Annual chili cook-off attracts thousands to Watertown

Visitors try chili from the Winemaker’s team, consisting of Joe Hulbert and J. Peter Hludzenski, Saturday during the 14th annual North Country Chili Cook-Off at the Dulles State Office Building. Photo by Justin Sorensen/Watertown Daily Times

Enthusiasts were crammed shoulder to shoulder in the Dulles State Office Building on Saturday to taste of some of the north country’s best chili.

At this year’s North Country Chili Cook-Off, 34 teams of professional and amateur chefs showed off their best dishes to benefit the Volunteer Transportation Center.

One of the newcomers this year was the Fort Drum Culinary Team, which prepared pulled pork chili overnight for the cook-off.

And Sgt. Ryan T. Woolman and Sgt. Micah W. McKamie’s chili — made using more than 12 ingredients, including 15 pounds of pulled pork, black and kidney beans, chipotle, habanero, onions, wine and duck bacon — was selling out fast.

Sgt. McKamie said he had been handing out a cup of chili every minute, even before the expected afternoon crowd.

A veteran team that had participated since the inaugural cook-off, the Winemaker, prepared 17 gallons of chili and was expecting it to be gone by 2 p.m.

The 14th annual cook-off was held from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. The winter fundraiser normally attracts between 2,500 and 3,000 people.

Teammates Joseph Hulbert and J. Peter Hludzenski, owner of the Winemaker, Watertown, said they used cabernet sauvignon instead of merlot this year to prepare their chili made with beef, veal, pork and many other ingredients.

“We do it because we like it,” Mr. Hludzenski said. “Yeah, it’s fun to win, too. But that’s not important.”

The Jefferson County American Legion Auxiliary-hosted event raised $43,000 for the Volunteer Transportation Center, an organization, Mr. Hludzenski said, that provides an invaluable service to elders and veterans in the community.

To Jeanette A. Turner and “Team Linda,” the event was a tribute to the late Linda J. Welsh, former deputy director of the Volunteer Transportation Center who died of cancer.

“As Team Linda, we plan on doing a lot of charity work to carry on her legacy,” said Mrs. Turner, Mrs. Welsh’s cousin.

Cook-off winners were:

? Professional — first, Spicy Wench Chili from Black River Valley Club; second, Samaritan Heat from Samaritan Medical Center; third, Ponderosa Pulled Pork Chili from Little Barn Bulk Foods.

? Amateur — first, Advanced Business Systems; second, Chili Bistro from The Winemaker; third, Children’s Home of Jefferson County.

? Vegetarian — Very Vegan Chili Verde from Watertown Elks Lodge 496.

? Novelty — Best Dressed, DeVito’s Catering; Best Decorated, DeVito’s Catering; Most Unusual Recipe, North Country Children’s Clinic; Most Congenial, Team Linda.

? People’s choice — first, Advanced Business Systems; second, Cold? Well, Eat Chili! from Coldwell Banker Realty.
-Jaegun Lee, Watertown Daily Times staff writer