BENNINGTON >> From chowder and chili to other bizarre entrees, cooking challenges rule the Food Channel, and will soon make their way to southern Vermont.
The first ever Southern Vermont Cooking Challenge will fire up at Madison's Brewing Company Pub & Restaurant on June 26. Eight cooks are already signed up and are charged with bringing their best chicken appetizer for the chance to imprint the dish on Madison's menu and for a gift card up to $200 to Hannaford.
Event organizer Chris Bates occasionally has his own cook-offs with friends and family and decided to take it to the streets. With the idea of supporting non-profit organizations, he contacted Chris Oldham, executive director of the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless (BCCH).
"When someone comes to us and says 'We want to support you,' we typically jump on board and this seems like a fun event that's unique to the area," Oldham said. "We will benefit from a portion [of ticket sales] and an auction that will take place the day of the event. Money will be used to support operations for programs we have."
Twenty-five percent of all ticket sales will benefit the coalition as well as 50 percent of the raffle ticket sales. Only 100 admission tickets will be sold. Tickets for the challenge cost $30 for one or $50 for two, and includes a tasting, a beer flight for four samples, and live music. It also costs $30 to enter as a cook.
"We're donating to a serious problem we have here in the county and nationwide with homeless people and it's a great cause," Bates said.
Bates is still looking for two more cooks to participate and present in front of three judges, who have yet to be announced. Judging will be based on the name of dish, presentation, and taste. First-place winners will receive a $200 Hannaford gift card, while second place will win a $100 gift card and $50 for third place. The Julie Shea Band will perform.
Raffle prizes include Visa gift cards donated by Premier Plumbing, a gift certificate to Family Footwear or The Harwood Hill, two $100 gift certificates to Ramunto's Pizza, and many others. The Bank of Bennington, White Rocks Design Studio Turcotte Design, Michael Keane and Edie Sawitsky, and those noted above are among the event sponsors.
"Mel Madison is a huge cook himself and we got together one day and said 'Hey, I wanted to have a cook-off.' He said it was a great idea and wanted to be part of it. Everybody has chilli cook-offs and chowder, so we decided to go with chicken appetizer cook-off," Bates said. "You can do whatever you want. These home cooks that have entered, everything will be original. No one would replicate something else. They're community members, regular people that live in the community, and they cook and like to show their cooking abilities."
Cooks will generate the appropriate dish at home and bring it to the event to be judged. All judges will receive a full portion of the appetizer. Bates will provide supplies such as plates, napkins, cooling trays, etc. Cooks must use their own recipe ingredients.
Brandon Daigneault, from Bennington, is one of the participating cooks and plans to make Dorito chicken and cheese casserole.
"I wanted to enter into the cook-off contest because I wanted to get great experience and I am actually a pre-chef and good cooker," he said.
In just six months, BCCH has helped 175 households, whether that's an individual or a family of six.
"Even though that sounds like a successful number, the need out there is so much more. We do look to the community to help us out anyway that they can," Oldham said. "Chris Bates decided to support us and we're all on board of the potential of a new event and glad the coalition will be a part of it."
According to Vermont's Point-in-Time Counts of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Homelessness from 2012 to 2016, the number of homeless people in the state has decreased from a climax of 1,559 in 2014 to 1,102 this year. The report goes on to say there are 64 total persons without a home in Bennington County, compared to Chittenden's 332; the highest of all in the state. There are 659 emergency shelters across the state.
BCCH plans to expand its programs to help combat the hurdle in the immediate area.
Tickets for the cooking challenge can be found at Madison's, White Rocks Design Studio and BCCH, or by calling 802-379-7424 or 802-447-0169. Find the Southern Vermont Cooking Challenge on Facebook to stay up-to-date until the event.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.