Sunday, February 01, 2015
By James Lomuscio
The ingredients were as varied as the taste buds of the estimated 1,500 persons who crowded the Bedford Middle School cafeteria today for Chilifest, a regional restaurateur competition that also attracted four local fire departments, including Westport’s, for the coveted best chili titles.
And after the last ladle was served and the final votes tallied, the Westport Fire Department’s Checkered Flag Chicken Chili created by Firefighter Tobias Ostapchuk emerged victorious in the firehouse chili competition, beating out the Weston, Bridgeport and Rowayton fire departments.
“Westport edged out Weston and Bridgeport by 30 votes,” said Jim Keenan, event coordinator.
Though Ostapchuk—who had described his creation as mild yet flavorful, “a single alarm chili”—was not there to savor the victory, being on duty at the Coleytown Firehouse, cheers followed.
Pleasantly surprised was Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe, who had volunteered a couple of hours serving up the winning chili.
“I’m proud that our firefighters have demonstrated their excellence once again, their ongoing commitment to serving and supporting our community,” said Marpe. “I’m glad I could play a small part in their winning efforts.”
Southport Brewing Co. won the classic beef chili competition with its Maple Stout Chili, and Geronimo Tequila Bar Southwest Restaurant in Fairfield won the creative category for its “Hatch Green Chile.”
Chilifest, which began at 11 a.m. and ran through 3 p.m., was packed from the beginning, with attendees sampling and writing down notes while the Sacred Heart University band belted out upbeat tunes.
But it wasn’t all chili. Tony Aitoro of Aitoro’s in Norwalk served up his chocolate chip cookies, which were quickly devoured by the crowd, as was the Tiramisu offering from The Greens of Wilton.
“It’s been open 15 minutes, and I bet I served 50 cups of chili,” said Marpe. “Right now there are hundreds here, and the crowd will get bigger as the day goes on.”
According to Keenan, today was the second Chilifest, but not the second annual, as it was put on the back burner several years ago to focus on the Chowdafest, which began in Westport but has grown exponentially. It eventually moved to Bridgeport and then this year to Norwalk.
“It doesn’t have the breadth of appeal of the Chowdafest. but chili fans are just as passionate,” Keenan said. “They are a tailgate crowd. They are looking for appetizers.”
Keenan said the whole purpose of the Chilifest is to showcase restaurants, attracting customers during a time of the year patronage typically declines. He also said a portion of the proceeds will go to the Shelton-based Mary A. Schmecker Turtle Shell Fund, a charity that promotes youth arts education.
All who paid $15 admission at the door, $10 online, became judges.
Going from booth to booth, they had a lot to savor with 14 restaurants and four fire departments participating. Using tiny cardboard spoon, they sampled small cups of chili, each with a different flair.
For example, Bobby Q’s made a smokehouse chili with a beef brisket, kidney beans and beer, while the Westport Fire Department opted for chicken and low sodium stock with its Checkered Flag Chicken Chili.
The Weston Fire Department’s Papa Sierra’s Three-Bean Chili boasted the addition of espresso to its recipe of beef, pork, bacon and Samuel Adams beer. Then there was Fairfield’s Chef’s Table’s Paleo Pumpkin Chili. (Chef’s table had a Westport presence from 1995 to 2007.)
Owner Rich Herzfeld pointed out that his chili used only pumpkin stock, “no grains and no beans,” for an autumnal experience.
Lisa Roger of Norwalk came prepared with an empty muffin tray that she filled with samplings of chili, so she would not have to keep getting up.
“We went to the Chowdafest, so I know what to do,” she said. “These are delicious, very different and with lots of different flavors.”
As she looked over her checklist, Jessica Savage of Stamford said she was giving top grades to Southport Brewing’s Maple Stout Chili and to Topstone Mountain Chili offered by The Little Pub in Branchville.
“I think I have only two more to try,” she said.
Westporter Bart Stuck, who worked with Keenan on the event, said that its timing on the morning and early afternoon of Super Bowl Sunday could not have been better.
“You don’t have to go to a Super Bowl party,” he said. “You can just come here.”
Posted 02/01/15 at 05:22 PM Permalink