Chili contest in Hudson is one spicy competition
HUDSON — Those who live by the old adage "variety is the spice of life" were no doubt pleased with the bountiful offerings up for the tasting in front of Hudson's Hills House on Saturday, where chili lovers of all ages congregated for the state's annual Chili Cookoff Championship.
Now in its 11th year, the popular event, which is sanctioned by the International Chili Society, drew upwards of 600 people, with all proceeds funding Alvirne High School's music programs.
According to Alvirne Friends of Music Vice President Chris McNalley, cooks from all over New England participate in the friendly competition, along with a couple of top chili chefs traveling somewhat farther.
"It's grown each year," McNalley said. "When we started out we had around 11 cooks and 150 guests came."
These days the event is the organization's largest fundraiser, with proceeds going toward music scholarships, instruments and band trip expenses for financially strapped students who otherwise would be unable to participate in music programs.
Alvirne High School has approximately 200 students in the marching band and 80 in the chorus program. The band and chorus will perform at Walt Disney World in Florida in the coming school year.
Chili enthusiasts competed in three categories on Saturday: traditional red chili, chili verde and homemade salsa.
Holding court in their respective tents, the chili chefs appeared comfortable in their natural habitats.
Michael Lesperance of Fredrickson, New Brunswick, Canada, said Saturday's competition was his fourth time participating in such an event.
Inspired by an uncle who competed at international levels, Lesperance entered all three categories.
His advice for budding chefs?
"Practice, experiment and keep your eyes and ears open because on days like this you'll hear things you weren't intended to hear," Lesperance said. "That's how you'll learn if something is too salty or if it's not hot enough."
In another nearby tent, high school classmates Leah Hooper, Corynn Borelli and Brenna Morgan stirred up a simmering caldron of their own concoction.
The three friends, all enrolled in Pinkerton Academy's culinary arts program, said their entry was based on Borelli's old family recipe.
"We did a practice run last week," Morgan added. "So we're hoping this is it."
Wearing matching moose memorabilia, Loudon residents Dave and Stacy Kelly served up their own spicy batch, under the guise of "Swamp Donkey Chili," an homage to the couple's fondness for moose hunting.
"He cooks it and I serve it," Stacy said with a grin. "It's been that way for 20 years."
Another booth, hosted by the Tankis family from Webster, Mass., was adorned with yellow rubber ducks.
Vicki Tankis said the booth's name, "Lucky Duck Chili," came from her 13-year-old daughter Vinessa's talent placing first "in just about everything she enters."
"We go everywhere in New England," said Tankis, who prepares the chili with son, Mackenzie, 18, while Vinessa sells her duck-related crafts.
"For us, chili was kind of inherited," added Tankis, whose father won an international chili championship back in 2007.
Former Hanover resident Jeff Colt said he realized he had a talent for making chili after his neighbors praised his Super Bowl party culinary efforts.
Colt, who now lives in Newton, Mass., entered his first chili competition in Connecticut last month.
"I didn't win, but in those three hours I learned a lot," Colt said.
After several hours of cooking and tasting, Marc Frechette of Connecticut earned first place for salsa; Sean McGrath, also of Connecticut, earned first place for chili verde; and Londonderry's Mary Alice Kropp earned first place for traditional chili.