Vermont Chili Festival 2015


Mike, chef and owner of Our House, cooking one of his multiple batches of chili. (Isabelle Dietz)

By Isabelle Dietz

This past Saturday, March 14,  downtown Middlebury was transformed by thousands of people who gathered for the Seventh Annual Vermont Chili Festival. Chili Fest has been ranked one of the Top 10 Winter Events by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce. The event went from 1p.m. to 4p.m. Proceeds from this event support Better Middlebury Partnership and the Vermont Food Bank. The chili was provided by over 50 restaurants and caterers from around Vermont. To enter as a chili booth, teams had to make at least 15 gallons of chili.

Activities included chili tasting, balloon animals, street performers, a beverage tent and live music provided by The Grift.

Participants in the event paid $7 at the door ($5 in advance, children under eight were free) and received a voting token and a spoon. They then were able to walk down Main Street and sample chili from the many different booths there. After deciding which was their favorite, participants were able to vote with their token for the People’s Choice Award Winner.

A panel of six chili judges were also at the event, and they voted on six different categories of chili which included: veggie, beef, chicken, game, kitchen sink and pork. Winners all received cash prizes and then competed for the Best Overall category, which received a cash prize of $1,000.

Judges for the event rated chilis on a score sheet that included criteria such as aroma, taste and texture.

“It’s tough,” said chili festival judge Bill Snell, owner of Tourterelle. “There’s a lot of good ones.”

For Sarah Pollack, a judge from Burlington, last Saturday was her first time judging the Vermont Chili Fest, however she had previously judged an indoor chili fest.

“I do make chili at home,” said Pollak. “My daughter tells me that…my epitaph is going to read, ‘Has never gotten chili right.’ That makes me quite the qualified judge.”

This year the Vermont Chili Festival was extremely popular, and noticeably crowded. “The event was too crowded for our liking this year,” said Peggy Sax, from Cornwall, VT. Sax has attended three chili festivals, and also commented that this year seemed like a younger crowd. Duncan Levear ’15, a three-time chili festival participant, also noticed a crowd increase. “I think there are more people here this year. It’s more popular. I think the lines are longer.”

Although teams needed 15 gallons of chili to enter in the festival, several ran out early on in the event. The Fire and Brimstone booth made close to 15 gallons, and ran out by 2:30 p.m. G.W. Tatro Construction, Relay for Life, Connor Homes, WhistlePig and the Bearded Frog all also made around 15 gallons and ran out before the event was over. Rosie’s made 30 gallons, 15 of both of their flavors, and also ran out.

“I’ve never dished out 15 gallons of chili in an hour and a half,” said Cody March, who was working at the G.W. Tatro Construction booth. “I’ve never dished out 15 gallons of chili period.”

Some booths anticipated large crowds and made much more than 15 gallons. Our House (Twisted Comfort Food), made 120 gallons (20 gallons for each of the six categories).

Todd Raymond, who was working at the Two Brothers booth, said that it took the restaurant three days to make their chili, and that probably about six people were involved in the process.

Some organizations use the popularity of the Vermont Chili Festival for publicity. Casey Harlow, for example, passed out beads for Relay of Life. “I’m here to publicize for our event on April 11 and help pass out the chili,” said Harlow.

Kris Lawson, owner of Curve Appeal in Middlebury, had a sign up advertising free bathroom use during the Chili Festival to help publicize her store.

“I went to Costco and got tons of toilet paper,” said Lawson. “A lot of people will maybe come in and go, ‘Ooh, I didn’t know that this was here.’ Or my other hope is that the conservative people who are a little frightened and don’t know what it is and don’t want to walk down the big scary steps will come and go,‘This is nice.’”

The Vermont Chili Festival had a large showing both from students and local families. Activities such as balloon animals appealed to a younger crowd, while the beer tent was only open for those over the age of 21.

“The beer was good,” said Arnav Adhikari ’16. “They had Drop-In. I love Drop-In.”

Middlebury College students also have a tradition of being involved in the Vermont Chili Festival. Last year the winning team was the men’s cross-country team. The festival also draws on students for volunteers.

Kyler Blodgett ’17 was a volunteer this year. “My job involved being at the check-in table for tickets, marking people off the prepaid list and doing cash for tickets that are being bought right now, giving them their chips and their buttons, telling them how it’s laid out,” said Blodgett. He found out about the volunteer opportunity through a Middlebury Community Engagement email.

The Vermont Chili Festival in Middlebury allows students from different regions than New England to sample Vermont chili.

“Coming from the West Coast, I’ve never really experienced a real chili like they have here at the chili fest,” said Henry Thompson ’17. “I like how it’s such a celebration of a folky, you know, agricultural, community based food.” Thompson has been to the Chili Festival for both of his two years at Middlebury, and says that he plans on making four out of four. “Honestly, chili fest is the highlight of Middlebury spring every year.”