Get ready for the Local Ingredient Chili Challenge in New Paltz

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If I’m outside on a brisk January day, you can ixnay that cup of hot cocoa for me: I’d rather wrap my mittened paws around a cup of hot, steamy chili. And getting to sample my fill of more than 20 varieties of the spicy, fragrant stew? Heaven. (Just don’t forget the toppings.)

That’s why, on Saturday, January 26 from 12 noon to 3 p.m., I’ll join the throng in the courtyard at the Water Street Market in New Paltz for the fifth annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge. (And if last year’s event is any indication of this year’s, get there early: To my disappointment, much of the chili last year was sold out by the last hour.)

The chili samples are dished up in two-ounce cups, attainable with tickets sold at $1 each (or 12 tickets for $10, 25 tickets for $20). The proceeds benefit the St. Joseph’s Church Food Pantry in New Paltz, which provides emergency food assistance for hundreds of local families every year. Last year the Chili Challenge raised a record $2,200 for those in need.

Organizer Theresa Fall says that she came up with the idea to hold the Local Ingredient Chili Challenge five years ago after taking over as events planner at the Water Street Market. In searching for a fun winter event to hold outdoors, the Market’s proprietors also wanted something that would have some meaning to it – something that would raise money for a good cause and promote sustainability, too.

“It’s not just a chili cook-off,” she says, “it’s a challenge for people to try to find local ingredients in the middle of winter. Once people start thinking about how to find locally grown food in winter, it makes them think about how they can apply that in their everyday life year-round.”

Now people tell her that they are starting to anticipate the Chili Challenge and grow vegetables for it the summer before, canning or freezing their peppers, onions and tomatoes in preparation for the January event. One entrant this year, notes Fall, is even using chicken from his home-raised chickens.

The event brings together chili-makers both amateur and professional. Participating New Paltz eateries include the Gilded Otter, P & G’s Restaurant, A Tavola Trattoria, Il Gallo Giallo and West Park’s Global Palate – the latter two first-time entrants into the competition. Entries by a lot of home chefs this year are anticipated by organizers as well.

A panel of three judges (one from out of town, so as not to know any of the people whom he or she is judging, says Fall) will award bragging rights to participants in categories including Best Vegetarian, People’s Choice, Most Creative, Best Home Chef and Best Professional. Members of the public have the opportunity to vote for their favorite, too.

Each chili recipe must contain at least five local ingredients, but word is that it carries a lot of weight with the judges when participants go above and beyond the required amount of local ingredients. Chili-makers are required to bring at least three gallons of chili to the event, kept warm in slow cookers or stockpots. The electricity for those is provided by the Water Street Market, which also donates the tasting cups and spoons.

Fifth annual Local Ingredient Chili Challenge, Saturday, January 26, 12 noon-3 p.m., $1 per tasting (12/$10, 25/$20), courtyard of Water Street Market, 10 Main Street, New Paltz; (845) 255-1403, http://waterstreetmarket.com.

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