The Hippo


May 25, 2020








Courtesy photo.

Fire on the Mountain Chili Fest

Where: Pats Peak Ski Area, 686 Flanders Road, Henniker
When: Sunday, Aug. 21, noon to 4:30 p.m.
Cost: Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for children age 10 and under, and free for infants and toddlers

Chili chowdown
Chili makers compete at Henniker Chili Fest

By Angie Sykeny

 What started as a small chili cook-off between local emergency service departments has grown into a full-fledged festival attracting 40 to 50 chili makers and over 2,000 attendees.

The Henniker Rotary Club’s 14th annual Fire on the Mountain Chili Fest takes place Sunday, Aug. 21, at Pats Peak Ski Area and will feature professional and amateur competitions with plenty of chili samples for visitors.
“The professional competition is for anyone who is considered someone who makes chili for a living, like a restaurant or caterer,” public relations coordinator Ruth Zax said. “But for the amateur competition, it could be anyone, like service clubs or any individual who thinks they’ve got a great chili recipe that they make at home or make for the Super Bowl every year.”
Unlike many chili competitions with strict regulations on ingredients and cooking methods, the Fire on the Mountain Chili Fest gives competitors total freedom to make their chilies however they want. For attendees, that means a wide variety of chilies for the tasting. Zax said there have been veggie, white bean and green chilies, fish-based chilies and chilies with all kinds of meats, including steak, hamburger, pork and even moose meat.
“We tell people to get creative, and they do get very, very creative,” she said. “We’ve had chilies flavored with Indian spices like curry, a chili with chocolate, and this year we’ll have a kung pao Chinese chili. It’s just whatever people come up with based on the type of restaurant they are or the type of chili they like to make.”
There will be around 20 professional and 15 to 20 amateur competitors this year, plus a newly added third competition exclusively for local rotary clubs that’s expected to have at least five competing clubs. All chili makers will be serving 1-ounce sample cups of their creations until judging concludes at 3:30 p.m.
Prizes will be awarded to the first-, second- and third-place professional and amateur winners decided by a panel of celebrity judges, and to the people’s choice winners determined by attendees’ votes.
“The people’s choice awards are usually the most coveted, especially by the professionals because they want to draw more people to their restaurants,” Zax said. “If they’re voted the best chili, it’s like a nice seal of approval for them.”   
The judges will conduct a blind taste test on each chili and score it based on its appearance, aroma, creativity and uniqueness of ingredients and presentation, taste and blending of flavors, texture and aftertaste.
This year’s celebrity judges include veteran Chili Fest judge Nicole Barreira, better known as Chef Nicole, from T-Bones and Cactus Jack’s; Rick Broussard, culinary enthusiast and editor of New Hampshire Magazine, returning for his second year of chili-judging; and first-time judge Allen Zick, executive chef for The Common Man family of restaurants and board member for Lakes Region Community College’s culinary program.
The grand prize is $1,000 in cash, awarded to the first-place amateur winner. All other winners will receive plaques and, for professional winners, colorful Chili Fest banners to display in their place of business. The judges will also choose the winning rotary club, which will receive a $200 prize to give to the charity of its choice.
Though the chili is the highlight of the festival, there will be a food court with other fare like barbecue ribs and chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs, frozen treats and beer trucks.
The festival will also feature activities and entertainment such as a vintage car cruise-in, live music, raffles and door prizes, a kid zone with games, face painting and crafts; and over 20 vendors selling New Hampshire-made crafts, specialty foods and chili-inspired items.
“It’s a wonderful event to take in on a Sunday in the summer,” Zax said. “It’s family-friendly, it’s in a beautiful location, and it has things that will interest everyone, from the music and the vendors to the food and just the whole ambience.” 

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