Which warms you best, chili or chowder?
The beauty of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce second annual Chili Chowda Cookoff is that the answer can be both. On Sunday, Jan. 27, 30 chilis and chowders prepared by professional and amateur chefs will be up for acclaim from judges and the voting public, and proceeds go to benefit Opportunity Networks, a local group that helps young adults and adult residents with acquired and developmental disabilities.
May Balsama, executive director of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the fundraiser is beneficial for the programs and the restaurants alike.
“During this time of year local restaurants usually have a slow period, so from a business perspective, this event really gives them a showcase for the great services, products and dishes they provide for our area,” she said.
That holds true for last year’s chowder champion, Chrysanthi’s, who put their seafood chowder up for the competition and saw newcomers flock to try the soup.
“We are gonna be entering again for sure. A lot of locals who had never been in came to the restaurant to try it. This year, we’re just going to be bringing something new,” manager Evan Gerekos said.
Gerekos is going to enter another Chrysanthi’s menu staple, the corn chowder. Gerekos said it sells year round; it’s both a summery soup and a winter warmer. Chili makes it on their menu only part of the time.
“We do carry a chili, but it varies depending on the weather. On a random August day with cold rain, we may throw it on for a day or two,” Gerekos said.
Along with Chrysanthi’s, Moulton’s Market and 900 Degrees will be entering soups again this year. The defending chili champion, The Barn, an employee restaurant for Hitchiner Manufacturing Co., Inc., is entering both a chowder and a chili, according to kitchen manager Jose Menendez.
“Our restaurant is a non-profit for employees only. We don’t advertise, but the public is welcome if they come in; we’re not going throw you out,” he said.
Menendez said he served both last year, but thinks it was the large amount of haddock, shrimp, scallops and crabmeat in the chowder that turned off the judges. This year, he says he’s going in with an attitude for fun.
“I am just here to represent my company,” he said.
According to Balsama, the amateur chefs who enter always have fun too, and always approach the event differently.
“They are more recreational when it comes to the food. Last year, there was real spirit behind some of the entries. Seeing some of the amateurs committed to making a great chili and seafood or clam chowder made it fun. Some of them came in with all kinds of other plaques and awards they had won and costumes on,” she said.
One of the amateur entries will be clients from Opportunity Networks, according to Wendy Hunt, event coordinator for the organization. She holds four cooking classes each week and the students will be collaborating on a chili recipe to enter.
“This event is a win-win. It benefits the program and allows the clients to get involved,” Hunt said. “Cooking is a life skill that has a lot to do with wellness and being social. Some people are their own guardians and they can live by themselves, and others need help, but basic cooking skills are very beneficial for teaching them to shop, sharpen fine motor skills and learn about from-scratch cooking.”
Soft drinks and a beer garden by Belevans Beverages will be available as well, plus desserts prepared by the Amherst Junior Women’s Club.