Six Hampshire County eateries vie to be chili champion

Texan and 36th President of the United States Lyndon Johnson is quoted as saying, “Chili concocted outside of Texas is usually a weak, apologetic imitation of the real thing.”

Six Hampshire County restaurants are giving Johnson’s opinion a run for its money for a good cause this weekend.

The Hampshire County Bar Association is holding its annual fundraiser on Saturday, and for the first time it pits local restaurateurs against each other in hopes of being chili champs.

Alexander Washut, co-owner of Jake’s, one of the competing eateries, said his restaurant’s contribution will feature its own cured pork belly instead of beef.

Washut said the curing process creates a taste similar to that of bacon, but with a denser texture and more complex flavor.

“It’s like bacon’s older brother,” Washut said.

Thoughts on whether beans belong in chili are divided, but Washut feels there’s no room for debate.

“Definitely beans,” he said.

“We like a lot of stuff in our chili,” he said. “Chili should be full in every spoonful.”

Bar association president Elizabeth D. Katz said past fundraisers have included wine tastings, 5K races and a talent show called Lawyerpalooza.

The annual fundraiser has benefitted different charitable and civic organizations over the years, Katz said. This year proceeds will help support Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) and help fund the bar association’s scholarship program for high school students interested in studying law, Katz said.

The six competing Hampshire County restaurants — Jake’s, Judie’s, Local Burger, Mama Iguana’s, Seven Sisters Market Bistro and Side Street Cafe — will all be using local produce and local meats to make their chilis, Katz said.

Restaurants also will have signs posted at their booths letting people know which farms supplied the ingredients, Katz said.

Katz said the HCBA is hoping to raise a “couple thousand” dollars through the event.

The fundraiser will be held Saturday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton.

Admission is $10 per person; children under 12 will be free.

Chilis will be judged by a panel including local radio personality Monte Belmonte, WGGB reporter Shannon Hegy and Northwestern District Attorney David E. Sullivan.