The farm owner’s venison chili featured meat from a white tail deer he harvested from the sprawling Saratoga County farm, as was the turkey in his white version of the spicy dish. The tomatoes, peppers and garlic that went into Bowman’s pots were all grown in his fields.
“Everything except the beans,” he said with a smile.
And perhaps that’s why his chili was such a hit at the Spa City Farmers Market’s first Chili Cook-Off. Bowman’s chili won top honors among nearly two dozen entries from the market’s vendors.
Simultaneous to the vendor’s competition, the Saratoga Springs Fire Department squared off against the Spa State Park Police in a chili cook-off between the two agencies. The police and fire departments brought a combined seven chilis to the competition, but a panel of local judges ultimately decided the city firefighters were worthy of the top honors.
Hundreds of market patrons filed through the cook-off at the Lincoln Baths Sunday to cast their vote for the most popular vendor chili. Colleen Zorbas, the farmers market organizer who also arranged the event, said the cook-off was aimed at drawing attention to the winter space for the vendors.
The market’s visible spot in front of the park draws a robust crowd. Zorbas said some still don’t realize the market has moved inside for the winter and she wanted to do something to drum up publicity.
“Having events like this helps bring the community together so they know we’re here,” she said.
Given the foot traffic Sunday, the event was a rousing success. The baths hummed with shoppers throughout the day and remained busy right up until the market closed during the late afternoon.
“This is why we did it,” Zorbas said. “It’s really raised awareness that we’re inside here.”
The chilis ranged from meatless to meat-filled. The Peanut Principle concocted a vegan gluten-free chili made with one of its staple products: peanut butter.
Bowman’s chili took the opposite tact. The spicy concoction featured both ground venison and tender braised chunks of the meat.
But it was the white chili customers liked the most. Bowman’s wife got the recipe from a parishioner at her church and he cooked it up with one of the turkeys he raised on his farm.
The win was a first for Bowman, who never entered a cook-off before. His victory, however, was secondary to the business the cook-off brought in on Sunday.
“Once people find [the farmers market], you’re fine,” he said. “But we need to draw them in first.”