New England Regional Chili Cook Off attracts thousands

By Annie Gentile - ReminderNews
Somers - posted Thu., May. 12, 2011
Rick and Jeff Sievering hope their chili is a winning recipe at the New England Regional Chili Cook Off. Photos by Annie Gentile.
Rick and Jeff Sievering hope their chili is a winning recipe at the New England Regional Chili Cook Off. Photos by Annie Gentile.

For those who don’t know a hill of beans about chili, the New England Regional Chili Cook Off was a great place to learn.

Held at the Pleasant View Golf Center in Somers on Saturday, May 7, the International Chili Society-sanctioned competition drew an estimated crowd of 5,000, raising money for the Somers Fire Department and the Patriot Guard Riders of Connecticut. The latter is a motorcycle group that shields grieving families and friends at military funerals from protestor interruptions. The price of admission also included two canned good items per person, all of which were donated to Champs Place, a local food pantry operated out of Somers Congregational Church.

“The chili cook-offs are popular because everyone makes chili,” said Mike Freedman, who has been co-chairing the annual event with his wife Kat since 2007. “Chili is such a great American staple - it’s kind of like apple pie.”

Freedman, a chili cook himself, said he and his wife first offered to run the NERCC after attending a chili cooks’ Christmas party in 2006 and learning that the previous group that ran the event was not going to do it the following year. The next day, Freedman said he called ICS Executive Director Carol Hancock in California and asked if he and his wife could take on the task. Having no experience running such an event, Freedman said the director was dubious, but decided to take a chance with them.

“Now, five years later and after we’ve raised $87,000 for three different non-profits and five tons of canned goods, she is quite pleased,” said Freedman.

More than 80 cooks from across the region competed in categories including red chili, green chili, and salsas, and all of the ICS winners will advance to the World Championship Cook-Off to be held this fall in Manchester, N.H.

“We don’t have any regular cook-off in Rhode Island, so we drove two hours to come to this one,” said Carolyn Brunelle, who with her sister Kathy, operated a booth called “Kiki’s Wicked Good Chili.” Kathy Brunelle said she’s also competed in a New Hampshire cook-off and hopes to someday jar and market her foods in the tradition of the Newman’s Own food products.

“We just do this cook-off for fun. We like coming down here,” said Peter Marchetti, who with his fellow Reading, Mass., fire department members provided samples of their chili at the Reading Hot Chili Peppers booth. Every time their booth earned a People’s Choice point from a customer, they clanged a fire bell in celebration.

Like many of the guests enjoying the cook-off, friends Bob Ellis of Enfield and Mike Cencia of East Windsor said they come to the chili cook-off as much for the atmosphere as for the food.

“The people are all really friendly here,” said Ellis. “It looks like they go to a great deal of expense to put this together and the fact that they do so much of it for charity is really impressive.”

“Our credo is that the New England Regional Chili Cook Off is making a difference. We want to show people that with all of our sponsors’ selfless help, all of our cooks cooking, all of our vendors, the Somers Economic Development Council and friends like ‘Rambo’ and Alan Lanouette who are our ‘go to guys,’ we are really making a difference in our local community,” said Freedman.

In the “Red Chili” category, the winners were: First Place– Judith Omerza, Wilkes Barre, Pa.; Second Place- Bob Hall; Third Place- Patrick Sweeney, of Vernon; Fourth Place- Marc Frechette, of Ellington.

In the “Chili Verde” category, the winners were: First Place- Steven Stark, of Agawam, Mass.; Second Place- Michael Scranton; Third Place- Linda McGrath.

In the “Salsa” category, the winners were: First Place- Wendy Hennessy; Second Place- Francine Bergami; Third Place- Jason Frechette.

The People’s Choice Award – which was not an official part of the ICS competition, but voted on by the public – went to Mario and Alison Sacciccio, of Enfield.

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