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Powder Keg's Chili Cook-off Winners

Chili Cook-off Winners Christopher Scheffer, Neil Gallagher, and JR Ortiz with Miss Buffalo Desiree Wiley

Joe Cascio

Downtown Buffalo’s Winterfest was a weekend packed full of cold weather events, including the Labatt’s Pond Hockey Tournament, The Buffalo Auto Show and the 2nd Annual Powder Keg Festival. 

In addition to a slew of winter sporting events, a petting zoo, craft beer tasting and sledding down the Seneca Street off-ramp, Powder Keg hosted its First Annual Mark Twain Chili Cook-off. Over thirty homecooks from the WNY area submitted their recipes for consideration, but only six of them were chosen to compete. 

Why Mark Twain, you ask? Powder Keg’s organizer Drew Cerza was inspired by the chili cook-off featured in the 2003 Jim Carrey film Bruce Almighty, a movie about a Buffalo newscaster. For this chili cook-off, WKBW’s Mike Randall dusted off his white suit and brought his version of Mark Twain to life (see inset). He and Miss Buffalo, Desiree Wiley, announced the contest's winners.

The contestants arrived as early as 9:15 a.m., allowing their chili to simmer for several hours prior to the judging. Below you will find each of their recipes. 

Our judges, Andrew Galarneau, the food writer for The Buffalo News, Ginger Geoffrey, anchor for WKBW, and Scotty Harris, a chef and and blogger, sampled all six of the chilis and scored each of them (on a scale of 1-5) in several categories, including Overall Taste, Texture and Creativity. 

All of the entries were very unique and each of the participants were cheerful, eager and competent homecooks. Below, for our BuffaloSpree.com readers’ enjoyment, we’ve listed everyone’s recipes.



Neil Gallagher—Grand Island, NY

Neil is a native of New Orleans who moved here in 2009. He works for Homeland Security and is part of a BBQ team that competes in several states. His recipe for this competition plays with a lot of Cajun flavors, but his signature recipe is Peach and Pecan Smoked Baby Back Ribs with Coffee Stout BBQ Sauce. 

Neil Gallagher's Too Sauced to Pork Cajun Chili 

3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lb andouille sausage, chopped
1 lb cubed chicken
½ lb ground sirloin
1 1/2 lbss ground pork sausage (½ hot and ½ mild)
3 ribs celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 okra sliced thin
4 tbsps hot sauce
2 sprigs thyme
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp paprika
1 tbsp cayenne pepper
3 cups chicken stock
1 can kidney bean, drained
1x28 oz can crushed tomatoes
1x15 oz can tomato sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat oil in a large thick bottomed pot and cook the andouille sausage for about 2 minutes.Add the sirloin, chicken and pork in an even layer; do not overcrowd the pot. Break up the meat with the back of a wooden spoon and scrape up the bits at the bottom. Continue to cook until all the meat is super-duper brown.To the pot, add the celery, onion, green bell pepper and garlic, and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add okra. Add the hot sauce, thyme, chili powder, cumin, paprika and cayenne, and continue cooking for another minute. Pour in the stock, beans, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, bring to a bubble and turn down to a simmer. Let cook for another 20 minutes or until reduced. Season the chili with salt and freshly ground black pepper. 



JR Ortiz—Little Valley, NY

JR is a high school senior at Cattaraugus Little Valley Central High School. His recipe features a few ingredients raised in his own backyard. JR’s Homegrown Homemade Chili features canned tomatoes from his family’s garden and pasture-raised ground beef from the farm of a family friend. JR tells us that he’s enjoyed cooking since he was 12 and likes to experiment with spices and considers this chili one of his signature recipes. 

JR’S Homegrown Homemade Chili 

2 lbs homegrown, local ground beef
2 qts of homegrown canned stewed tomatoes
1 can dark red kidney beans, undrained
1 can light red kidney beans, undrained
1 onion, minced
1 chili pepper, minced
1 green pepper, minced
1 package of taco seasoning
2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp Italian herbs
3 tsp crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tsp thyme
1 tsp rubbed Dalmatian sage
1 tbsp oregano
1/2 tsp of rosemary
3/4 tsp garlic powder
16 oz tomato sauce
6 oz tomato paste
salt and pepper, to taste

Fully cook 2 lbs of locally-raised ground beef. Drain. In a separate pot combine 2 quarts of home-canned stewed tomatoes,16 oz tomato sauce, 6 oz tomato paste and both cans of kidney beans with their liquid. Simmer on low heat. Mince your green pepper, onion and chili pepper, and add to the pot. Add the meat and stir, continuing to simmer. Add all of the spices and cook for 35 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste.



Christopher Schaeffer— Buffalo, NY

Dr. Christopher Schaeffer hails from Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood, and was the only contestant with a vegetarian recipe who was selected to participate. The flavors in his chili were so great that he nearly took second palce as well, and no carnivore would miss the meat in this recipe, which was inspired by the street food he discovered in Mexico while on his honeymoon, and is redolent of many dishes he enjoyed while in the Yucatan. 

