A Chili January: Annual Competition on Water Street

Brr! January is oftentimes reported as the chilliest month of the year. Despite the season’s bitter weather, Water Street Market was less chilly and more chili this past Sunday. Crowds of people gathered in the market’s courtyard to take part in the site’s 12th Annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge from noon to 3 p.m.

Upon entering the courtyard, event attendees were greeted with an aromatic array of 10 different chilis from 10 different vendors. Contestants were comprised of eight local businesses and two home chefs. Dishes included seven meat chilis and three vegan options. Ingredients involved everything from beef to beer to bacon to cranberry beans!

Although choosing a favorite from each of these tasty options seems like a tough task, that is exactly what attendees were prompted to do. 

Each chili was subject to win first or second place in five different categories: best home chef, best professional, most creative, best vegetarian and people’s choice. Upon buying tickets to taste the chili, attendees were given poker chips to drop in one of 10 jars placed in the middle of the square — each labeled with a number corresponding to one of the dishes. These tokens were totaled up to find the people’s choice.

This year, that victory went to Upstairs on 9 Cafe whose unique dish included ingredients such as brisket and goat cheese. The business’ chili was so popular that they even ran out before the end of the competition!

Other winners included Ray Bradley Farm (best home chef), Yard Owl Craft Brewery (best professional), The Parish Restaurant & Bar (best vegetarian) and Village Pizza (most creative). The latter having created the aptly named Carnivore’s Delight Cup-O-Pizza featuring classic pizza ingredients such as Italian sausage, grated cheese and marinara — it was the best in my book.

The challenge is not only a fun way for chili chefs to go head-to-head and community members to sample some recipes, it’s also entirely a fundraiser! All proceeds go to St. Joseph’s non-denominational food pantry. Every year the event raises around $2,000, which is pretty impressive considering tickets only cost one dollar each.

Contestants were able to enter the competition at no cost, but with a few, simple requirements: the donation of five or more gallons of chili, the use of a commercial kitchen to cook the chili in and the use of at least five locally sourced ingredients.

With a dish traditionally composed of ingredients such as chili peppers, kidney beans and tomatoes — all of which are painfully out of season by January — the challenge truly stems from finding local chili ingredients in the dead of winter.

 Theresa Fall, events coordinator for Water Street Market conceived the idea “back in a time where it was difficult to find local ingredients all year round.” She said, “[Contestants] really had to think outside the box to prepare the chili.”

 Over the years, competitors have found many ways to get around the out-of-season dilemma. 

“With chili, you can use local beer, coffee, honey, cheese, there’s all sorts of resources,” Fall explained. “Sometimes if chefs have been doing it year after year, they start thinking about it in the fall [and] they might prepare for it when everything’s in season.”

The added fun of the challenge is that competitors are forced to come up with creative new recipes for their entries year after year. Sometimes these dishes come out in surprising, innovative ways.

“I enjoyed seeing everyone’s different ideas on what constitutes chili,” said Seth Antona, a contestant from Clemson Brothers Brewery. “It’s fun to see people’s culinary apropos, the swiss army knife that chili can be.”

On top of the interesting creativity, fun competition and good cause that the Local Ingredient Chili Challenge promotes, it is also an event that brings the community together in a wholesome way. 

“Everywhere you turn around there’s somebody you know,” said attendee Michelle Hathaway.

“There’s such a good vibe out there. I really can’t compare it to any other event all year long,” Fall said.

Hopefully, the Local Ingredient Chili Challenge will be an event that warms the hearts of New Paltz for years to come.