Day wasn't too chilly for all that tasty chili in North Conway
Suzy Gagnon of Portsmouth helps her children, Nicholas and Noelle Gagnon, get a grip on the hats they made at the crazy hat workshop. It was part of the Chilly Chili Cookoff Stroll in North Conway Village Saturday. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX)
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That's how one man, talking into his phone, described the scene as he walked into the North Conway Community Center on Saturday.
The center was one of the host sites for the People's Choice Chili and Cornbread competition, the main event at the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce's 10th annual Chilly Chili Cookoff Stroll.
He wasn't alone in his assessment of the number of hungry strollers. Russell Kohr, ladling out deep red, rich chili for his employer, Big Dave's Bagels & Deli, said the afternoon was "busier than I would have thought."
The event was the luncheon deal of the day - for a $10 ticket, adults could sample chilies from more than 15 area chefs at the center, with another cohort of chefs offering samples at Rafferty's Restaurant & Pub, just a block away on Kearsarge Road. In addition, there were about a dozen more chefs doling out generous helpings at independent sites around the village.
Chefs competing in the International Chili Society-sanctioned regional contest were set up in the parking lot at the chamber offices.
The chilies may have varied slightly in their ingredients and their heat, but not in quality - they were all delicious. The chili offered by Tuckerman's Restaurant & Tavern had chunks of prime rib and sausage in it.
Maple syrup was the special ingredient in another dining establishment's chili, while vegetarian chef Laura Slitt of Bartlett said she used port in her basic stock.
Jerry Buma of Northbridge, Mass., was competing in the ICS competition.
He has won ICS world championships twice - once each for his red chili and for his salsa.
He said he competes about 12 times a year, and he's been a judge, too.
Asked what judges look for, he replied, "Light, bright flavor. The 'wow' factor."
At Rafferty's, chamber volunteer Jean O'Sullivan was enthusiastic about the turnout. "I think it's just a beautiful day. I think people are happy to get out," particularly after the snowstorms we've had, she added.
Melody Nester of the chamber, agreed that the weather was a big plus. The event is scheduled for the last weekend of the New Hampshire school vacation week, a thank you for the loyal visitors who come up during this quieter week, she said.
"It adds more value, it's a draw." It's a tasty fundraiser for the chamber, with the money raised going into the marketing budget.
Suzy Gagnon of Portsmouth was strolling down Main Street with her children, 7-year-old Nicolas and 5-year-old Noelle, when the wind picked up a bit and lifted the brim of the fancy hat Noelle was wearing.
The children had created their hats at The Rugged Mill, where Carol Hanson of Carol Hanson Art was conducting a crazy hat workshop.
Noelle, clutching her hat in her hands after her mother cautioned her it might blow off her head, said she hoped she would win a prize for her creation. The best hat contest was part of the stroll.
It wasn't the first time the family had enjoyed strolling around the village for a chili lunch.
Gagnon said they plan their vacation around the event. They had been been skiing all week, and she called the snow conditions "phenomenal."
Well after the lunchtime hour, strollers were still ambling around the village, their little plastic cups and white spoons in hand.
Winners will be posted on the chamber's Facebook page.