The Hippo


May 30, 2020








 Annual Henniker Rotary Chili Fest: Fire on the Mountain

When: Sunday, Aug. 23, noon to 4:30 p.m.
Where: Pats Peak Ski Area, 686 Flanders Road, Henniker
Cost: $12 for adults, $6 for children 10 and under, free for infants and toddlers (if you bring a vintage car or truck to the cruise in you get a $2 off on admission to chili fest).

Destination: chili
Chili Fest returns for a day of fun and competition

By Allie Ginwala

 The Henniker Rotary Club didn’t set out to start a destination chili festival that draws thousands of guests eager to sample 40 different varieties of chili. Instead, it began as an add-on to a fundraiser that needed a little oompf.

“We used to do a goods and service auction and added a little chili contest, and it was so well received that the club decided to forgo the auction and start to build the chili fest,” Ruth Zax, Henniker Rotary Club president, said in a phone interview.
The “little chili contest” was between the Hillsborough and Henniker Fire and Rescue departments and has since morphed into the Henniker Rotary Chili Fest: Fire on the Mountain at Pats Peak Ski Area.
“In the first couple of years it was… fairly small. Just local restaurants participated, some amateurs, and then we added the kids’ area, we added the vendors, we added the car cruise-in, so we’ve been adding things to make it more festival-like over the years,” she said. “It draws contestants from all over, it draws attendees from all over. It’s a destination event.”
The highlight of the festival is, of course, the chance to taste all sorts of chili from the professional and amateur competitions. The professionals include about 15 restaurants and caterers, such as Colby Hill Inn in Henniker, Country Spirit Restaurant in Henniker, Midtown Cafe in Manchester and The Red Arrow Diner. There are typically about 25 amateurs, who come from across the state and region.
Chef Nicole Barreira, former WZID radio host Mike Morin and New Hampshire Magazine Editor Rick Broussard are the three celebrity judges.
“The celebrity judges have a set of criteria they use [like] aroma and taste and ingredients and aftertaste,” Zax said. 
They’ll rank each of the entries based on the criteria in their blind taste test. A people’s choice award will also be given in both categories. 
The types of chilis each year cover all taste ranges — seafood chili, steak chili, pork chili, vegetarian chili,  green chili, chocolate chili, and even an Indian chili made by amateur competitor Jason Valley of Tilton.
“The amateurs are much more inclined to be creative with their chilis and use different combinations,” Zax said.
Valley has competed in the amateur chili competition for the past four or five years.
“I do a lot of cooking at home. I’ve done some catering work,” he said in a phone interview. “I have a chili I’ve won with two years in a row, so I’m not changing that recipe.”
Valley makes an Indian-style chili with Indian spices, chicken, peppers and peas that  he said is similar to murgh makhani. 
“It’s one of the dishes I make at home quite a bit so I’ve had the opportunity to perfect it over the years,” he said. “The family really likes it.”
Currently Valley only competes in Chili Fest, because he likes the small, family atmosphere that you won’t find at more diehard competitions. Plus, he likes the fact that he can bring his wife and kids and interact with all of the people trying his chili.
“It’s a lot of fun. I get to meet a lot of neat people,” he said.
Zax said in the early years of the festival they discussed affiliating with an established chili competition organization, but decided they wanted to keep it relaxed.
“We decided that we were gonna let people make their favorite chili recipe and as long as they provided the right amount, that whatever ingredients they used were their [choice],” she said.
Unlike sanctioned chili competitions, Chili Fest doesn’t require its competitors to follow specific ingredient guidelines or make their chili on-site. All they have to do is bring six gallons of professional chili or four gallons of amateur chili to the mountain labeled as “hot,” “very hot,” or “screaming hot,” so the attendees know what level of spiciness they’re getting themselves into.
The tasting portion of the festival is rather free-form. With competitors lined up on tables under tents at the base of Pats Peak, guests can walk from table to table with their cups and spoons to chat with the chili maker and have a taste. 
Between chili tastings, guests can head to the food court for barbecue ribs and hamburgers from Arnie’s Place, Kona Ice, soft serve from Intervale Ice Cream, hot dogs, corn on the cob and more. They’ll also have craft vendors, kids’ zone, car cruise in and live music from Rosemary’s Baby Blues.
As seen in the August 20th 2015 issue of the Hippo. 

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