Vegetarian chili wins this cookoff


Barbara Preston, center, a home chef that made a Cincinnati chili, serves her chili to people during the chili cook-off at the Alachua County Farmers Market's Chili Pepper Festival in Gainesville, Saturday July 27, 2013.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 8:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 27, 2013 at 8:49 p.m.

On a day when an ice-cream churning contest might have been more appropriate, a big crowd of people came to the Alachua County Farmers Market for a chili cookoff in which a vegetarian variety was crowned king Saturday.

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Barbara Preston, center, a home chef that made a Cincinnati chili, serves her chili to people during the chili cook-off at the Alachua County Farmers Market's Chili Pepper Festival in Gainesville, Saturday July 27, 2013.

Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun

The inaugural event was held because chili peppers are one of the few edibles that grow around here in the summertime. It was also an attempt to boost attendance at the market during the summer stupor, said Andi Houston, assistant market manager.

"Late July is the slow season, and we wanted to draw more customers to our market in the summer to see what we have available," Houston said. "For the first time, I'm thrilled. Absolutely thrilled. There are definitely more people here than there usually would be."

The contest drew four entrants. A three-judge panel — a food blogger and cooks from two Gainesville restaurants — named the couple of Sean Lucas and Nancy Caniff as the winners for a vegetarian chili that featured a variety of peppers.

Lucas said he uses mostly local ingredients, adding that the pot of chili he served Saturday began two days ago with the soaking of beans. He calls the dish Chili con Karma.

"It's chili with love. It's all organic. I've been making this chili for four or five years," Lucas said. "This week I put, like, 10 different chiles in it. I'm just a home cook. I'm a food enthusiast. I like good food."

Caniff, who does not like super-spicy food, was the chili tester for the winning pot. They didn't want it to be too mouth-burning for the contest, Lucas said.

While many chili makers tout its Tex-Mex origins, Barbara Preston of High Springs cooked up Cincinnati Chili, a thinner version of the dish that traces its roots to Macedonian immigrants and includes cinnamon, allspice and chocolate.

"I can't remember when I stumbled on the recipe, but it's over 30 years ago," Preston said. "This is fun. It should be October though."

The contestants got prizes consisting of baskets of goods donated by the farmers vending at the market, with Lucas getting the biggest basket.

Included were chile plants, honey and other items, Houston said.

Among the vendors was Kathy Graham of Graham's Farm near Lacrosse. Graham grows chiles and makes relish and jelly from them.

But Graham said she depends on neighbors and customers to help her with recipes.

"I don't eat anything spicy," she said.

Once the judges were done sampling each chili, the contestants ladled their creations for the public.

Among the tasters was Marilene Morton, a native of England who now lives in Gainesville and tagged along with friends to the chili cookoff.

Morton said chili is not served in England but added she has grown to like it since living in the U.S.

"My favorite is actually Wendy's chili," Morton said. "I like to get it with a baked potato."

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