February 17, 2013

Chili Cook-Off Marks Last Major Event of the Spring on Ithaca Commons

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The annual Great Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-Off took place this weekend in what Gary Ferguson, executive director of the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, hailed as the “last major event on the old Ithaca Commons” before a redesign of the downtown space begins in April.

“As the construction starts, we’ll continue our events downtown, but they’ll be in slightly different locations downtown during the construction period,” Ferguson said.

Vendors served coconut curry chili, thai sweet potato chili and chicken chorizo black bean chili, among other options, to the Chili Cook-Off visitors. About 30 local restaurants and organizations prepared hot vats of steaming chili for the event, which was held on the Commons and typically draws approximately 15,000 visitors a year, according to Ferguson. The Downtown Ithaca Alliance organized the event.

Ithaca resident and first-time Chili Cook-off attendee Mary Monkman praised the vendors and their chili at the event.

“It’s great for a cold day … a great way to spend the day,” Monkman said.

Monkman said her favorite chili was the chorizo and brisket chili prepared by Longview — a residential senior retirement community in Ithaca. She said she enjoyed the fact that, in addition to sour cream and cheese, visitors also had the option of topping their chili with crushed M&Ms, which reduce the acidity of the chili.

For the Chili Cook-Off visitor who perhaps needed a break from chili, the event featured other locally made cuisine: slabs of cornbread, local beer and wine, apple crisp and hot chocolate were also available.The event also offered an inflatable castle and face painting, a Chili Idol singing competition, the Chililympics — a new addition to this year’s Cook-off in which participants raced through an obstacle course with a chili pepper balanced on a spoon — and a moustache competition.

Kat Balram ’13 said attending the festival was “bittersweet, since it was my first and last chilifest.”

“[The Chili Cook-off] was awesome; I wish I had made it down to the Commons a lot sooner,” Balram said. “It was no suprise to me that [Colletown Bagels] had the best chili … All the chili was delicious. I can see why Ithaca is top rated for restaurant quality.”

Candace Burton, a sophomore at Ithaca College, said she decided to attend the event this year because she had heard rave reviews about the event from attendees last year.

“I didn’t go my freshman year, so I just wanted to see what it was all about and try some chili. A lot of people that went last year said the chili was really good,” Burton said.

Binghamton resident Erin Washburn, who attended the festival with her husband  and their two sons, said this was also their first time at the event. They found it family-friendly, she added.

“[My sons] love the chili; they’re pretty adventuresome eaters,” Washburn said. “They had a great time. They get to run around while we’re in line.”

Burton described the festival’s atmosphere as “a pretty fun environment.”

“The bouncy house is pretty cool, and I really like the face painting,” she said.

Ferguson said the event compared equally with last year’s Chili Cook-off.

“The weather held off, the crowd sizes were good and the [number of] restaurants that participated [was] the same as well. It was a strong event for this year,” he said. “We have a great event organizing staff … They’re really good at what they do, and I think it shows. In the middle of winter they put on a pretty amazing festival.”

Balram echoed Ferguson’s sentiment.

“Chili and beer: what more can I ask for on a brisk Saturday afternoon?” she said. “Great food in a great city makes for a great Saturday afternoon.”

Original Author: Emma Court