• Cook-off turns up the inner heat
     | March 25,2013

    Adam Caira / Staff Photo Marichel Vaught of East Calais serves up a sample of her "Punxsutawney Phil Lied" chili made with all beef and veal during the Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen's chili cook-off Sunday in Barre.

    BARRE — So many bowls, so little time. Thus it was on Sunday afternoon at Barre’s Cornerstone Pub and Kitchen, where 32 local cooks put their slow cookers to the test in a chili cook-off in support of the Vermont Cancer Survivor Network.

    By the end of the afternoon close to $7,000 had been raised and gallons of chili consumed in support of the local organization that provides peer support for those affected by cancer.

    The idea for the fundraiser, which Cornerstone co-owners Keith Paxman and Rich McSheffrey say will become a yearly event, rose out of their own desire to support cancer patients and survivors.

    “Both Keith and I have members of our family who are survivors,” McSheffrey said. “The reality is that everybody knows someone.”

    In McSheffrey’s case it is his father, George Clain, who was diagnosed with stage four throat cancer three years ago. Throughout his treatment, Clain said, he found his family and friends to be of great support. But, he added, there’s satisfaction in being able to talk to someone who has walked down the cancer road before.

    “I don’t know how to say it, but you don’t want to burden your family. So after you’ve gone through treatment a lot of folks just kind of put it away. You don’t want to think about it. But there’s still so much to go through,” he said.

    The cancer network’s program Kindred Connections puts survivors — a term it uses for anyone living with cancer — in touch with each other. There’s no substitute for that kind of shared experience, said Clain, who is now a mentor to other cancer patients. “We get really connected to people, and we can tell them what kind of things to expect.”

    Against a background of live blues and zydeco courtesy of the Dave Keller Band, folks plunked down their $10 for a spoon with which to taste every offering, and a poker chip to drop into the cup of their favorite. And it was not an easy decision to make.

    Whether your taste ran to pork and green chilies or vegan black bean, there was something to appeal to even the most discriminating taste buds. Some cooks broke out the condiments and cornbread, while others seduced with crispy tortilla chips and sour cream.

    Then there were the hardcore like first prize winner Mike Kerin, whose “Sweet Hothead Chili” packed a wallop of flavor imparted by smoking his own pork for 18 hours before making his winning bowl of red.

    Kerin, who seemed to know nearly everyone who stopped by, was at the end of the long line of participants, but he’d encourage tasters to check out the competition first. “Just go try everything else,” he said to a couple of tasters. “Then come back here and try mine.”

    But if Kerin could claim to have smoked his own pork, Amy Holt actually bagged the deer that went into her pot of “Deerly” venison chili, which garnered more than a few votes. “It was a 143-pound six-point buck,” she said with pride. “Of course, the next week my 11-year-old took a 170-pounder.”

    Elizabeth Shepherd, a Colorado native living in Warren, took third place with a traditional Southwest-style green chili that she called “El Guapo,” meaning “the handsome man” — a tip of the hat, she admitted, to the comedy film “Three Amigos!” The fire-roasted chilies gave the handsomely spiced bowl a taste that was muy authentico, conjuring up the smoke of the renowned Hatch chilies whose roasting smell permeates New Mexico in the fall.

    Local favorites and second prize winners Lisa Lamdin and her brother Corey Babic made their “Camp 206” chili, which featured ground beef, pork, sweet and hot sausages, and kidney beans in a robust blend that might have contained a touch of maple. This was a chili worthy of a weekend at deer camp. “I always like to send my brother and his friends up to camp with a big pot of chili,” she said.

    David Cramer, one of the founders of the Vermont Cancer Survivor Network, said the money will help the organization reach out to those who need it most. “There are 33,000 cancer survivors in Vermont,” he said. “That is about one in every six people.” The program was singled out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as one of the most effective in the nation. “It’s a point of pride with us that we are doing this with very little in the way of funding,” he said.

    While the Cornerstone crowd rollicked through the afternoon, a few were showing a wee bit of fatigue from the day before. On Saturday Mulligan’s Irish Pub raised more than $5,000 with a silent auction and raffle to support employee Lisa Walker, who has undergone multiple heart surgeries. In early April the Barre Elks Club will hold another benefit, with music by the Dave Keller Band, this time to support Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice and the Vermont Foodbank. Admission will be $15 and a food pantry donation.

    These kinds of events tap into that sense of neighbor helping neighbor that many see as being at the heart of what it is to be a Vermonter.

    When Kerin stepped up to take his blue ribbon, he echoed a sentiment that might have stood for everyone who participated. “The secret ingredient,” he said, pointing to his chest, “is love.”

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