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Downtown St. Catharines Chili Cook Off — cooking for a cause attracts top Niagara chefs

St. Catharines food

By Michael Lowe
The 13th annual St. Catharines downtown chili cook off is now history. This great event, held for a very worthy cause, had an amazing turnout this year. Here’s a quick rundown.

The variations on the chili theme were wide-ranging this year with everything from traditional Texas style, all meat versions to vegan and even a chicken based option. For just ten bucks you get sample tickets for each chili and ballots to vote for your favourite — a pretty good deal for foodies. Proceeds go to Community Care of St. Catharines and Thorold, which supports a wide range of community services.

Eating Niagara

My interest in attending this year was piqued when I saw that two of my favourite local chefs would be competing. Chef Nathan Young (left, photo above) runs In The Smoke Cookery and produces some of the best smoked meats in the region. The other smokin’ hot contender this year was Chef John Vetere (right, photo above) of Brushfire Smoke BBQ. For the last few years Young has been catering the seasonal deck at Creekside winery — see past article here. He dished up his peach wood smoked brisket with basil, mozzarella and sourdough crumble this year. A no beans version of chili, it was a great start to my tasting and had me thinking he might just win it all. Young’s use of peach wood imparts a more delicate smokiness than the heavier woods typically used for smoking meat.

Food Niagara

Next came a vegan concoction (photo above), a joint effort between Dani’s Bistro and the Kiwanis Community Cookers. Chick peas were a main ingredient in what was a wholesome, textured chili with a nice lingering heat. A surprise contender was the chili from Fiddler’s Pour House (photo below). They actually had four versions, including a vegetarian option. Flavour was rich, layered and perfectly balanced—note to self: visit the Pour House soon.

 It did not take long for the venue, St. Catharines Farmers Market, to fill up with hungry patrons (photo below). By noon the place was bustling with folks lined up to sample the goods and jostling for a place to sit. It was comforting to see so many locals turning out to support the great work Community Care does.

Chef Vetere is currently running the kitchen at Oast House Brewers. Watch for more about him in an upcoming post. Vetere was featuring a double-smoked brisket chilli — Texas style, no beans. I admit to being a fan of Texas style, a version I also like to make. Vetere has the art of smoking down to a fine art and the depth and layers of flavour in his chili was stunning. I now had another serious contender for my vote.

 Although the event had a panel of judges, including CKTB radio’s Tim Denis and local politician Jennie Stevens (photo above), patrons were given ballots to vote for the people’s choice. I waffled for a bit before finally casting my ballot for Brushfire Smoke. It wasn’t until the next day that the results were posted.

People’s Choice Winners:

• Best Chili: Brushfire Smoke
• Team Spirit Award: Real Canadian Superstore

The chili cook off is one of downtown’s best events and one that supports our community. If you missed the event this year, keep tuned in to one of the links below for upcoming events.

Community Care

My Downtown