BENNINGTON — A few individuals and local businesses have joined together to bring the joy of cooking to the community in a way that supports the homeless.
Local food enthusiasts, Chris Bates, Cara Spindler, Stephanie Calabro and Ryan Scutt have partnered with Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless and Madison Brewing Co. to host the "Southern Vermont Cooking Challenge." From 1 to 5 p.m., on Sunday, June 26, at Madison Brewery, 10 hand-picked home cooks will compete in a chicken appetizer contest. These challengers will bring their dishes to the venue, where three judges will vote for their favorite appetizer based on presentation and taste. The public is welcome to taste test the food prepared by the contestants and at the end of the event, 25-percent of the proceeds will go toward the BCCH.
"I wanted to give back to our community," said Bates. "I love Bennington, it has so much to offer and with an event like this we can help a growing problem of homeless in our county and our country."
The event evolved out of one of Bates' greatest hobbies — cooking. In the past, he has hosted cooking challenges at his house, where local cooks would be asked to prepare a meal out of four ingredients. Then, one mediator was asked to choose their favorite dish. So Bates thought he would bring similar fun to the community in a fundraiser form with a bit more flexibility, where contestants simply need to prepare a hot or cold dish that includes chicken. Bates said if he was competing, he would prepare southwest chicken potato skins.
"Here's the thing, you never know what you can create at one of these cook-offs," Bates said.
Judges will vote for each dish on a one-to-five scale, five being the best. Bates notes while taste is important, presentation is equally crucial.
"It should be displayed on the plate as if it were something you'd serve at a restaurant," he said. "It can't be slopped on a plate."
BCCH provides shelter and case management to individuals and families experiencing homelessness. Good Shepherd Emergency Overnight Shelter and Drop In Center is at 250 North St., Bennington. The shelter is open Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and on Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
"In the space of one year, we are able to provide resources and services to more than 400 families, women and men who are experiencing homelessness," according to the BCCH website.
For $30, or two for $50, guests will enjoy four beer flights, tastings of all 10 dishes and live music by the Julia Shea Band. There are also several raffle prizes all valued at $150 or more. In addition, the first-place winner of the cooking contest will be awarded a $200 Hannaford gift card, along with having their item on the menu at Madison Brewing Co. Only 100 tickets will be sold.
Event attendees are asked to bring one perishable item, such as toiletries or canned goods, that will be donated to BCCH.
Madison's Brewery is at 428 Main St., Bennington, and tickets for the event can be purchased at White Rocks Design Studio at Turcotte Design, Madison Brewing Co. Restaurant, Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless or by calling Chris Bates at 802-379-7424.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.