Staff PHOTOS By Albert J. Marro
Above: Tamara Boise of Cycle Wise in New Haven prepares cornbread to go with chili made with “beef, sausage, bacon and secret goodness.” Below: Sheri Sullivan of Sheri’s Diner in Brandon serves up her chicken black bean chili for Bill Powers of Rutland.
While many cooks are content to make chili from moose or venison, David Rogers of the FishTail Tavern made his from both.
“A friend of mine got a moose and, of course, there’s so much meat he was giving it away,” the Castleton restaurateur said between ladling out cupfuls of his game chili during the fifth annual Vermont Chili Festival on Saturday. “I got a local deer. I decided to do a compilation. I’ve never done both — I just happened to have both in my freezer.”
Rogers’ chili, which was rich with a sweetness that gave way to a pleasant heat, was far from the most ornate offering at the festival in Middlebury. Last year the event drew roughly 5,000 visitors, according to organizers, and Saturday massive lines formed in front of roughly 50 booths along Main Street. At times, it looked like one massive line ran the length of the street.
Organized by the Better Middlebury Partnership, the event invites guests to vote for the best overall chili and for winners in categories including beef, chicken, pork, game, veggie and “kitchen sink.”
While most of the concoctions had the familiar reddish-brown hue, there were a few bowls of green chili — one searingly hot, another citrusy — and a white chili made from white beans and chicken. One booth offered “Buffalo chicken chili” topped with blue cheese and garnished with a celery stick.
While most booths advertised their meats and vegetables, the booth run by Otter Creek Brewing of Middlebury made note of which beer was in each of their three pots. One was a meat chili, one a vegetarian chili made with sweet potatoes and black beans, and the third was a fish chili.
“We tried a few different beers with smaller batches through the week, trying to get ideas down and seeing which beers worked best,” said Sean Siner of Otter Creek Brewing. “The (Wolaver’s) IPA seemed to work really well with the vegetables in the vegetarian chili. The hops, I think, lent themselves well to that.”
For the meat, Siner said, the maltiness of the Copper Ale added barley notes to the mixture of pork, pork sausage, beef and veal. Siner denied any suggestion that veal was wasted in chili.
“Veal is such a nice meat,” he said. “It hasn’t quite reddened up yet. It’s a very light meat chili.”
For the fish chili, Otter Creek blackened halibut separately and then put a chunk of the fish at the bottom of a cup of cheesy sauce made with a gallon of The Shed IPA beer, in which they had soaked a pound of jalapenos.
“The Shed IPA is very hoppy, almost grapefruit like,” Siner said of how the beer paired with the fish.
Arguably the fanciest chili was served by Tourterelle, a New Haven restaurant. Misty Knoll Farm chicken chili was served with pineapple salsa and maple creme fraiche. Chef-owner William Snell said the key to good chicken chili, for him, is not to overcook the chicken.
“I like to keep nice big chunks of chicken so people can taste the quality of the chicken,” he said. “You don’t want it to taste like you’re eating pureed meat.”
Next to Snell’s booth, Larry Naylor of Salisbury was also serving chili involving pineapples. In Naylor’s chili, though, the fruit was cooked in the pot with everything else and blended in, offering a sweet sharpness to contrast the richness of the meat.
Pineapples weren’t the only unusual ingredient in Naylor’s pot. He called his chili Kahlua-pig because the pork in it was marinated in Kahlua.
“Traditional Hawaiian, for a luau, the pork they roast in the ground is called kalua pork, spelled without the ‘h,’” he said. “I like the coffee taste. I think that goes well with the chili powder. I tried it out on my poker buddies and it was a hit.”
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