As Ithaca endures the brunt of its harsh winters and the pandemic, a staple tradition persists — the 23rd Annual Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-Off will keep the chills away with chili from Feb. 12 until Feb. 28.
In order to keep event participants safe from COVID-19, the Chili Cook-Off will be socially distanced and ticket-free. Tasters will visit one of the 28 participating restaurants and order a featured chili item for take-out. Then, they’ll judge their chilis from home and vote for one to receive bragging rights and a trophy.
Similar to last year, the participating eateries will compete for the titles of best meat chili, best vegetarian/vegan chili, the people’s choice chili and cest chili-inspired item.
Gorgers, a restaurant that was runner-up for the best chili-inspired item and placed third for best vegetarian/vegan chili, mentioned that this year they might not participate in the awards.
“It just boils down to how many people you can get into your business, versus [how] the past Chili Fests have been judged,” said Barton Diamond, Gorgers owner. “It’s impossible for us to place in anything because we [will] probably only get maybe 5 to 10 percent of the traffic of the restaurant now.”
Since the cook-off has been changed from a day to almost two weeks, some restaurants are adapting how they are serving their chili. If Gorgers decides to participate, they will create a batch of chili at the start of each week and serve until they run out. But keeping the chili warm without declining in quality poses a significant challenge.
Other restaurants, like Casablanca Pizzeria, have shown excitement for the new format.
“We are allowed to charge what we want so we can actually make some money,” said Andy Conroy, the manager of Casablanca Pizzeria. Normally, the ticket system means restaurants see maybe 25 cents per ticket, according to Conroy.
Conroy believes that, even with a socially-distanced format, the Chili Cook-Off will provide good advertisement, bring people out and support local restaurants.
Participants who try the chili are encouraged to engage with each other and the restaurants over social media, using the hashtag #DowntownIthaca.
“I’m looking for people to come out and come back to life,” Conroy said. “I just want people to see what we are doing.”