Theresa Fall was unfazed by her big winter event falling on one of the coldest weekends the year had to offer.
After all, combating the dull winter with the spice of chili had been the reason she started the annual New Paltz Local Chili Challenge in the first place.
Despite the temperature on Jan. 26 dropping to a low of 10 degrees, at least 1,000 Hudson Valley residents turned out to participate in the fifth annual New Paltz Local Chili Challenge. Nine local chefs turned out Saturday afternoon to showcase their chili creations and to be judged in five different categories.
The event usually takes place on the fourth Sunday of January, something that’s been tradition since Fall started the event half a decade ago.
“My job is to create events at Water Street Market and most of them usually take place in the summer,” Fall said. “We didn’t have anything during the winter, and because people are holed up and cold this time of year, I wanted something that would bring people out.”
Fall wanted a cook off, and she said she wanted it to be something that could warm people up and draw them out from the confines of their homes during the cold month of January. Naturally, Fall thought the best way to beat the chill was with chili.
“Chili is such a heartwarming comfort food and it’s something everyone can enjoy,” Fall said.
The event called for chefs to use at least five local ingredients in their chili recipe, with competitors growing herbs and vegetables in their personal gardens or using produce, dairy and meat products cultivated within the area. This year’s event featured nine different chilis, fewer than in previous years.
There were three judges to critique each chili. The categories for the challenge were best professional and best home chili, as well as best vegetarian, most creative and people’s choice categories.
Phil Robbins, a first-year judge and previous competitor, said the criteria for a good chili are uniformity, consistency and how the creativeness of the recipes “bring the chili to life.”
“I don’t want big chunks or liquid in the chili,” Robbins said. “I also look at how the chili forms together in the spoon. It needs to form together on the spoon as a unified bite.”
This year, A Tavola Trattoria was named the winner of the Best Professional Chili category, and the recipe, which called for lamb and Moroccan spices, was a favorite for Robbins and other attendees.
“That was definitely my favorite among the professional entrants,” Robbins said. “It was a good blend of flavors and I thought finishing the recipe off with feta cheese and adding cilantro really brought the dish to life.”
First-time competitor and Best Home-Cooked Chili winner Matt Sheridan said, while it was his first time competing, he has spent two years reworking and modifying his winning sweet three meat chili recipe.
“A lot of times chili can be really spicy and sometimes I find the spice overpowering,” Sheridan said. “I use Coca Cola in my recipe to help caramelize the onions better and faster and to give the recipe a little bit of sweet.”
The $1,600 made from the event this year was donated to St. Joseph’s Food Pantry. The cause is one of the reasons this event remains a favorite for Fall and other New Paltz residents.
“A good chili is determined by the heartiness and the comfort it brings,” New Paltz resident Steve Casa said. “This event is so great because it helps a great cause and it brings so many people together. We’re lucky that we live in a community that has an event like this every year.”