Over 45 local restaurants and chefs will present a variety of meat and vegetarian chili at the 17th Annual Great Downtown Ithaca Chili Cook-Off on Feb. 7.
The competition, created and funded by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, allows people to sample chili throughout the day and vote for their favorites as well as taste other local dishes. The chili with the most votes wins the title of Chili Champion and will be announced at 3:45 p.m.
Patricia Clark, director of events for the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, said she believes the Chili Cook-Off is good for local businesses.
“It encourages all local restaurants to join and promote their dishes,” Clark said. “Who doesn’t want warm chili in the winter and want something new to try?”
Some of the returning winners from last year include Cayuga Medical Center, Fat Jack’s BBQ, Moosewood Restaurant, Mate Factor and Ithaca Beer Co.
Nick Antczak, the representative from Bandwagon Brewpub, a brewery in downtown Ithaca, said the weather is its toughest competition because it often creates a bad turnout for voters.
Clark said the competition has expanded greatly since it was started 16 years ago.
“It started out with only about eight participants, but now we have over 45 restaurants, bars and bakeries competing,” Clark said.
In addition, the event’s coordinators are expecting over 15,000 people to attend from all over the country to get their hands on some chili.
According to the Downtown Ithaca Alliance’s website, the event is tailored to the locals of Ithaca, and each restaurant creates its own dish targeting a certain audience.
Antczak said the bar will be presenting three different kinds of chili this year — meat, vegetarian and five alarm — all containing Bandwagon Beer and tailored to the locals.
Clark said the vendors at the cook-off try to acknowledge their community in order to create the proper dishes.
“People are requesting variety, but there are more and more people with accommodations,” Clark said. “I think it’s all about understanding their community and being flexible toward their community.”
In addition to the chili options available, visitors will be able to participate in the Annual Chili Idol Karaoke. The winners will be awarded a Chili Idol trophy and a $50 Downtown Ithaca gift card. Similar to the cook-off, the singer will be determined by popular vote.
The competition also features the Hot Pepper Showdown, where anyone can come to eat as many chili peppers as possible, and the sixth annual Chili ‘Stache competition, where participants test the craftiness of their moustaches, sponsored by the Ithaca Beard and Moustache Club.
Tickets are needed to obtain chili at each vendor. Five regular tickets are sold for $5 and 11 regular tickets are sold for $10. People interested in purchasing tickets for the event can buy tickets online in advance at the Downtown Visitors Center or Collegetown Bagel locations or at the event. VIP tickets are also available and allow for skipping chili lines.
Antczak said he enjoys the effort everyone goes through to both compete and attend the event.
“Seeing everyone brave the cold to try what great local businesses Ithaca has to offer is my favorite part of the event,” Antczak said. “And seeing a number of familiar faces braving the cold to serve the products they stand behind.”