February 21, 2010

Chili Festival Brings Spice to the Commons

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In the middle of a harsh Ithacan winter, few foods warm the body like chili. So it was no surprise that the Commons was packed end to end on Saturday as students and Ithaca residents turned out for hot wings, hot music and hot chili at the 12th Annual Great Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-Off and WinterFest.

“I think this is the best festival Ithaca has,” Ithaca resident Ann Trip said. Trip has lived in the town for over 20 years, but she said this was her first chili festival. “It’s a fun way to get people out during the winter.”

The University was well represented at the festival. Lynn Rathbun, senior research associate in the Cornell Nanoscale Facility, took home the people’s chili prize, given to the best chili from a non-restaurant or business. His “Lipstick on a Pig,” named because it is composed mostly of bacon and roast pig, was gone within the first few hours of the festival.

“It had lots of flavor, some beer, some Chipotle peppers,” Rathbun said. Rathbun has been cooking for 10 years, although this was his first Cook-Off entry.

The Cornell Hotel Society took away the top prize for best meat chili on Saturday. Collegetown Bagel’s aptly named “Dragon’s Breath” chili was given the distinction of “hottest” chili at the festival. Cornell Dining also contributed their own batch of meat chili to the festival.

Casting its lot with the big dogs of the Cook-Off was a team of 12 University students led by Adam McCann ’10, which was the first independent team in the history of the competition to compete against the professional restaurants and businesses. Unfortunately, its chili failed to place.

“Everybody was really happy this year,” said Alex Amorese, Ithaca College ’10. Amorese, a business administration major, headed the judging committee along with Todd Koons, Ithaca College ’10. Amorese secured the position after interning for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance last year.

With 27 meat entries and 14 vegetarian selections, the judges had their mouths full. However, the steady supply of free beer and finger food made it easier for them to discern between the spicy dishes.

While there was a fair share of large-scale operations headlining the festival, including Moosewood, many smaller businesses also attended. One of those companies, Solaz, operates a burrito stall in the Ithaca Farmer’s Market every Saturday morning. Kristof Ostlund, owner of Solaz, who works as a chef at the Alpha Phi sorority house during the week, said he had received second prize twice at the festival, once under the headline of a restaurant he used to own, Coyote Loco. The festival’s neighborhood vibe and goal of philanthropy keep bringing him back, Ostlund said.

“It’s a community thing; the community supported me” Ostlund said. “This whole thing helps raise money for the free concerts over the summer.”

While many attendees said they enjoyed the annual event, at least a few had concerns about the festival’s environmental impact.

“I think ChiliFest could be a lot more environmentally-friendly,” Amanda Greenbaum ’10 said. “Reusable bowls, spoons and cups should be provided when you buy your tickets.”

Tickets were $1 for one tasting, and tasting portions ranged from a few spoonfuls to hearty plastic bowls. The festival also featured a hot pepper eating contest, a mechanical bull, and wine tasting.

Original Author: Brendan Doyle