If summer's close means an end to burgers fresh from the grill and lobster rolls by the beach, then one of fall's consolation prizes is a steaming bowl of chili on a crisp afternoon.
Five upcoming festivals across Connecticut pit chili experts against each other in fierce competition, often with thousands of dollars of prize money at stake. And as a spectator, you get to taste their championship efforts. Here's a look at some of the events coming up in September and October.
Doc Dowling Chili Cook-Off
Sept. 6, Shelton
The Down by the River festival at at the Riverwalk and Veterans' Memorial Park is a fundraiser for MovingWithHOPE, Inc., an organization that provides programming scholarships and adaptive equipment for survivors of brain and spinal cord injuries and diseases. But it's also a serious chili battle, sanctioned by the International Chili Society. Winners will advance to the World Championship Chili Cookoff later this fall.
The 2007 world champion Jerry Buma, of Northbridge, Mass., will compete in Shelton, said cookoff co-chair Mike Merola. His "Booma's Revenge" recipe is published on the ICS website, and features tri-tip, green chiles and a cornucopia of spices.
Competitors will face off in traditional red chili, chili verde and salsa categories. Contestants must follow ICS rules and regulations – for example, beans and pasta are expressely forbidden in both red and green chili varieties. Merola says about 20 chili cooks will be competing, along with a handful of Naugatuck Valley-area restaurants, who will compete in a separate "best of" battle.
The event also features food trucks, live music and a bounce house with other kids' activities. There's no fee to get into the festival, but there's a $10 admission to taste the chilis, which will be spooned up starting at 11 a.m.
Merola describes the event as "a fun day for the family." "There's a variety of chilis from mild to hot, to flavors you haven't tasted. Some people put venison in, some do turkey. It's a different experience…And you're supporting a good cause."
Connecticut State Chili Cookoff
Sept. 20, New Haven
This chili fundraiser at East Shore Park, in its 22nd year, benefits the Community Action Agency of New Haven's emergency food pantry. It's also another intense competition, with another berth to the World Championship Chili Cookoff at stake. Cooks put up their best red and green chilis and salsa for a panel of judges; a People's Choice category welcomes votes from the public (and these recipes aren't as closely scrutinized – beans are permitted.)
Guests can taste about 25 to 30 varieties of chili from noon to 3 p.m.; there's an $8 fee for this, says organizer Sharon Willard, who started the event 23 years ago. The festival, which runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., also includes live music, kids' activities, arts and crafts, a beer tent and other food for purchase. Attendees are asked to bring a non-perishable food item for the pantry, Willard says.
The successful festival has raised up to $20,000 in one day in past years, Willard says. "It really is a community event. I think [people] like the concept of tasting chili and choosing the one they like best."
Information: 203-387-7700 ext. 220; www.caanh.net.
Zombie Biker Chili Cookoff
Sept. 21, Middletown
Since many of the region's best chili cooks will be in New Haven for the Connecticut State cookoff on Saturday, organizer George Ryan thought he'd try to get them to stick around one more day and head up to Middletown for his event, which is also ICS-sanctioned. He was successful.