The winner of the Third Pro-Am Chili Cookoff at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Stamford wasn't a professional. She wasn't even an adult. The prize for best chili went to 13-year-old Casey Benzaken for her lamb-based variation on the hot Southwestern favorite.
"I've always liked to cook, and help at home all the time," said the young Stamford resident. "We thought we'd try lamb just to be different," she explained.
The real winner, however, was the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County, which received over 300 pounds of non-perishable food and a cash donation of $300 (enough to purchase another 2,400 pounds of food). The donation came from entry fees to the Cookoff, which was attended by 150 chili fans.
The Food Bank serves Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, New Canaan, Wilton and Darien.
Executive director Kate Lombardo was ecstatic with the donation. "This is an amazing contribution from a small church community. It's a very generous donation."
Joe Gonzalez, president of the Unitarian Universalist Church, has seen the annual event grow steadily each year. "There's a lot of time and effort that goes into this event, and we're so happy it's growing each year."
Second place went to Brian Cronin of Stamford, third to Tim Miller, who also prepared a lamb-based chili recipe. Miller, who is from the southwest part of England, added Cheddar cheese from the U.K. as a topping.
The lone pro entrant was the Stamford-based restaurant Black Bear Saloon, which made a valiant showing. Five of Black Bear's chefs came together to create their chili, but this day it couldn't compete with the effort of a 13-year-old.
Another contestant was new Board of Rep member Jay Fountain, who produced a vegetarian chili based on a Jane Brody recipe.
Donations to the Food Bank of Lower Fairfield County can be made to: FB of LFC, 461 Glenbrook Road, Stamford, 06906-1820.