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Gilford restaurants reign in local chili cook-offs



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Bill Bickford of Kitchen Cravings in Gilford stands with a fresh batch of his homemade salsa before finishing his homemade chili, the winner of this weekend’s cook off. Lauren Tiner. (click for larger version)
February 09, 2011
February is a perfect month to hold a chili contest – pond ice hockey teams and derby fishermen are cold, hungry, and looking for a spicy meal to perk them up, while local restaurants are experiencing a slower season.

This is the inaugural year for two new chili cook off contests in the Lakes Region, and also the first year that Kitchen Cravings owners submitted their signature chili recipe, taking home two prizes in two weeks.

Owners Bill and Sally Bickford of Kitchen Cravings in Gilford received third place for their first chili submission, and on Saturday they took home first place at the debut of a chili cook off, sponsored by the Greater Meredith Program and held on the ice during the New England Pond Hockey Classic in Meredith.

The Lobster Pound in Laconia held its first ever chili cook off two weeks ago and invited over 16 restaurants in the Lakes Region to serve up their best bowls of chili to benefit the New Hampshire Humane Society of Laconia.

Owners of the Lyons' Den located on Dock Road in Gilford, Roland and Laura Lyons, took first place in the Pound's cook off, judged by the general public and dubbed the "People's Choice Award."

Roland Lyons' daughter Nikki Lyons represented her father's chili recipe at the contest, currently on the restaurant's menu, and accepted the first place trophy in his name. This particular chili was said to stand out because of its scarcity of beans and bounty of tenderloin and hamburg.

While second place went to the Lobster Pound, the host of the event, the Bickfords of Kitchen Cravings received a third place trophy for their fresh, spicy chili with a unique twist.

Bill Bickford said he puts his heart and soul into his cooking, and has been proud of his homemade chili recipe for years, a hot and spicy item on the winter menu.

Bickford talked about the secret to his chili while preparing for last Saturday's chili cook off, made up of 100 pounds of 85 percent lean ground beef and about five to six cases of different peppers and fresh tomatoes, purchased from Hannaford Brothers Supermarket.

"Our chili is made out of fresh ingredients. We don't use any powder," said Bickford. "Eight different kinds of peppers go into my homemade salsa. It's the base for our chili and for all our Mexican dishes."

Bickford said his inspiration to create a homemade chili, using black beans instead of the typical kidney beans or lighter beans, came from trying everyone else's chili, and not being satisfied enough with the taste and freshness. He said he is also not happy with the majority of salsa on the market and has been creating this key element for his chili far before he and his wife opened up Kitchen Cravings.

While chili has also been part of this restaurant's menu and well received by customers, it was actually the owners of the Lyons' Den who inspired the Bickfords to submit their chili in these local cook offs.

Bickford said he is a big fan of his fellow restaurateur's food, yet believes his chili is the top competitor in any match.

"I believe we have a better pot than everyone else because it's fresh," said Bickford, who also offers a homemade hot sauce on the side with the chili, amped with Habanero peppers for the strong at heart.

This award winning chili has graced the menu all along, but the owners have noticed more and more customers looking to try the chili or going for a second bowl ever since their first chili cook off.

"People who have been here before didn't even realize we had chili on the menu until now," said Bickford. "No matter what we do, we do it the best we can. Just like our dinner menu, it changes every week, and we always use the freshest ingredients possible. I think people realize this and it brings them back."

While the Bickfords won a trophy the first time around, they set their sights on a bigger prize, "The Bowl," at the Meredith cook-off – and won.

Participating restaurants in the Lobster Pound cook off included Burrito Me of Laconia, Kitchen Cravings of Gilford, Hart's Turkey Farm, Mame's, Pizzeria Venti, and The Village Perk of Meredith. Shooter's Tavern and Pizzeria of Belmont, T-Bones and Cactus Jack's of Laconia, The Common Man's 104 Diner of New Hampton, and the Wine'ing Butcher of Meredith and Gilford.

Restaurants and organizations in the Meredith cook off included Annie's Cafe and Catering, Burrito Me, Christmas Island, Fratello's, My Coffee House, Tavern 27, and the Humane Society of Laconia. Hart's Turkey Farm, Meredith Bay Coffee House, and Village Perk of Meredith also participated in the cook off along with Route 104 Diner, Our Family Tree of Tilton, and Bob Lobster, located in Newbury, Mass.

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