It’s Time to Kick-Off Fall with our Chili Cook-Off!!

The library is excited to announce that it will be hosting yet another Chili Cook-Off! While activities look different this year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still a plethora of engaging events for students and the Champlain community to participate in! Mark your calendars for Friday, October 23rd when last year’s People’s Choice Award-winning chili will be served for lunch at the IDX dining hall. Or, if you’re feeling hands-on, test your cooking skills by joining Susan Semenak’s Chili Cook-A-Long Demo on Monday, October 26th at 10am. Not interested in cooking but still want to participate? No problem! Submit your Chili-Inspired Photos, Videos, and Artwork to compete for a $25 gift card to the local restaurant of your choice up until Wednesday, October 28th. Check out the Chili Cook-Off website for access to our virtual events and to submit your entries for the competition.

Read below to learn more about Emily Fenuccio of Champlain College Online, last year’s star chili-maker, get a “taste” of what our pre-COVID chili cook-off was like, and prepare yourself for a week (or so) of chili and fun!

2019 People’s Choice Award Winner

The following is written by Emily Fenuccio, Academic Advising, Champlain College Online.

Emily Fenuccio, Academic Advising, Champlain College Online

As someone who loves to cook and also enjoys opportunities to interact with the Champlain community, I was immediately excited to learn about the 2019 Chili Cook Off hosted by the Library. Not only do I love to cook, but, in my role as an Academic Advisor for Champlain College Online, I also don’t often get many opportunities to interact with students in person, especially those students based on campus. With that in mind and in addition to the opportunity to focus on a fan favorite comfort food, I was excited to throw my hat (or crockpot?) into the ring and represent Champlain Online in the Chili Cook-Off.

First, I’ll share a bit about me: I’m a Massachusetts native who came to Vermont for college and called Burlington my permanent home once I graduated. I joined the CCO Advising team in late 2018 and am proud to call myself a Champlain alum as I completed my Master’s in Human Relations and Organization Development in 2019. I enjoy watching movies, reading, gardening, in addition to so much of what Vermont has to offer outdoors. However, I would say one of my favorite hobbies, which is what drew me to the Chili Cook-Off in the first place, is cooking, and in particular, cooking for others.

Though I have always loved cooking, after moving into a new apartment in the spring of 2019, I was afforded a larger kitchen space. I could now throw myself headfirst into honing my cooking skills, experimenting with new recipes, and sharing food with friends and family. As fall rolled around, and as I was mentally gearing up for all of the great comfort food recipes that fall brings (which admittedly, is mostly pasta for me), the Chili Cook-Off offered a perfect opportunity for me to continue to do this. 

Finding the Right Recipe

Once I had signed up for the Cook-Off, it suddenly occurred to me that I had never cooked chili by myself before, and I certainly didn’t have a “signature” or “family” recipe that I could use (again, I’m a pasta person). So between the panic that then ensued and my naturally competitive side, I began to research recipes. I spent some time reflecting on what my ideal chili would be. Honestly, I’m not wild about beans, and half of the time when I’ve had chili in the past, I’ve enjoyed the sides and toppings of chips, cheese, and sour cream more than the chili itself. I wanted to make a chili that could stand on its own with just a sprinkle of a topping for garnish and added flavor. 

I also reflected on what kinds of recipes typically win food competitions or cook-offs because, as I mentioned, I can be a touch competitive. While I wanted to create something different that would stand out, I realized sometimes the pitfall of cook-off submissions can be when someone gets too experimental or personalized. Crowd-pleasers are called as such for a reason, and I wanted my chili to be a crowd-pleaser. I knew it would be a difficult balance to create something that would be unique, but that also created that well-beloved, comfort food experience. 

I spent many hours scrolling through Pinterest before stumbling across a recipe which immediately caught my attention: Chorizo and Sweet Potato Chili. Not only do I love a sweet and salty combination, but this felt unique enough to help me stand out. It also required a sprinkle of bacon on the top, which is always a positive sign. I tested this recipe for some friends against a vegetarian chili, and the chorizo was the clear winner, with all of my friends in attendance going back for seconds. This recipe also felt like something I could tweak slightly to incorporate some more local flavor; I used local chorizo and added in some fresh, local maple syrup to complement the sweet potato. 

The Big Day

When the Cook-Off itself came around, I was up early making my chili to bring into my office down at our Lakeside building. Keeping my crockpot plugged in at my desk certainly made for an aromatic day for my office neighbors! As the cook-off commenced in the late afternoon, I hovered close by in the Library lobby, watching students, faculty, and staff peruse all of the incredible chili and cornbread options. I was proud to eavesdrop on some of the comments from tasters as they scooped themselves bowls of my chili. I even made the rounds myself and chatted with a few of the other participants; It was delightful to hear each person’s recipe and cooking method, discussing secret ingredients and helpful tips, which was arguably as much fun as the cooking process itself. 

Delicious Victory!

As the winners were announced, I was shocked and excited to hear my name called for the People’s Choice winner! Though I certainly approached the experience with a competitive mindset, I was still surprised and elated to come out on top. The experience was one that not only has helped make me a better cook but is a fond memory of connecting to the Champlain community that I will cherish for many years to come. 

Are you inspired now?!

We certainly hope so! And we hope you are ready to join in all the chili merriment. Don’t forget to check out our Chili Cook-Off website for all of the details on how to participate.

Contact Beth Dietrich ( with any questions.