Luke took a few days off work around Valentine’s Day and we were due to get out of the house and out of town. It’s hard in these winter it takes a worth while event to make it happen. Most festivals in this area are put off until better weather for fear of a lousy turn-out.


But we found one that is well attended despite the cold and snow: The Ithaca Chili cook-off.  A chili competition held for the past 16 year in the Ithaca commons. This event hosts a local radio station, some brave and probably cold live performers, karaoke, a hot chile/pepper eating contest and a mustache contest. Chili tasters (tickets 1 tasting ticket for $1) vote for best presentation, best non-chili food item, best vegi chili, and best meat chili at the ticket booth locations.


We arrived around 1:30pm and by then the festival was in full swing. We bought $15 dollars worth then set off to taste some treats. Each restaurant, or company had their own booth with at least one if not more steaming pots of their unique warm chili available for tasting. Each booth was labeled with their flavor/chili name and a large colored symbol: V (vegi), M (meat), or for S (Seafood).


Despite the puddles of melting snow and the snow falling, the blocked-off festival streets were crowded. People dressed in snow jackets, down coats, gloves, rain or snow boots,  beanies and ear muffs all talking and waiting in long lines to sample chili options. We started our tasting with a pulled pork chili with pretzel spoon and a spicy pickle.


Then we looked at the booths and their lines down the street and realized we needed a better strategy.  The great thing about going as a couple is we could stand in two different lines at once then share our samples.  So we split up then met in a semi-dry place with our treats. I got a locally grown homemade beef chili while Luke picked up a basic ground beef chili with some unusal toppings: mini m n’ ms! We were shocked at how good the chili and chocolate combo really tasted!! We stopped by Felicia’s Atomic Lounge‘s booth to get chili chocolate mini cupcakes and Luke discovered a new microbrewery and hop farm: Hopshire.


We tried many other varieties including: a green chili with avocado and tortillas, a beef habanero chili, a southwest chicken chili, a gumbo chili, and a scorpion chili. All were good and flavorful in their own way. As we wandered around we also saw that there were several groups carrying baskets providing those in line with huge chunks of homemade cornbread for a ticket each.


After  an hour and a half of wandering around we were full and happily so. We decided at that point to head into the main Ithaca Commons center to warm up with a cup of mexican hot chocolate.

Overall this festival was totally worth braving the snow and cold for! With plenty of great chilies and other food options it is obvious why everyone was willing to bundle up to brave the weather.

What would we do different next time?: learn for the locals and bring our own mugs/bowls and spoons for samples (better for the environment and potentially bigger samples), wear a beanie/ear muffs, and come in higher boots to stay out of the snow puddles.

How about you? Any fun festivals/events to help beat the winter blues?

3 thoughts on “Ithaca Chili Cook-off

  1. Sounds like major cabin fever in your area! People willing to bundle up and have some major fun despite the weather. Again even in the dead of winter you guys know how to find the community party! Good for you!

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