The first weekend of October will be another spicy one for the city of Manchester.
The 2011 World’s Championship Chili Cook-off will be held in Veterans Park from Friday, Sept. 30, through Sunday, Oct. 2. It will be the Queen City’s second consecutive year hosting the event, which drew more than 25,000 chiliheads and 400 competitors in 2010.
“It was a great event last year and we were excited that the [International Chili Society was] willing to come back,” said Chris Wellington, marketing & retention specialist in the Manchester Economic Development Office. “I think it shows how well it went and that when compared to other cities like Las Vegas and San Diego, we can compete with them.”
Manchester beat out Las Vegas to host the event last year. Carol Hancock, chief executive officer of the International Chili Society, said when Manchester presented an offer to host the 2011 event in response to a request for proposal submitted by the organization, she was happy to accept it. “Year Two is always easier,” she added.
Hancock noted that she found the Queen City to be a great fit for the event.
“Our people liked it and it seemed to be received quite well by the crowd and people of Manchester,” she said, adding that the city reportedly saw an economic impact of $1.5 million from the 2010 cook-off. Hancock also said it was convenient for competitors staying at the Radisson Hotel to be able to wheel their equipment across the street to the park.
Holding the competition at Veterans Park rather than Livingston Park or Stark Park allows for the city to better show what downtown Manchester has to offer, Wellington said.
“People that come here are hopefully shopping downtown or eating downtown,” he said. Elm Street will be closed to traffic between Merrimack and Central streets during the event.
Nearly 400 competitors will present their best chilis and salsas to more than 300 judges over the three-day event. Hancock said seeing all of the cooks that has become her favorite part of the cook-off.
“I try to get to a lot of the [ICS-sanctioned] cook-offs … but we do operate as a nonprofit so there is not much of a travel budget,” she said. “The World’s Championship provides me an opportunity to see people I might only see once a year, and I love being able to meet the new cooks.”
The Last Chance Cook-off will start the event on Friday; Chili Verde and Salsa competitions will be held on Saturday and the main event, the Red Chili contest, will be held on Sunday. All three champions from last year’s World event will be back to defend their titles, Hancock said. To qualify for the World’s Championship Chili Cook-off, chili cookers must place first in one of the 200 ICS pre-qualifying events, held in the United States, Mexico and Canada.
Chili verde is defined by the ICS as being made with pork or chicken, green chili peppers, green chili powder and tomatillos, also known as green tomatoes; competitive red chili entries cannot contain beans or pasta, and salsa entries do not have to be made on site.
Each cooking team is given one hour to prepare ingredients and must wait until the official start time to get its stoves going. After their hour of preparation, each chili team gets three hours for cooking.
If you’re still looking to throw your chili hat into the competition ring, entries for the Last Chance Chili Cook-off will be accepted until the morning of Sept. 30 (applications can be found at yourmanchesternh.com/chili). To qualify for the last-chance cook-off, entrants must first become members of the International Chili Society and adhere to the cooking guidelines (a full list of rules can be found at chilicookoff.com). The winner of the Last Chance Cook-off will earn a spot in Sunday’s World’s Championship Chili Cook-off and have a shot at winning the $25,000 grand prize.
“Last year there was not a great local presence,” Wellington said of the Last Chance Cook-off. “We really want someone local to take home the grand prize.”
Twice in the history of the World’s Championship Chili Cook-off, a Last Chance entry has taken home the grand prize, most recently in 2009, Hancock said.
“I think that sometimes the chili gets in a rut and someone comes up with a new style or phenomenal new flavor,” she said. “The opportunity [to win] is there for people to capitalize on it.”
Applications are also still being accepted for the competition’s Restaurant Division. The Red Arrow Diner took home the title at last year’s event and will be selling its 2010 World Championship chili at the cook-off this weekend.
“A lot of people love the fact that they get to try all of these chilis … but they never know if they tried the worst chili there or the $25,000 winner,” Wellington said. “This will allow for them to see what $25,000 chili tastes like.”
Event-goers will not necessarily be tasting the cook’s competition chili, Hancock said. Competitors give their mandatory 32-ounce entry to the judges and Hancock said it would not be economically feasible to serve the same product to everyone due to the high quality of products used in their World entry and the labor involved. Many competitors will offer non-competition chili for tasting and attendees can vote for a People’s Choice winner."
The format of the event has not changed much as it was so successful in its first year, but Wellington said the city decided to make the event bigger by adding a second stage that will host a variety of activities including meet-and-greets with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats and Manchester Monarchs mascots and an onion decorating contest hosted by the National Onion Association. The main stage will feature performances by local bands, musicians and dance troupes.
“We’ll have a lot more going on,” Wellington said. An Amoskeag Beer Garden will be set up for the weekend because “everyone knows chili and beer go together so well,” Wellington said.
Wellington said his favorite part of the weekend is seeing the community come out to support the competition.
“It was so exhilarating last year not knowing what was going to happen; so many people worked on this to make it come together and we didn’t know if anyone was going to come,” he said. “But just to see Veterans Park so full on Saturday and Sunday that people barely had enough room to move their shoulders, it was great.”