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Thursday, Jun 20, 2024

Middlebury Celebrates 8th Annual Chili Festival

On Saturday, March 12, the 8th annual Vermont Chili Festival was held  in downtown Middlebury.  From 1 to 4 p.m. the sun was shining and the street was filled with around six thousand Vermonters on the hunt for chili from top restaurants and caterers, as well as good entertainment provided by local street performers. About 40 types of chili were packed into tents along the street, and each business was expected to supply around 15 to 30 gallons of their specialty chilies in order to enter the competition. Sabai Sabai emerged as the victor of this year’s festival, taking the cake (or perhaps the chili) as their kitchen sink Thai flavored chili won the title of “Best Overall” and a cash prize of $1,000.  This was the first year that Sabai Sabai has participated in the Chili Festival, and beginner’s luck certainly seems to have applied to their praiseworthy dish. “This is a Bangkok chili.  It’s a chicken chili with Thai spices and we’re serving it with tortilla chips and peanuts.  A lot of people seem to really like it.  It’s a little different,” explained a waitress from Sabai Sabai. “I’ve been trying to talk the chefs into doing Thai nachos and maybe putting it on the menu for an appetizer.” After Sabai Sabai’s success at the festival, Middlebury natives may be in luck if a chili-inspired addition to the menu is brought to fruition. Every chili-eater had the option to vote for their favorite chili and their favorite booth at the festival, and the businesses with the highest number of votes earned a cash prize.  In addition, a panel of judges was set to decide the best of the best chili in six categories: pork, game, chicken, beef, veggie and kitchen sink. Two Brothers Tavern followed Sabai Sabai, earning “Second Best Overall,” and receiving a cash prize of $750 for their beef chili. Park Squeeze, a restaurant in Vergennes, placed “Third Best Overall,” winning $750 for their pork chili.  The Park Squeeze Restaurant, participating in the Vermont Chili Festival for the third time, fell just short of its goal this year. “This is sort of the traditional style that I would do,” said the Park Squeeze chef as he scooped the chili.  “It’s a pork chili and we’re getting our pork from Heritage Farms in Otter Creek. I’m hoping for the top prize this year.” For the content-specific categories of pork, game, chicken, beef, veggie, and kitchen sink, the business winners were Park Squeeze, The Lobby, Indulge Salon, Middlebury College Brisket, La Boca Wood Fired Pizza and Sabai Sabai, respectively.  The winners in each of these designated categories were awarded $100.  The two final coveted awards were given to Sabai Sabai as the “People’s Choice” and Our House Bistro (in Winooski, Vt.) as the “Best Booth.”  These two designations earned the businesses prizes of $500 and $200, respectively. All of the chefs worked hard to defy the typical expectations of a chili dish.  Jeff Trump, Head Chef at the Lobby in Middlebury, was certainly no exception. “This one’s on the menu.  It’s a venison maple chipotle chili with hazelnut crème-fraiche and fried shallots.  We took first place with it last year,” Trump recalled with pride. It seems that this prize-winning chili met its match on Saturday. Some of Middlebury’s own students even put their chili-making skills to the test at the festival.  Middlebury Foods, a student-run nonprofit, had a chili stand and their vegetarian chili earned runner-up in its category. “It was really rewarding; the Atwater dining staff that we cooked alongside was incredibly helpful and kind to the three of us,” says Alex Brockelman ’18, who cooked for Middlebury Foods on Saturday. “The crowds were sweet and appreciative for the most part, minus the occasional belligerently drunk student. All in all a great experience.” Competition aside, the town was brought to life with good food, face painting, street performers, live music and positive energy. The Chili Festival has been named one of the “Top 10 Winter Events” for the past five years by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, and it continues to live up to its praise. The money raised at the festival supports the Better Middlebury Partnership, which plays a key role in organizing and facilitating community events every year. The fun did not stop once the chili bowls were all emptied.  There were two after parties with live music for the most zealous of chili lovers.  The Horse Traders performed at Two Brothers Tavern and BandAnna took the stage at 51 Main. “It’s fun and it’s nice to be outside,” remarked Trump. “It’s nice seeing people from around town.  The festival is a good community gathering event.” This sentiment was echoed by students at the College as well: “I think the chili fest is a really nice event because it brings students and Middlebury residents together,” Julia Hower ’19 said.  “It also gives students a chance to get off campus, which can be really refreshing.”