Ashley He / Sun Staff Photographer

The Ithaca Downtown Alliance hosted its annual Chili Cook-off — in which vendors prepared and presented a range of chilis.

February 9, 2020

Ithaca’s 22nd Annual Chili Cook-Off Brings The Heat

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Hungry customers plodded through slush and below-freezing temperatures on Saturday to Ithaca’s 22nd Annual Chili Cook-Off — featuring over 40 chilis prepared by small businesses and Ithacan amateurs alike.

More than 30 restaurants participated in the cook-off, joined by Cornell denizens such as campus eatery McCormick’s and the Chi Phi fraternity.

Chi Phi, the only Greek organization to compete in the competition, got started when one member signed the house up four years ago. Despite not having won yet, the house has continued this tradition, using an old family recipe.

“One day we’ll win, but until then we’re going to keep cooking,” Michael McHale ’20, a Chi Phi member, told The Sun.

Cook-off veteran Joe Durkee, a chef at the Cayuga Medical Center, likes to change up his chili recipe each year in addition to taking on side projects like pretzel spoons or edible bowls. This year, his team made spicy chili chocolates.

Vendors participating in this year’s event also adhered to new, stricter safety regulations. In an effort to avoid cross contamination, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance requested vendors to distribute their goods in disposable cups rather than utilize the reusable mugs customers sometimes carry with them. Durkee noted that the regulations weren’t made with any particular diseases or illnesses in mind.

“[We are] just trying to be as safe as we can be,” Durkee said.

Some restaurants’ creations drew in hordes of customers, with lines queueing down the Commons.

Mia — an Asian fusion tapas restaurant in the Commons — was one of those restaurants. While chili is not part of Mia’s in-house menu, the restaurant has been successful in past years, as it won third place at last year’s competition. Mia hoped to clinch first place this year with a fusion chili — which was spiced with an Indian curry blend and garnished with Thai herbs and ghee.

“I think having an Asian-infused chili is kind of interesting to people,” Panisara Chutintaranond, a Mia employee, told The Sun. “Being able to put that out is really awesome.”

On Saturday, attendees voted for the best chilis; winners will be announced on Monday.