Chamber trying new approach to annual Chile in October contest

Event gets new spin this year in wake of pandemic

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Owner Monica Schultz stands in the entrance of The Chile Pod restaurant in downtown Farmington. Schultz had served as a judge for the Farmington Chamber of Commerce's annual Chile in October event, and her eatery has won several awards in the competition.
  • The Chile in October Chile Challenge 2020 will take place Oct. 14-23.
  • The competition will be limited to 12 businesses this year.
  • Chamber President and CEO Jamie Church hopes to see some inventive chile-related products entered.

FARMINGTON — The Farmington Chamber of Commerce isn't letting a pandemic stand in the way of determining which local business boasts the best and most creative chile-related product.

For years, the chamber has presented its Chile in October event at Berg Park, an annual event that invites visitors to sample the chile from several participating restaurants and vote on the winners in five categories, including red, green, home style and salsa. The gathering typically attracts a large, and hungry, crowd, offering a beer garden and live music along with food. It raises funds for other chamber programs scattered throughout the year.

But with a ban on such gatherings remaining in place because of the governor's public health orders, chamber President and CEO Jamie Church had to find a new format for this year's event. Her organization has come up with a "chile passport" approach that will encourage local residents to visit up to 12 local businesses that offer a chile-based product, test a sample and vote on their favorite.

Jamie Church, president and CEO of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce.

The Chile in October Chile Challenge 2020 will take place Oct. 14-23, but businesses are being encouraged to enter now. The contest will be restricted to 12 businesses and is not restricted to traditional Northern New Mexican chile dishes — or even food, Church noted. She said she hopes to see a Thai restaurant enter a chile dish, a local brewery enter a chile-based beer or cider, or a dessert shop enter a chile-based frozen yogurt.

"As long as it has chile in it, we'll consider it," Church said.

Each participating business will be represented by a square on a chile passport card, which will include the name of the product the business is entering. Customers who take part in the program can visit those businesses and ask for a free sample of the "chamber chile."

Customers who have visited a minimum of six of the participating businesses and had their card validated then can submit their card to the chamber and vote for their favorite for the People's Choice award. Anyone who fills in all 12 squares on the card will be eligible for a prize drawing at the end of the contest.

Church said participation is limited to chamber members, and four restaurants already had signed up for the contest by the afternoon of Sept. 18, within hours of its announcement.

This year's event will not serve as a fundraiser for the chamber. With so many businesses struggling to survive the COVID-19 shutdown, Church said the focus of the contest this year is to simply promote fun — and perhaps convince local diners to try a restaurant or business they previously have not visited.

A server dishes up a sample of red chile during last year's Chile in October event at Berg Park in Farmington. The format for this year's event has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's a way for us to still do Chile in October and have a fall-themed event," she said.

The winning business will receive a year of free advertising in the chamber e-newsletter and recognition on the homepage of the chamber website as the People's Choice winner. It also will receive signage promoting the victory, as well as a trophy.

Applications for the contest must be submitted to the chamber by Friday, Sept. 25. Each participating business will receive a poster that designates it as a chile challenge site, and businesses will receive chile passports to disperse to customers. The businesses must supply their own sample tasting cups and spoons.

Applications can be found in the chamber e-newsletter or at chamber headquarters at 100 W. Broadway Ave. in downtown Farmington. Call 505-325-0279 for more information.

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.