Restaurants spice up first New England Chili Classic; Hanover Street Chophouse takes top honor
The Hanover Street Chophouse took home the title of Best Chili in the New England Chili Classic, held Saturday and Sunday in Veterans Park. Chophouse sous chef Curtis Taylor, who created the winning batch, said a team effort went into finding just the right blend of meat and spices.
“It was a pretty long process — cooked it three different times, sterilized it three different times, but we're pretty happy with the results,” said Taylor, who formerly worked at Cactus Jack's. “Real happy. It was my own recipe, tasting it as I went. One of the things that may have separated mine from the rest was I used unsweetened chocolate. That was kind of my secret ingredient. We did a test batch with the employee, everyone tasted and gave feedback.”
After hosting the 44th and 45th annual World's Championship Chili Cookoff in 2010 and 2011, this year Manchester partnered with the New Hampshire Lodging and Restaurant Association for the first New England Chili Classic. The event featured some of New Hampshire's top restaurants battling it out for the opportunity to be named the New England Chili Classic Champion. Restaurants also competed for the title of Best Red Chili, Best Vegetarian Chili, Most Creative Chili and the People's Choice Award.
“We wanted to continue with something that had a statewide, restaurant flavor,” said Chris Wellington of Manchester's Economic Development Department, who also served as Event Coordinator for the Chili Classic. “The turnout Saturday was awesome, (Sunday) was steady. We didn't see any dull points, but not as busy as last year. We estimate that anywhere between 8,000 and 10,000 people attended over the weekend. For a two-day, first-time event, we're very happy with the turnout. But if the weather had cooperated, we think that number would have been higher. We'll have to talk with our partners, but we're looking to continue it on in the future.”
Cactus Jack's won the People's Choice Award.
“We're very excited,” said Nicole Barreira, corporate chef for Cactus Jack's and T-Bones restaurants. “All our beef is ground fresh, and the chili was made fresh today, and it shows. The effort pays off. The key for us is fresh, fresh, fresh. We make it from scratch every day.”
Other winners included McIntyre Ski Area taking Best Booth, The Patio at the Hilton Garden Inn taking Best Vegetarian Chili, and the Homestead Restaurant taking Most Creative Chili.
In addition to the $5,000 check for winning Best Chili of the competition, the Chophouse also won Best Red Chili.
“This is the first time I've ever made 30 gallons of chili,” said Taylor. “It took about eight days to make it all, a few hours here and there each day. But it's pretty cool to win, we're pretty excited. I was working at another place in Henniker, and we entered one, and we didn't even place. I knew I could make chili.”
“I think it's great, because we worked hard at it,” said Chophouse Executive Chef Stuart Cameron. “We thought long and hard about, if a place like this was going to offer chili, what would it be like, and it's nice to see those thoughts were communicated and executed. It's the dichotomy of the fanciest place in town serving chili, and taking the competition.”
The winning chili will be featured on the lunch menu at the Chophouse at least today and again Tuesday. Whether it remains on the menu will depend on customer reaction.
“If there's any response, we probably will offer it,” said Cameron. “We would be dumb not to. We're proud of it. It's fun to have a story behind the menu item.”