen served a variety of flavors of chili as well.
“We had a really lovely chili local grass-fed lamb with black beans and then I also made a really nice vegetarian chili that was all smoked different kinds of peppers,” said Muhlhahn. “What happens with the vegetarian chili is sometimes they’re a little flat. So we smoked the poblanos. That was what the title was — smoked poblano chili. But we also smoked sweet red peppers, regular green peppers, jalapeños — all kinds.”
Despite the cold weather, at the end of the day everyone was excited by the food and atmosphere on The Commons.
“I can’t feel my feet anymore,” said Muhlhahn, warming her hands by her flatbread oven. “It’s cold, but it’s been fun.”