Go Big or Go Home: the Phi Delt Cook-Off
An annual Winter Carnival event offers the opportunity of a lifetime to those with a winning chili recipe up their sleeve.
On Saturday afternoon, as students recover from near-hypothermia induced by the polar bear plunge, the smell of roasted peppers, beans, tomatoes and perhaps some beef or turkey will drift into the air above Collis patio. The savory scents will hover in the air for a moment, pausing as if to admire the people below who bravely display their culinary talents. And on the patio, each participant will wait eagerly for a verdict handed down by President Hanlon and his wife Gail, a verdict with the potential to alter lives and crush dreams. Yes, I am talking about the 10th annual Phi Delt Chili Cook-Off.
The Chili Cook-Off is a pillar of Winter Carnival Weekend here at Dartmouth. Hosted by Phi Delta Alpha Fraternity, the Cook-Off offers a chance for anyone — student, faculty member, or member of town — to put their chili up against the very best in the area. It’s a great event, one in which all the proceeds go towards the charity Fisher House, an organization that supports military personnel and their loved ones in the case of a severe hospitalization. Since the Cook-Off’s inception in 2010, the newest members of Phi Delt have been charged with hosting the event, which includes scheduling, outreach, poster and T-shirt design, coordinating with local restaurants and even personal communication with President Phil Hanlon. But for the brothers of Phi Delt, the effort is worth it because it gives them the chance to share something they love: cooking.
“Almost every week we cook meals together as a house and share those as a brotherhood,” said Phi Delt member Kevin Staunton ’24. “So having the opportunity to do that with the whole community — and to raise some money for a great cause — was something that really spoke to us.”
The event also provides a unique opportunity for fun — one often embraced by students who don’t fully subscribe to traditional Dartmouth methods of entertainment, especially during the cold of a Hanover winter.
“I like that it’s different from the usual Dartmouth outdoorsy or fraternity scene. It’s a different kind of fun, wholesome event,” said Gabriela Hull ’24, one of the participants in the Cook-Off. “And I think it’s a great way to help form a bond between the town members and Dartmouth — especially since we haven’t had a lot of events to get to know them since the start of COVID.”
Hull also loves how the Dartmouth culture, through events like the Chili Cook-Off, has taught her how to approach the cold during a long winter.
“I’m from New York, and there, people kind of shy away from the cold and snow,” she said. “But here, I feel like even though it’s a lot colder than New York, people are always trying to do fun things outside, just embracing how cold it is. And for me, I think it’s a good time to change my perspective on what cold means.”
Jack Stinson, owner of Stinston’s Village Store, has been participating in the cook-off ever since its debut in 2011, from which he emerged victorious. On that day, his success relied on “roughly 30-40 lbs of cheese,” the key “crowd-pleasing” ingredient that one of his employees had identified. But now, to be on the healthier side, he uses a vegetarian chili recipe taught to him by Justin Hoyt — the former executive chef at Molly’s — which he says is also a “real crowd-pleaser.”
Stinson agreed with Hull about the cook-off’s effect on the community, as well as the other events during Winter Carnival. “It kind of pulls everyone together,” he said. “It’s a whole mix of different people — different restaurants and townspeople and students — but everybody believes their chili is the best. That’s what makes it so much fun.”
Stinson also hails the fortitude of Phi Delt to continue the tradition of the cook-off, despite having to take a year off during the pandemic.
“I think the most exciting thing was the fraternity that came up with the idea,” Stinson said. “To use it as a way to drum up donations for such a great cause. I think that they deserve most of the credit for keeping it going for so long and for doing the extra work.
But while the cook-off provides many wholesome, positive aspects for this community, it ultimately comes down to who has what it takes to make the best chili. And in that respect, there are many paths to success.
For Hull, who will be cooking with several other girls in her sorority — Chi Delta — the key to a successful chili is the “consistency.”
“If it’s too soupy and too watery or too tomato sauce-y, it won’t have that necessary texture that makes a fantastic chili,” she said.
Antony Castillo ’23, a member of Phi Delt and the designer for Chili Cook-Off merchandise, agreed, but has an alternative way of achieving that desired consistency.
“I would say texture is key because it’s not just any other old soup,” Castillo said, “But you know, if you can put some Fritos in it or some Doritos and maybe melted cheese and add some spice, it will only make it better.”
There are many ways to make a good chili, and that’s what makes it so fun. Anybody can cook it, and anybody has the chance to win an event like this. But for lead organizer Zach Martel ’24, what it really comes down to is “love.”
“You have to put that extra dose of love for President Hanlon,” he said. “That’s what’s going to make the best chili win.”
The Phi Delt Chili Cook-Off will be held from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 12 on Collis Patio, where President Hanlon and his wife Gail will declare the winning chili.