By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
HAGAMAN — The smell of hot sauce and fear filled the air at Pawling Hall on Saturday, where 15 of the community’s bravest chili chefs battled it out for bragging rights at the Hagaman Neighborhood Watch Association’s 3rd Annual Chili Cook-Off.
Hundreds crowded the hall throughout the afternoon for a chance to sample the tangy creations and cast a vote for their favorite.
“The is great,” said Hagaman Neighborhood Watch Association member Bart Tessiero. “The participation is fabulous.”
Tessiero said the competition was comprised solely of amateur chef’s throughout the area, most of whom simply heard of the event through word of mouth.
“Anybody interested could take part,” Tessiero said.
The competition requirements were simple: Provide at least two gallons of chili portioned out equally to the prospective judges via the provided label a portion cups.
The purpose of the annual event, Tessiero said, is two-fold: raise money for a good cause and provide an opportunity for residents to gather in the spirit of community.
“It’s a nice little break in the winter,” Tessiero said. “We get to get out and talk to our neighbors.”
“It’s about getting people together in the community,” he later added.
According to Tessiero, all the proceeds from this year’s cook-off will benefit Pawling Hall itself, which serves as a neighborhood community center. The funds will be used to refinish the center’s aging wood floors.
“We’re giving back to the community,” Tessiero said.
In addition to the chili, a number of the chef’s also provided the necessary fixings, including everything from sour cream and shredded cheese to cornbread, helping to ensure the community judges were truly satisfied with their chili experience.
The event also included a 50/50 raffle and an auction that featured 22 baskets comprised of donations from various businesses throughout the county and assembled by hand by members of the Neighborhood Watch Association.
“The Neighborhood Watch — the people in the Neighborhood Watch — deserve all the credit,” Tessiero said. “They put numerous hours in.”
“Our sincere thanks to the community center, as well,” he added.
Tessiero also credited Tony Leggiero, who has donated his services as a D.J. for the past three years, as having contributed to the success of the event.
The names of the 15 entries in Saturday’s competition were as unique and varied as the recipe’s themselves, and included everything from Chum Bucket Chili to Irish Whiskey Chili.
Jacquelyn Hassfurter is second-generation Irish American.
Her recipe for "Irish Whiskey Chili" is an old family recipe, she said, that hails straight from the Emerald Isle itself.
It, of course, includes both Jameson and Guinness.
“Everybody likes it,” Hassfurter beamed.
On the other side of the hall, Mark and Cindy Makarowsky were tending to their “Crooked Street Chili,” an homage to their Galway residence.
The recipe, Cindy said, is that of her sister.
Mark, however, wanted it known that he made a very important contribution.
“He cut up the vegetables,” Cindy smiled.
The pair had taken part in last year’s competition as well, but came up short.
“He was crushed he didn’t win last year,” Cindy laughed. “He’s going to avenge his loss.”
Nearby, Diane Martin tended to her dish, “Dee’s Best Chili.”
The recipe, she said, includes more than 30 ingredients, including Frank’s Red Hot Sauce, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar and five different kinds of beans.
“It gets expensive,” she said.
This was her third year taking part in the community cook-off.
Among those milling about with small white portion cups, in whose hands the fate of the chef’s lay, was John Montenaro.
Montenaro’s brother was entered in the competition. He, however, didn’t see that as an issue.
“These taste buds are not biased,” said Montenaro.
Nearby, Ted Madej, was juggling a stack full of now empty cups.
“I’m up to 11,” Madej said.
Madej said it was going to be difficult to pick a favorite.
“I’ve got three that I really like,” Madej said. “If nothing beats them out, then I guess I have to make a decision.”
“It’s all in the taste buds,” he added.
In the end, number 13, Linda Bartone-Hughes, took home top prize in Saturday’s competition.