21st Annual Chili Fest Warms the Ithaca Community with Variations on the Classic Dish


As snow flurries fell last Saturday, Ithaca’s twenty-first annual Chili Fest or “Chili Cook-Off” took place in the Commons. Cornellians and Ithacans alike warmed up on the frigid day with spoonfuls of warm chili as restaurants competed for Best Meat or Overall Chili, Best Vegetarian or Vegan Chili and People’s Choice Chili.

More than forty restaurants, including Simeon’s, Mia, Viva Taqueria, Moosewood, Ithaca Bakery and Red’s Place, set up tents along the pedestrian walkway between Seneca St. and Green St., offering heaps of chili in exchange for a red ticket.

Many festival-goers brought their own mugs or containers from home to optimize the amount of chili they could consume.

The chili options varied greatly. Some tents like Greenstar Cooperative Market and Cornell Dining offered classic beef chili or vegetarian chili, Pasta Vitto’s tent offered spaghetti with chili and cheese on top, Lou’s Street Food offered hot dog chili and Your CBD Store had a tent offering “CBD chili,” chili with Cannabidiol oil mixed in.

A juggler entertains a crowd at the 21st annual Chili Cook-off.

Michelle Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

A juggler entertains a crowd at the 21st annual Chili Cook-off.

For non-chili aficionados, some restaurants offered different types of cornbread, beer from local breweries like Ithaca Ale House, locally sold wine from Wagner Vineyards, a hot sauce tasting bar from SYRACHA’CUSE and other farmer’s market goods.

Aside from chili, The Ithaca Beard and Mustache Club also hosted a “Chili ’Stache and Beard Competition,” a facial hair competition, during the cook-off. Proceeds from the facial hair feud went to Loaves and Fishes, a charity that serves meals to the local community, the club’s website said.

Some tents had attached a cause to their participation. “Cornbread for Kids,” an organization with a goal to provide fresh snacks for children, was selling wedges of cornbread for $1 per Giant Cornbread Wedge, The Ithaca Voice reported. The organization delivers snacks like apple wedges and Valencia oranges to kids in the Ithaca City School District, according to Downtown website. 

Attendees are served warm chili during the cook-off in downtown Ithaca.

Michelle Yang / Sun Staff Photographer

Attendees are served warm chili during the cook-off in downtown Ithaca.

The popular event drew local residents and Cornellians alike, and satisfied both chili lovers and more casual fans. Some even made great sacrifices to appreciate the full chili experience.

“I usually don’t enjoy chili, but Chili Fest did it for me,” Cami Haarmann ’22 told The Sun.

“I’m a vegetarian, but today I ate meat,” said Lily Mullany ’22.

Other students came to volunteer their time. Chad Fong ’20, who volunteered at the ticket booth, is a member of The Cornell Tradition — a program for students committed to service.

“I’ve been a part of a lot of different events down in the commons,” Fong said. “I think a lot of people down here … have a service program that’s part of Cornell and it’s a lot of fun.”

Cornell’s McCormick’s Dining Hall won Best Meat Chili, Moosewood Restaurant won Best Vegetarian Chili and Wagner Valley Brewing won best beverage.





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