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Loving Mugs Chili Cook-Off makes its comeback

With almost 200 attendees swirling about and nine individual Penticton area eateries and food purveyors vying for trophies and glory, the always entertaining Penticton Art Gallery fundraiser known as the Loving Mugs Chili Cook-Off vigorously sprang back to life Thursday night following three years of forced pandemic cancellation.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

That it was one of the last local annual events to return to form had everything to do with the calendar.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The Cook-Off, one of the first substantial local happenings in each new year and always a sign that spring is mere days away, was one of the last to unfold before COVID shut down the world in March of 2020. So naturally, it was one of the last to reappear.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

And it was worth it. The Main Gallery, temporarily converted into a giant cafeteria, was jammed for nearly two full hours as guests sampled the various alternatives and voted for their favourites.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Prior to that, the adjacent Toni Only Gallery was a bit of a madhouse itself when folks were funneled to a folding table for the ritualistic Selection of the Mugs.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Hundreds of artsy, unique mugs awaited, and some were definitely better than others. Given that each guest would keep their mug for the entire evening and then get to take it home with them, it's no surprise that the scene, as usual, was vaguely chaotic.

One of the most familiar faces Thursday was that of Honey Toast Café proprietor Fergy Ferguson. Ferguson, whether with Nest and Nectar, Nautical Dog after that and now Honey Toast, has been a Chili Cook-Off regular since it began. And a "Soup Bowls" (Penticton Art Gallery fall fundraiser) regular too.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Thursday night she brought along son Jaedon and a chili based on beef brisket.

"Last time we won the 'Tootiest Chili,'" she said of what must have been a GAStronomical masterpiece. "And we proudly displayed that award, let me tell you.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"But this year we have beef brisket. It also has a little of the soul of Billy the Kid in it. And fear. And bourbon. Have you seen the competition here tonight? It's hot. And stiff. We need to do what we can."

Another long-time Cook-Off supporter is Kristine Sheppard, who for many years represented her Monday Night Dinners at the event but now reps the Gallery itself.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Thursday she doubled up with a pair of what she called "forager" recipes. One featured mushrooms and beans, the other mushrooms and beans and…rabbit.

"I had to put up a sign saying 'No Henrys were harmed in the making of this chili' because I have a pet rabbit named Henry," she said, adding, "I think this is the most creative chili here."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

The newbie brigade was represented by folks like Tyler and Nicole Gable of Sociale Enoteca, who competed in last fall's Soup Bowls but were Chili Cook-Off rookies 'til Thursday.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"We brought a smoked pork belly, Italian sausage, white bean chili," said Tyler. "Our chef adopted his old grandmother's recipe. It's got some heat in there."

Thomas Brisdon, kitchen manager at Cannery Brewing, talked up his carefully prepared "Smoked Brisket Chili," one of two brisket-y offerings at the Cook-Off.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"We brought a big hunk of brisket," he said, "and dry-aged it for three days, smoked it for 12 hours, chopped it up, put it right in there and simmered it for a long, long time.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"A lot of love went in there. We wanted to defend our latest Soup Bowls title."

But for all the meaty chilis, Thursday night was perhaps most notable for the number of meatless recipes.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

One came courtesy of Penticton newcomer Kirk Morrison with Time Winery's upcoming "OROLO" eatery.

"Tonight we're serving a vegan, dairy-free, gluten-free chili made with homemade chickpea tempeh and all your favourite taco seasonings. It's going to appeal to absolutely everyone."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Another, not surprisingly, came from an operation so vegan that the word is right there in the title.

"Will we win?" asked Angry Vegan's Yesenia McWhinney. "We're not sure, but we did put some creative thought into our chili.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

"We have black beans, sweet potato and lentil, and we cooked everything just the right way to make this a great chili."

Also meatless was The Pasta Factory's superbly titled Uptown Chipotle Lime Chili, derived from a four-way competition between staffers.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Last but certainly not least in the vegan brigade was an entry from long-time vegan dessert-maker Gratify, which now offers a full menu of vegan-y delights and put together a complex new recipe for the Chili Cook-Off.

"100 percent we can beat the others," said Gratify chef Thomas Knudson when we asked him.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Sadly, PentictonNow didn’t make it to the Hwy 97 Brewing station for its two-meat traditional chili, mainly because we spent too much time shooting the breeze with owner John Kapusty before we got there. Teach him to engage us in conversation.

In the end, Hwy 97 was one of several to win an award. In this case, for "Best Toppings."

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Kristine Sheppard and her rabbit-infused chili won "Most Unique." Gratify took "Best Vegan." Angry Vegan gassed its way to the "Climate Changer" award, while Sociale heated up the evening with the Pepto Bismol (spiciest) trophy.

Meanwhile at the top, with the "My Favourite" award, was Cannery Brewing and its Smoked Brisket Chili. Seems painstaking preparation is still a pretty big deal.

<who>Photo Credit: NowMedia/Gord Goble</who>

Dead ahead for the Art Gallery is Year Two of the Ignite the Arts Festival, running March 24 to 30. We'll have more on that here at PentictonNow in the near future.



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