Fishtown: 4th Annual Chili Cook-off a Success, Even in the Rain

The crowd at the 4th Annual Chili Cook-off was overwhelming despite the weather.

Fishtown held its 4th Annual Chili Cook-off on Sunday at the Skybox at 2424 Studios in Fishtown.The event allows residents and businesses to showcase their best chili-cooking skills with the chance to be awarded Best Restaurant Chili, Best Amateur Chili and a People’s Choice Award. Celebrity judges included Philadelphian Jen Carroll, a finalist on Bravo’s Top Chef, and George Sabatino, named Philadelphia magazine Best Chef 2012, who will soon open a new restaurant called Aldine.

Former FNA President, Jill Betters
Former FNA President, Jill Betters

After the inaugural Chili Cook-off proved to be an overwhelming success, according to Fishtown Neighbors Association President Kate Micklow Harwan, the event had to be moved to a bigger venue.

“We have a waiting list for resident competitors,” Micklow Harwan said. “Last year was so successful we had to turn people away.”

This year the Chili Cook-off added something new: fundraising efforts. A portion of the profits will go to the Alexander Adaire School computer lab.

“We’re going to start doing that with a portion of our profits from each fundraising event going forward,” Micklow Harwan said.

A $15 ticket bought residents entry into the event and access to chili tastings and beer courtesy of Philadelphia Brewing Company and small pours from St. Benjamin’s Brewing, a microbrewery started by a local resident.

Of the turnout this year, Micklow Harwan said, “It went pretty well considering it was raining outside.”

Susan Phillips, a South Philadelphia resident, is a returning patron to the Chili Cook-off. She has been attending the event for the past three years and remembers her favorite chili from previous events.

“I had one with sweet cornbread,” Phillips said. “It was delicious.”

Others came just to support one specific, more notable chili. Resident Rob Brower, for example, came to support the “Mean Green Tequila Chili.”

“It boosts pride,” he said, “and brings us all together.”

Heidi Sykara stands next to her wedding themed chili.

One team of local residents used the event to celebrate their recent engagement with a “wedding-themed” chili. Heidi Sykara and her fiancé incorporated the old rhyme, “something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue,” into their chili concoction.

How, you ask? The “something blue” was corn chips. They borrowed the container in which the chili was prepared. The new element of their symbolic creation was a spring chicken and, finally, garlic roasted last fall served as the “something old” component.

“Even though we didn’t win,” said Sykara, “we got good feedback. We didn’t win but that’s fine. Participation is what matters.”

The feeling of camaraderie the event creates is apparent in the demeanor of the contestants participating in and residents attending the Chili Cook-off.

“It brings everybody together and brings exposure to restaurants,” said chili contestant Stacy Sanseverino. “And it’s fun. You get to eat a lot of chili and beer,” she added.

The FNA is a charity organization dedicated to serving the Fishtown community. The association has separate committees including the beautification committee in charge of community clean-ups and the zoning committee which has had a lot of work in the last few years with all the new businesses and residences in the area. They hold monthly general member meetings and host three major events each year. Those events are the Chili Cook-off in March, a Meet the Neighbors event in June and the River City Festival in October. Events, parties and fundraisers ultimately seek to bring community members together and gain dedicated FNA volunteers.

They have already garnered dedicated chili cook-off participants.

“If it gets bigger,” Brower said, “they’ll have to relocate.”

“I think we’ll participate as long as we live here,” Sykara said.

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