Cooking chili is a family affair at upcoming Somers event

By Jennifer Holloway - Staff Writer
Somers - posted Wed., Apr. 27, 2011
A clown at the 2010 New England Regional Chili Cook-off needed antacids after eating too much chili. Photo courtesy of Michael Freedman. - Contributed Photo

On May 7, more than 4,000 people are expected to gather in the town of Somers with one word on their minds: chili.

Somers will once again host the New England Regional Chili Cook-off, where approximately 60 chefs will compete in three categories for a chance to advance to the International Chili Society’s World Championship in October.

Cooks can enter in red chili, chili verde, salsa or any combination of the three categories, as well as the non-ICS People’s Choice category, which differs from competition chili in that beans are allowed. Another non-ICS category, the Youth Division, is for cooks under 18.

For cook-off Chairman Michael Freedman, this event is about more than chili - it is about family. Freedman, a chili cook himself, relies on his wife to help him organize the event each year, his daughter and her fiancé cook in the competition, and his other children and grandchildren attend the cook-off together. His grandchildren refer to it as “Pop’s chili cook-off.”

“At noon, my four grandkids will yell, ‘Light your stoves,’ bringing another generation into the chili world,” Freedman said. “Hopefully they’ll be cooks, too.”

And the family ties do not stop there. They continue into the heart of the competition.

“You’ve got fathers against sons, mothers against daughters, families cooking together,” Freedman said.

Mario Saccoccio competes against his wife, who once placed second in the green chili category using one of his recipes.

“It’s interesting because a lot of people compete against spouses in separate tents,” Saccoccio said. “We’re in the same tent.”

Last year’s red chili winner and 2007 World Champion Jerry Buma passed on his love for chili cooking to his daughter, and they now compete in red chili.

“The fun part is, she won two years ago, and I won it back from her,” Buma said.

Rivalries aside, the environment is a friendly one, described by Freedman as a “down home country fair kind of atmosphere.”

“I tell the cooks it’s not about winning or losing, because when you cook chili with your friends, you’re already winning,” he said.

To Freedman, the cook-off is sort of a “staycation” for families. For the admission price of $5 and two canned goods, people can come and hear live music, eat lots of chili, participate in hot wing or hot pepper eating contests, meet Miss Connecticut and more.

The proceeds from the cook-off, sponsored by Bolles Chrysler Dodge Jeep and Holiday Inn of Enfield, benefit the Somers Fire Department and the Connecticut Patriot Guard Riders. All canned goods will be donated to Champ’s Place, a Somers food pantry.

The New England Regional Chili Cook-off is open to the public on Saturday, May 7, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m at Pleasant View, 452 South Road, in Somers. For children under 5 and adults over 70, admission is free.


World's Championship Chili Cookoff

Good luck to everyone - looking forward to seeing the winner at the WCCC in Manchester, NH Sept. 30 - Oct. 2!

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