Christopher Schaeffer's Mexican Black Bean & Butternut Squash Chili 

1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 chili powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
2 x14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 lb dry beans
2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
2 tsp dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
Coarse kosher salt to taste
1x 2 1/4 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup quick-cooking bulgur

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and beginning to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle chili powder and coriander and cumin over; stir 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice, beans, chipotles, and oregano. Add 8 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (time will vary depending on freshness of beans). Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper / chili flakes. Stir squash and bulgur into chili. Add one more cup of water. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until squash and bulgur are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide chili among bowls. Serve with sour cream, cheese, red onion, cilantro, and pickled jalapeño rings.


OUR OTHER CONTESTANTS (in alphabetical order) 

Sheree Canfield—Buffalo, NY 

Sheree works as a foreman for National Fuel Gas. She developed her recipe for White Tuscan Chili as a way to make a quick and healthy meal for her family. She is a Buffalo native known by her friends and family for her killer Christmas cut out cookies. 

Sheree Canfield's White Tuscan Chili

4x15 oz cans cannellini beans, drained
1 lb ground turkey
3 links ground turkey sausage (hot), casings removed
1 qt chicken broth (reserve 1/2 c.)
1x4 oz can green chilies
1 ea- yellow, orange, red pepper, dices
4 cups escarole, chopped
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp corn starch
hot pepper sauce, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
Saute garlic, peppers, onions, ground turkey, and ground turkey sausage in oil approximately 5 min. Add beans, all but 1/2 cup of the chicken broth, chilies, salt and pepper, cumin and smoked paprika. Simmer, covered. A half hour before serving, add escarole, corn starch mixed with reserved chicken broth, and hot pepper sauce, simmer uncovered.


Dr. Mark Donnelly—Tonawanda, NY

Dr. Donnelly claims that the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo Cookbook (circa 1962) is his favorite cookbook. His chili recipe was developed during the 2006 October Storm, and although he is passionate about it, his friends and family love his Chicken Wing Gumbo best. 

Dr. Maddog's Fart-Free Chili for Ravenous Carnivores
3 lbs lean ground chuck
1 lb pork, shredded
1/2 lb smoked Chorizo sausage, julienned
1/2 lb smoked Andouille sausage, julienned
1 clove garlic, minced
1 large white onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and julienned
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
2x28 oz cans tomato sauce
2x 6oz cans tomato paste
1/2 cup sherry
1 can Labatt’s Blue beer
2 cups of water
3 tbsp ancho chili powder
1/2 tsp mesquite seasoning
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp Hungarian paprika
1 tsp cilantro
1 tbsp dried Mexican oregano
2 tbsp Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 tbsp Dinosaur Garlic Chipotle Pepper Sauce
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp black pepper
20 nacho chips, ground into fine powder
Salt to taste

Wait for a freak October storm, or simply turn out the lights. In a large saucepan brown the ground beef, and sausage. Drain the fat less one teaspoon. Saute the garlic, pepper and onion until tender. In a large cast iron pot, add tomatoes, water, beer, and sherry. Add the meat, garlic, pepper, onions, and spices. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 3 hours. Stir nacho flour into chili, add wings and cook covered for an additional 20 minutes. Salt to taste. Bark loudly while devouring.


Annie Levay—Buffalo, NY

Annie blogs about cooking with local, organic ingredients at peapodriot.blogspot.com. Her recipe featured a variety of locally-raised organic ingredients and mushrooms, which is an interesting ingredient choice for chili. When asked about her inclusion of mushrooms, she explained that since they retain their texture, but soak up flavors well, adding flavorful texture to her recipe.  

Annie Levay's Organic Creole Buffalo Chili

6 slices of Spar's bacon
1/4 cup bacon fat
2 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup paprika
1/4 cup red chili powder
4 tsp nutmeg
4 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
1/4 cup organic Italian parsley
4 organic celery stalks, thinly sliced
6 organic scallions thinly sliced
1 1/2 organic sweet pepper, thinly sliced
4 tsp thyme
8 cloves of garlic, crushed
4 tsp oregano
1/2 cup apple sauce, fine
2 x16 oz cans of organic crushed tomatoes
1 1/2 cups brown mushrooms, sliced
2x8 oz cans organic black beans
2 lbs organic, locally-raised ground buffalo meat (from Five Points Bakery)
8 cups water

Fry the bacon until crisp and set the fat aside. Drain and crumble the bacon and set aside. In a large container over a medium flame, add the olive oil, tomatoes, mushrooms, scallions, sweet pepper, celery, parsley, salt and garlic. Brown the meat in the apple sauce and bacon fat. Add water slowly to the large pot of vegetables. Stir gently and slowly add the herbs and seasonings. Then stir in the washed and drained beans. Add in the browned ground Buffalo and crumbled bacon. Cover and cook for two hours, stirring every 15 to 20 minutes.


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