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Single Alarm, Firehouse Chili Suits Up for Chilifest

By James Lomuscio

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Tobias Ostapchuk: “You can’t overcook chili.” Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

Westport Firefighter Tobias Ostapchuk said his department decided at the last minute to enter into Chilifest, a pre-Super Bowl cook-off event set for Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Bedford Middle School.

“It’s so we can compete with other fire departments in our area,” said Ostapchuk, who spent Thursday night in a commercial kitchen making 10 gallons of his Checkered Flag Chicken Chili.

Fairfield, Rowayton, Weston, Wilton and Trumbull are also participating in the event, along with a dozen Fairfield and New Haven county restaurants.

While signing up was a last minute decision, Ostapchuk says his recipe is tried and true, evolving over the past 15 years to “almost a mild, spicy chicken soup.”

With skinless chopped chicken, white and black beans, cumin, cilantro, some ground red pepper and diced green chili peppers, Ostapchuk boasts his chili is big on flavor without sending those who indulge racing for a water jug.

“I’m going to hold it to a single alarm,” quipped the 10-year Westport firefighter, a Darien volunteer firefighter before that. “It’s warm but very flavorful.”

Ostapchuk, who is stationed the Coleytown firehouse, noted he will be on duty Sunday, but will be available to set up the Westport Fire Department’s chili station at Bedford.

“I believe we will have a number of our colleagues coming through at various points,” he said.

For a cost of $10 per adult online, $15 at the door, and $5 for children ages 6 through 12, everyone will receive a spoon, ballot and pencil and get to sample 18 different kinds of chili, voting on his or her favorites, says Jim Keenan, event director.

Keenan said Chilifest will feature three categories of chili: classic beef, creative chili (turkey, vegetarian, green etc.) and firehouse.

“We’re excited to find out which restaurant people believe has the best chili and equally thrilled to be holding a separate competition to determine what firehouse makes the best chili too,” said Keenan.

“Fire departments are famous for their chili. Some of these firefighters really know their way around the kitchen.”

The firehouse category is being sponsored by Local Kitchen & Beer Bar of Norwalk and Fairfield “to remind people to support their local fire departments,” said Keenan.

Aside from chili, Ostapchuk said he has “always had an interest in other kinds of cooking.”

“It comes from being in the fire department, as well,” he said. “Everybody has to be good at cooking one or two meals, so you have a very easy time in the living area.”

But there’s something about making chili, he said, that makes it the stereotypical firehouse dish.

“The thing is you can start it early and let it cook,” he said. “And you can’t overcook it.”

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