New England Regional Chili Cook-off has its best year yet

By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Somers - posted Wed., May. 8, 2013
FireJive Performance Arts puts on an incendiary display at the New England Regional Chili Cook-Off on May 4 in Somers. Photos by Steve Smith.
FireJive Performance Arts puts on an incendiary display at the New England Regional Chili Cook-Off on May 4 in Somers. Photos by Steve Smith.

The New England Regional Chili Cook-off, which has become the premier chili event in New England, attracted thousands to the Pleasant View Golf Center in Somers on May 4. Organizer Mike Freedman said this year's festival – the fifth annual – was the best yet, partly because of the weather.

“It was a beautiful day,” Freedman said at the end of the day. “This was the best Regional Chili Cook-off ever. I guestimate we had between 9,000 and 10,000 people.”

The competition had 55 red chili entrants, 35 in the green division, 13 youth entries and more than 40 salsa competitors.

Freedman, who takes part in chili competitions all over the country, said the festival has become the largest of its kind in the Northeast, and is the seventh-largest in the world.

Five current world champion chili chefs took part in the event. Freedman said the atmosphere is really made by the camaraderie among all of the cooks.

“My personal highlight was watching my sons and daughters compete with each other,” he said. “We had cooks from as far away as Michigan, Illinois and Canada. They know that when Mad Mike throws a party, it's going to be a good time.”

One of the chili cooks, Deborah Roberge of Enfield, said the best part of the event is that she was able to spend it with her family and friends – and something she and her husband stumbled onto when looking for family outings when her oldest daughter, Sula, now 6, was a baby.

“We thought it was a fun place to walk around,” she said. “I thought, 'This would be fun. I could do this.'”

Soon, she recruited friend Ellie Allen, as well as all three of her children, and set up her own chili booth.

“This is our first time really competing,” Roberge said. “I have this deep-seeded need to feed people, and throwing a part at my house is too much work. The crowds are really receptive, and they appreciate having a vegetarian option."

Roberge's veggie chili was a recipe she's been working on for years. She said, naturally, that there are several secret ingredients.

“Whatever's good and in season, whatever's fresh, in terms of vegetables,” she said. “Tons of beans and tomatoes and a sundry of herbs.”

The Somers Fire Department has had their own chili booth at the cook-off for years. Somers Fire Chief Gary Schiessl said Pat Loftus has become the department's head chef.

“She gets it all prepared for us, then the rest of us jump in and help on Saturday morning,” Schiessl said, adding that the public appreciates the department's presence at outings such as the chili festival.

“People pay attention and it's nice to have our name our there,” he said. “This is such a variety of people here. We like to be here, and we like to be seen.”

“Somers is a hotbed of chili cook-offs,” Freedman said. “Local people know it's a good time, too. We have the best time in the world.”

For competition results and more information, visit

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