NORTH CONWAY - The secret to making a great chili, according to chef Avi Deiter, is smoked prime rib, and on Saturday aficionados agreed, naming Deiter's dish the "people's choice" winner at the 11th annual Chilly Chili Cook-off Stroll.
Sponsored by the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau, the competition saw hundreds of hungry men, women and children exploring North Conway in search of the best combination of meat, vegetables and spices.
The strollers began their walks at the Gibson Center for Senior Services, where 25 chefs competed on behalf of their eateries in the professional chef division for a cash prize. They were graded by a panel of colleagues that based their decision on "aroma, consistency and taste."
Across the street at the North Conway Community Center, 18 amateur chefs, with a few ringers like Deiter mixed in, vied for bragging rights in the nonprofits division, which also offered the opportunity for the organizations to increase public awareness about them.
In addition to the action at the senior and community centers, the chili cook-off drew strollers to six businesses in the village where they could sample some of the professional chilis or wine, cheese, mead, cider, and even strawberries and champagne.
Janice Crawford, executive director of the Mount Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the chili cook-off keeps evolving and getting better.
The surviving event from a winter carnival that didn't stand the test of time, the cook-off was intended to be a way to celebrate winter vacation for New Hampshire residents, some of whom complained, said Crawford, that they didn't get as much consideration as non-Granite State visitors.
Since it began at the Flatbread Pizza Company in 2004, the cook-off has moved around the village. This year it featured the creation of the professional and nonprofit judging classes as well as a partnership with New Hampshire Public Television, which Crawford hoped would generate statewide publicity for the event.
Linda Rafferty, who with her husband, John, is an owner of Rafferty's Restaurant and Pub, said the chili prepared by her head chef and brother-in-law, Joe Rafferty, contained a secret ingredient she was not at liberty to discuss, except to say, "It is gluten-free."
The winner of several chili contests and named a Best of New Hampshire in 2009 for its extensive gluten-free menu, Rafferty's was proud to participate in the Chilly Chili Cook-off because it helps the greater Conway community.
Rafferty's made a strong run at the 2014 professional title but did not make the podium.
The winning chili was made by chef Douglas Sharp from the River's Edge at Indian Mound Golf Club, followed by the White Mountain Hotel chef Josh Farrington with Chef's Market's Bryant Alden placing third. River's Edge at Indian Mound Golf Club also won the best theme prize while Hillbilly's Restaurant, led by chef Frank Welch, won best corn bread for a third consecutive year.
On the nonprofit side, the winning people's choice chili was prepared on behalf of Making Strides Against Breast Cancer by Deiter, executive chef at the Stonehurst Manor; second place was Carroll County RSVP and chef Steve Irwin; while the Eastern Slope Airport Authority and chef Dave Cullinan finished third.For the second year in a row, the best corn bread was made by Arts in Motion and chef Mary Seavey. Starting Point, which offers services for victims of domestic and sexual violence, won best theme.