Hundreds gathered Saturday afternoon on The Commons for the 12th annual Great Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-off and WinterFest, commonly known to locals as Chilifest.
Chili-making vendors dotted the pedestrian mall as lines of 30 to 40 people formed next to them. The lines were filled with hungry testers, eager to get their taste of the best chili recipes in town. More than 30 restaurants, including Moosewood Restaurant, and other local organizations such as the Longview Living Community, competed in the chili cook-off, looking to earn the titles of “Best Chili,” “Best Vegetarian”, “Best Meat,” “Hottest” and “People’s Choice.”
Those who had become bored of the chili were kept satisfied on the pavilions, which were full of games and mini-contests. The non-food vendors included a mechanical bull, “Chili Idol” karaoke, a Guitar Hero contest and more. Many local shops and businesses also turned up at the event, offering passersby juice and homemade baked goods.
Emma Hileman, a junior at Ithaca College, said that although the chili was delicious, the day had a bigger purpose than just good eating.
“Chilifest is important for our community and bringing people together over good food,” Hileman said.
Even out-of-town folk attended the event, having learned of Chilifest simply by word of mouth and local excitement.
Mhairi Craig, an Ithaca College parent, said her daughter had invited her and her husband, Stuart, to visit Ithaca specifically for Chilifest. Stuart said events like this open a chance to bring the college campuses and the local area together.
“I think part of what makes going to college around here is the Ithaca community, places like downtown Ithaca,” Stuart said.
Even though the sun spent most of the day hidden behind clouds and the wind whistled about The Commons, Emily Viterise, a junior at Ithaca College, said she felt the need to partake in the festivities even during the cold winter months.
“[The excitement] is in the atmosphere,” she said. “I am freezing my [butt] off but it’s a good time.”
When the chili ran out and the vendors packed up their tents to go, it was time to announce the best chilis of the day. Local judges were blindfolded and given samples of the chili to ensure fair grading. Among the winners were the Cornell Hotel Society for Best Meat Chili, East Shore Café for Best Vegetarian Chili, and Collegetown Bagels for Hottest Chili.