On March 5, dozens of local chili lovers gathered in the Ithaca Commons for the 24th Annual Chili Cook-Off. More than 20 restaurants vied for the seven titles, which included Best Vegan Chili, Best Chili-Inspired Item and People’s Choice.
With some COVID-19 restrictions having been lifted since the previous year’s event, for which voting took place online, some business owners voiced enthusiasm at interacting with guests in person.
“Last year was all remote, so everybody had to stop in the store and then vote online,” said Robert Jordan, owner of Covered Bridge Market, which won People’s Choice this year and Best Meat Chili at last year’s event. “It was a whole new experience [this year].”
Sabine Detterbeck, who co-owns Seabring Inn with her partner Jordan Rosenbaum, also expressed excitement at the event’s return to Downtown Ithaca.
“We were operating a food truck for years, so we used to do all these downtown events,” said Detterbeck, whose restaurant won Best Meat Chili this year and People’s Choice last year. “It was just nice seeing everybody again and feeling slightly normal.”
Drew Sample, the food and beverage director at Kilpatrick’s, led the restaurant to victory in the category of Best Vegetarian Chili. A native Texan, Sample’s experience lay in cooking meat chili rather than vegetarian.
“Brisket chili and things like that… it’s like a staple for us,” Sample said. “Doing a vegetarian one was definitely a branch out for me.”
Still, Sample’s vegetarian recipe proved successful after only two days of preparation before the cook-off.
“I actually came up with the recipe maybe two days prior; I’d never even put it together until the actual day of the cook off,” Sample said. “It actually felt really good to put something together that same day, and it produced some great results.”
Detterbeck’s chili-making process follows a lengthier approach, which begins with her smoking brisket for 16 hours. Overall, she told The Sun that her preparation for the cook-off took about a week and a half.
Youth Entrepreneurship Market’s Best Vegan Chili win is a product of a collaboration between the organization — which is a local youth entrepreneurship program — Southside Community Center and Village at Ithaca. The team first participated in the cook-off this year, said Michael Mazza, co-leader of Youth Entrepreneurship Market.
According to Jordan, the cook-off offered rewards beyond a title. He noted that, following the restaurant’s win, Covered Bridge Market saw more customers coming to sample the other dishes that it serves.
“It’s good publicity for the business and the town,” Jordan said. “Everybody wins.”
Other cook-off winners included Luna Inspired Street Food, crowned Best Presentation; Gorgers Subs, which won Best Chili-Inspired Item; and Monks on the Commons, which won Best Beverage.