The 10th annual Chili Bowl cook-off and fundraiser seemed to be the hottest place to be in Oneonta on Sunday. The Wilber Mansion was packed with more than 600 community members, visitors, politicians, musicians, artists, restaurant-owners, college students and even a couple of lovebirds.
April Parkinson, 29, of Walton, almost choked on her chili when her boyfriend Chaz Epps, 24, got down on one knee and proposed, after a brief speech by local government leaders.
“She hates being the center of attention,” Epps said. “But I love it, so I figured, they’re making announcements, why not grab the microphone right after?”
Parkinson, who said yes, said the proposal was a surprise. Epps said he was able to arrange for several members of Parkinson’s family to be at the Chili Bowl when he proposed. He called the chili “so delicious.”
Another person who was enjoying his chili was Assemblyman Pete Lopez, who said the event is a great way to bring the community together and provide a break in the midst of the winter doldrums. Lopez made his way through each room in the Wilber Mansion, trying each sample and speaking with the chefs.
Lopez said his family is very involved in music, so he likes to show his support for the arts whenever possible.
“Chili and the arts both cut across economic and other boundaries,” Lopez said. “Just like the arts are for everybody, chili is for everybody. That’s what makes it such a great event.”
Lopez, who said “the spicier the better” for his Hispanic taste buds, was in good company. Mayor Dick Miller, Senator Jim Seward and Congressman Chris Gibson were also in attendance.
Kim Condon, co-chairwoman of the event, said there were 29 chili entries in the competition, put on by the non-profit Community Arts Network of Oneonta.
One of Pete Lopez’s favorite chili samples was made by the SUNY Delhi Culinary Arts team, he said. The team’s chili won second place in the People’s Choice Awards.
Victor Sommo, the students’ culinary professor, said the Moroccan-inspired recipe was originally developed for a different food competition. When the students heard about the Chili Bowl, he said, they decided to make a chili with the same theme and enter the competition.
Two members of the team were Robert Stack and Alexis Chamoff, both seniors at SUNY Delhi. Stack said their chili was North African-influenced and was served with cous cous and pistachios. Chamoff said it took the team approximately 6 hours to make.
Zoe and Rick VanderMeulen, of Unadilla, were excited to compete in the Chili Bowl for the first time. The couple said after winning the Unadilla Autumn Fest chili cook-off two years in a row, they decided to try their luck at the Oneonta event.
The VanderMeulens said their chili, dubbed “Grill-e-Chili,” was spicy and got its name from the way the meat, peppers and onions were cooked: on the grill. Zoe VanderMeulen said it took nearly 7 hours to make enough chili for the event.
Winner of the People’s Choice Award for the second year in a row was B Side Ballroom and Supper Club. Owner Wayne Carrington said this year the restaurant went for a “Forager Chili,” made completely from things found in the wild. Carrington said some of the ingredients were pecans, smoked rabbit and a variety of wild mushrooms. He said last year’s chili was a Latin-inspired, green chili, the only green chili at the competition, he said.
“We try to make it as authentic as possible,” Carrington said. “Everything we used was local.”
Leonard Singer and his wife Natasha said this year was their first Chili Bowl. Both work in Oneonta, but had never made it out to the event. Singer said the couple bought four bowls for the good cause, “one for her and three for me,” he said. They both agreed that Stella Luna’s chili was their favorite.
Friends Dana Plank and Sara Keegan of Cherry Valley said they saw a poster for the event and made a day of it, planning a hike for before the Chili Bowl. Keegan said the special trip was in celebration of her birthday, which was earlier in the month.
Gerry and Laura Franco, of Port Crane, said this was their seventh Chili Bowl. They said they enjoy the event every year because there’s a great atmosphere and sense of community.
“We have a pretty cool collection of bowls too,” Gerry Franco said.
Bill Plymell was one of five Oneonta firefighters judging the Blind Taste Test Award this year. He called it a “tough job” and said it was important to “cleanse the pallette” after each sampling.
For the second year in a row, the winner of the Blind Taste Test Award was Bob Eklund of Aramark at Hartwick College in Oneonta.
Annie Kuhn, secretary of the CANO board, estimated the event raised more than $8,000 and said more than 400 bowls were sold.
The Chili Bowl is CANO’s no. 1 fundraiser, Kuhn said. This year’s profits, she said, will go toward the re-painting of the mansion, as well as art scholarships to the Carriage House Studio, which gives individual and small group art classes to people of all ages and skill levels.
Dennis Walrath, one of the Chili Bowl volunteers, said he interned at CANO last year and helped get the event off the ground as the “Events Coordinator.” He said this year was “even better” than the last.
“I think it was terrific,” Walrath said of this year’s event. “The place was packed.”