Charming Chili Challenge

Photo by Maxwell Reide.

Tasting different kinds of warm chili around a crackling campfire is a time honored tradition for New Paltz that is loved for the cozy and communal feeling it provides. This feeling was definitely present on a brisk winter day in the heart of the village.

The small square located at the end of the Water Street Market was filled with people, chatter and many aromas on Sunday, Jan. 25 during the seventh-annual local ingredient Chili Challenge.

Surrounding the square, and the campfire were 15 contestants, offering two-ounce samples of their unique cocktail of locally produced veggies, meats, beer, bourbon, spices and even chocolate.

Awards were given in five categories: home-cooked, vegetarian – which went to Matt Flusser – most creative, people’s choice and best professional – which went to Rock & Rye Tavern.

Regulars like Curbside Cuisine, co-owned by Paul Schembri, were alongside first-timers like the New Paltz Fire Department, who won the best home-cooked chili award and local coffee shop and café, Moxie Cup, formerly known as Moxie Cupcake.

Schembri won the award for most creative chili for his use of malted milk balls in a recipe he created especially for this event, which included pork shoulder, chorizo, bacon, onions and apples. He said Curbside Cuisine, a food truck, serves dishes that fit well with the season so soups and chili are usually on their menu this time of year.

Moxie Cup owner since 2011, Josi Priole has attended this event every year since it began. This year she decided to enter Moxie Cup as a contestant. Their habanero butternut squash turkey chili combined local ingredients from The Huguenot CSA, the Newburgh Brewing Company, Evolutionary Organics, Winter Sun Farm, Oliverea Schoolhouse Maple and Hudson Valley Fresh.

Moxie Cup came in second place for the people’s choice award behind The Huguenot, a restaurant that served lamb chili topped with an in-house sour cream and oyster cracker.

With all proceeds going to St. Joseph’s nondenominational food pantry, the challenge has gained popularity in recent years especially as local ingredients become easier to find, according to event coordinator Theresa Fall.

Fall said she has seen an increase in professional contestants and a decrease in home-cookers as all participants must abide by the state health code and professional kitchens are not always accessible to home-cookers.

“I love helping and giving to charities,” Priole said. “[This event] is another great way to use a business to help people and get good chili from it, too.”

Priole said Moxie Cup plans to feature signature dishes on a lunch menu starting Feb. 1. Topped with a scoop of fresh sour cream, a pinch of scallion and a petite heart-shaped corn tortilla spiced with Hungarian paprika, the turkey chili will be seen again on their new menu which will also include soups and possibly panini sandwiches.

The event was enjoyed by SUNY New Paltz students as well.

“This was a great event to get the community together and eat chili around a fire,” said Angela Mastandrea, second-year psychology major.

Originally scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 24, the challenge was postponed due to inclement weather and could not have gone better if planned as the sun shined down on the square all afternoon long.

“Overall it was a wildly successful event as most [contestants] are relieved that so many people came out for the snow date and even made extra donations because of it,” Fall said.