Cooking-off at the Castle…

The morning air has the crisp, tight feeling of fall. A light fog still clings to the ground. The pavilion rises up, like a great white ship. Then there is a smell, subtle at first, but increasingly more pungent; spices, slow-cooked meat and a touch of garlic.
It’s Saturday, Oct. 19 at the first annual Castleton State College Chili Cook-Off, and tables are topped with crock pots, lined up like a sturdy city.
The new event as part of homecoming attracted chefs and eaters alike, resulting in a bustling crowd sampling almost a dozen different types of chili from local restaurants.
“We wanted a fun way to introduce students and parents to the area,” said Vy Swenson, director of Alumni and Parent Relations. Swenson is skittering around, almost in tune with a live band playing, fixing this and adjusting that, having her hands full with the coordination of the event.
But she’s loving every minute of it.
“This is a great way to bring the community together and let them get a sample of our local restaurants and products,” said Swenson, snacking on a piping hot bowl of chili.
The chili was to be judged by seven celebrities, including President Dave Wolk, several students and professors.
Spanish Professor Ana Alexander was one of the lucky samplers.
“My husband is a chef, so I know food,” she laughs. Alexander is no stranger to a chili contest, having been a judge at a similar event in Manchester.
“Some of these recipes are a perfect balance between sweet and spicy,” she said.
One man who claims to know chili is David Rogers, owner of the Fishtail Tavern. Rogers entered two chili recipes; a pulled pork and a wild game, containing local moose and venison.
“I’ve been working on the game chili for a couple of years,” Rogers said, rubbing at his eyes due to his lack of sleep from a long night of culinary preparation. “This one starts sweet and ends with heat.”
Although Rogers was just one of the confident contestants, it was The Yellow Deli of Rutland that took the title. Not only did their chili have a southern heat and sprinkle of cheese, it came alongside a slice of warm cornbread.
Aaron Kramer, chef of the winning chili, said the recipe originates from Tennessee, but the real secret ingredient is “local products and a lot of care.”
To load your plates and stomach with chili all you had to do was show up, and maybe add a small donation. All the proceeds went to The Mentor Connector, a Rutland County organization that pairs children with an adult mentor.
Director of the program, Rebecca Majoya, loved the idea of Castleton contributing to the growing organization, and loved the idea of using a fall-appropriate food to bring people together.
“It’s a great way to get people to know more about what we do as a program,” said Majoya, surrounded by steaming pots of chili and a small mountain of golden corn muffins. “I’m touched by the help. And the positive energy of all this amazing food and upbeat people reassures me that the community really does care.”

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