Vergennes goes wild for chili and chocolates

It’s classic: sweet and spicy. We know it to be true from any good romance novel or heart-pounding salsa dance. The crush of spicy hot and sensual sweet is undeniably irresistible. And so it was last Saturday in Vergennes during the second annual Chili and Chocolate on the Green festival.
“The two big new things this year were entertainment and chocolate,” said Amy Bodette Barr, marketing and development coordinator for the Vergennes Partnership. “Adding the chocolate element was new and very successful; Michelle Tisbert had that brilliant idea.”
Tisbert is the owner of Everwhere Boutiques in Vergennes, is one of the Vergennes Partnership board members and was the volunteer coordinator who spearheaded Saturday’s event.
In total there were 10 chili vendors, including Bar Antidote, Basin Harbor Club, Black Sheep Bistro, 3 Squares Cafe, KB Cafe, Park Squeeze, Pratt’s Store, Strong House Inn, Village Cafe and Tavern, West Addison General Store; and four chocolatiers: Daily Chocolate, Vermont’s Own, Pratt’s Store and 3 Squares Chocolate. Yes, Pratt’s and 3 Squares entered in both categories.
Each guest received a red and a white ticket, then entered the green to test and taste all 14 offerings. Once they settled on their favorites, guests wrote the name of the best chili on the red ticket and the best chocolate on the white ticket.
The People’s Choice award for chili went to Chef Justin Patras of Park Squeeze. The People’s Choice award for chocolate went to Daily Chocolate.
The more formal judging was reserved for celebrity judges Rick Norcross and Jamie Lee Thurston (who also performed live music). The judges selected the chili and chocolate winners based on blind samples. Ashtin Stearns, Octavia Devine and Vaida De Rosa were the “runners” for the judges. They went from vendor to vendor bringing the judges tastings of each chili and chocolate.
The judges awarded best chili and best chocolatier to 3 Squares Cafe.
“We’re thrilled to have the judges hold our two products in high regard,” said owner and chef Matt Birong. “I enjoy doing these events; it’s a great way to get out in the community.”
Birong and his wife, Danelle, opened 3 Squares Cafe in the winter of 2007 and were the recipients of the People’s Choice for chili at last year’s event.
“The chili I made this year was a braised beef brisket with cacao, a pacilla pepper base, Carleton Yoder’s cheese from Champlain Valley Creamery; and garnished with a fried corn tortilla (from Vermont Tortilla Company out of Shelburne ? it’s a new company making corn tortillas with non-gmo, organic corn from Champlain basin),” said Birong. “The chocolate: it’s own beast. We are investors and partners in a cacao farm in the Dominican Republic. 3 Squares buys its beans from the farm. We submitted our Bean To Bar, 70% trinatario varietal of cacao.”
OK, slow down Chef Birong. There are a lot of fancy words in there. Let’s start with one basic we should all know: What is cacao?
Cacao is the actual bean of the cocao plant. “The cocao plant kinda looks like an apple tree,” explained Birong. “Cacao is actually the seed pod of the fruit. It’s multicolored and about the same size and shape as a football.”
OK, good to know.
“This year’s event was phenomenal,” said Barr, who is now one full year into her job with the Vergennes Partnership. “It was better than we had expected. We had really great attendance. The park was full and people were happy.”
The final count is still being tallied, but we’ll just say the turnout was successful. The proceeds benefit the Vergennes Partnership, which aims to “enhance the economic viability and preserve the beauty and character of the downtown.”
“Other than being a really great community event,” said Barr, a 1984 VUHS grad, “it was nice to offer a face to face connection between our vendors and the community. It takes a lot of effort to take time away from their business and put this event on, and we really appreciate everyone’s work.”
So for another year, Park Squeeze, Daily Chocolate and 3 Squares Cafe will have bragging rights for the best chili and chocolate. Here’s to a hot year and a sweet life. 

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