Chili Doesn’t Repeat: New Winners at 5th Annual Cook-Off

Chili Cook Off Awards  – Photo Mickey Mathis © Harmony Media, NJ

Local chili enthusiasts converged on Grove Street Plaza on Saturday afternoon for the fifth-annual Chili Cook-Off, presented by the non-profit 4th Street Arts organization. When the dust settled—and the chili powder too—there were new champions in the top categories. Judges named the Lamp Post Bar & Grill as winner for Best Restaurant Chili, while Russell Simon took home the Best Individual Chili honor for his beanless, spicy creation “Texas Diablo.” Meanwhile, the plastic-spoon-wielding masses cheered for other chilis: the not-yet-opened Monty’s Public House won the People’s Choice for Best Restaurant Chili, and the Other Manning Brothers scored the People’s Choice for Best Individual Chili.

Perfect spring weather (for most of the day, anyway) brought an estimated 1,300 people to the Cook-Off. For $5, attendees received a wristband and the all-important plastic spoon. They could then sample any of the 6 restaurant chilis in competition, as well as chilis from individuals in teams of at least two.

Ted Farnum of the Heights was attending his first Chili Cook-Off with his sons, 8-year-old Robi and 5-year-old Kabir. When asked if they would be tasting any chili, Robi replied with a definitive “No!” while Kabir left the door open. Their dad was rather eager to try the different chilis, but admitted to another draw. “I like any opportunity to drink beer outside,”Farnum told JCI. (Indeed, the Jersey City Brew Club‘s home-brew sampling proved quite popular at the Cook-Off.)

Attendees were also treated to live music, presented by “Dancing Tony” Susco’s Rock-It Docket: the pleasing pop-rock of Big Wake and gritty folk-blues from the Jeremy Wallace Trio.

Panel of Pros

Competitors each made a short presentation to the esteemed judging panel Star-Ledger food guru Peter Genovese, Princeton Club chef Will Lustberg, Jersey City Independent publisher Catherine Hecht, Ward E Councilwoman Candice Osborne, and Mayor Steven Fulop. Like Genovese, Mayor Fulop was returning to the judging table for the fifth consecutive year. “It gets more difficult to choose,” Fulop said. “There’s a lot of great, great, great community and restaurant involvement.”

For the mayor, there was a key difference in this year’s Cook-Off on a personal level. “Tomorrow I’m doing a Half Ironman Triathlon,” Fulop said with a smile. “I’m a little concerned about the impact tomorrow of what I’m eating today. I may be flying down the course.” (On Sunday, the mayor did successfully complete the Bassman Half Distance Triathlon in New Jersey’s Bass River State Forest, swimming 1.2 miles, biking 57.2 miles, and running 13.1 miles. Photos on his twitter account indicate that he was still smiling at the finish.)

Friendly Food Feud

One of the day’s closest watched battles was in the student/teacher team category. Two squads from Lincoln High School’s Culinary Arts program were facing off. The “Eat Right” team consisted of 9th graders Eleeze Spann and Taijha Williams and 10th graders Margarita Guzman and Natasha Perez, working with their teacher, Chef Talley. Guzman and Perez were on last year’s Eat Right team which won the prestigious Golden Spoon. Did they make any changes to this year’s chili recipe? “It’s even better,” Guzman proudly stated. Perez added with confidence, “Why eat wrong when you can Eat Right?”

But there was also swagger from the Downtown Chili Brown team, made up of Lincoln High seniors: Natalie Gantt, Mirna Aldave, and Kayla Alicea, working with their teacher, Chef Black. Asked about the competition from team Eat Right, Aldave said, “No competition! We’ve got it this year.” And as for the secret to their chili, Gantt and Aldave both agreed: “Love and curry.”

Chili Champs

Both student/teacher teams produced high quality chili, but the Eat Right squad once again earned the Golden Skillet along with $200 to go towards class supplies. Golden Spoons were awarded to the teams Fire in YerHole (Best Vegetarian), International Comfort (Spiciest), and Most Wanted Chef (Most Creative).

The 4th Street Arts group were also big winners, raising approximately $3,500 to help fund their student grant program and future live music events.

As day slowly turned to night on Grove Street, runners-up packed up their pots and already began planning for next year. (“More cumin?”) And satisfied visitors reached for phones, for keys, for PATH cards, all with reddish-stained fingertips.

The Jersey City Independent is a proud media sponsor of this event. © Harmony Media, NJ. All rights reserved. No part of this article may be reproduced without written permission.

Photos Mickey Mathis © Harmony Media, NJ

Jack Silbert

is a writer, editor, internet-radio DJ and occasional emcee. He is the author of several books and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Press, New Jersey Monthly, Weird NJ, and other publications. Jack’s humorous ramblings can be found at Salt In Wound.