OLD SAYBROOK — More than 1,500 people filled Old Saybrook’s Main Street on Saturday for the 24th annual Chili Fest sponsored by the Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s only our third year participating, but it’s already become one of our favorite annual events,” said Kerri Chapps from The Little Pub. “We get to see everyone out and about and lots of familiar faces that frequent Little Pub.”
The first table on Main Street, last year’s Judge’s pick was the Smoky Jack Daniels BBQ chili made by the Tea Kettle Restaurant in Westbrook.
“We smoke the beef first and the brine it in Jack Daniels,” said chef David Ciastico as he served chili to a continuous line for three hours on Saturday. “This is our fifth year and we’ve tweaked the recipe just a bit so we think we have a good chance of winning.”
And they did. Tea Kettle Restaurant was voted the best chili by both attendees and judges.
The runner-up was Red House Restaurant from Deep River.
It wasn’t just restaurants that were out serving chili, everyone from First Selectman Carl Fortuna to St. John’s School to Vista Life Innovations, a Westbrook-based program that supports children and adults with disabilities were outside serving chili.
In fact, third place went to Angus McDonald, Gary Sharpe & Associates, an engineering firm in town. It was the firm’s fifteenth year in the competition and their sixth time on the podium.
“We change it up a little each year, this year it has a little extra love,” said McDonald who made the chili. “We call it the Slow Simmer Seven Spice Inferno.”
All three winners had a little kick, which helped them stand out among the 24 entries which included vegetarian, chicken and more traditional beef recipes.
Many of the non-restaurant participants said they weren’t there because of their culinary prowess, but because of the community.
“We just want to make stuff people can enjoy and have a nice event,” said Alyssa Cohen of Gladeview Healthcare Center and winner of the spirit award. “We love this event because we see a bunch of families of our residents here, it’s such a fun, tight community.”
The Lions Club felt the same.
“The best part is being out in the community and raising money for good causes,” said Sharon Tiezzi, the Vice President and 26-year member of the club.
The more than $15,000 raised will go to support the Wilfred Hunter Memorial Scholarships sponsored by the chamber as well as the charities in addition to the charities selected by the award winners: Shoreline Pantry & Soup Kitchen, the Valley Shore YMCA and Vista Life Innovations.