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Ithaca Chili Cook-Off 2022

On the morning of Saturday, March 5, local restaurants and businesses worked to transform the Ithaca Commons for the annual Chili Cook-Off. 2022 marks the 24th year of the Downtown Ithaca event. Over 30 restaurants showed up to “bring the heat,” including many repeats from previous years. But last year’s chili cook-off looked very different.

One of many long lines outside fan favorites in 2022; Kilpatrick’s chili line is shown here

Due to COVID-19, the 2021 Chili Cook-Off was socially distanced, lasted over two weeks and required people to order chili items from specific restaurants’ take-out menus. This year’s event, though delayed until this month, was modeled after previous years where businesses had tents set up in and around the commons.

2022 featured many old favorites, plus a few new ones. Some, like the Statler Hotel, came in confident with their classic recipe. Others, like Gorgers Subs, hoped their creativity would pay off. But most importantly, everyone seemed to have their own special ingredient.

One team has been working to perfect this particular chili recipe for years. Hotel Ithaca’s chili had not one but two special ingredients: a brown beer from Ithaca’s own Liquid State Brewing Co., as well as a dark chocolate garnish. Hotel Ithaca’s representatives at the Chili Cook-Off said the chef’s combination is an “exceptional experience.” 

Hotel Ithaca isn’t the only participant who has been working on its  perfect chili for years. Eric Szymczak, the executive chef at the Statler Hotel’s Taverna Banfi, had enthusiasm for days about chili fest and his recipe being a potential winner. 

Chef Eric, Christina and Tatiana from the Statler Hotel

“I wasn’t here last year because of COVID-19, but we’ve been here many many many times… every time we do it. It’s nice to see people gathering; it’s nice to see them out and eating food, smiling and socializing. And seeing me win again!”

Seeing Ithacans happy to be out and about was certainly a common goal for many of the businesses. 

“We’re enjoying this; seeing people out, seeing their smiling faces,” said Rob Jordan,  Covered Bridge Market’s owner. Located in Newfield, they were last year’s 1st place winner for “Best Meat Chili.” Jordan said “This is our first year in the town. Last year was all remote so it was kinda a little bit different… This is a lot different for me because it’s only my second year doing it, but it’s been a lot of fun so far.” 

Samples of a chili featuring a cornbread crumble

As for their secret ingredient? “Well, we care about what we make. It’s all about the feeling,” said Jordan. That caring once again brought them to first place this year, but this time for the coveted “People’s Choice” award. 

Rounding out the lineup were several businesses featuring “chili-inspired” items, such as Mojos Hot Sauce, Loaves and Fishes’ cornbread and a citrus cheesecake from Gorgers. Also in the lineup: Via’s Cookies, a new and rapidly growing business by Ithaca College student Olivia Carpenter. 

Carpenter was the only student-owned business in the lineup and worked the stand by herself. While she was happy to be there, her participation wasn’t something she expected. 

 “I actually had someone from the Downtown Ithaca Alliance reach out to me and say hey this would be a great opportunity for you,” to which she said she happily obliged. 

 Carpenter emphasized how well the whole event includes businesses and participants, saying: 

“Basically, people buy a one dollar ticket and they come and redeem it for any product. And so it all goes into a thing at the end and they give us back our money. The way it works, in and of itself, is pretty community-based just because we’re all competing to make this awesome stuff.”

Her usual cookies include flavors like chocolate chip, galactic fudge, snickerdoodle and buckeye, with several having a gluten-free and vegan option. But for the Chili Cook-Off, Carpenter pulled out a secret weapon: a new cheddar-scallion cookie. She really likes the idea of pairing chili with the chili-inspired items from other businesses. 

“I’m adding to the experience by adding, like, my cheddar scallion cookies that you can dip in the chili. So I feel like the concept in general is pretty community-based.” 

Ithaca’s 2022 Chili Cook-Off brought the creativity and variety that Ithaca as a town is known for, this year in a more engaging setting than last year’s remote, COVID-19-cautious version. The full list of winners can be found here.


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