Madison ‘Souper Bowl’ Offers Best of Hearty Winter Fare, Fun
Last year’s Souper Bowl IV chili champion was the North Madison Volunteer Fire Company, which nudged ahead of Madison Hose Company No. 1’s smoked brisket chili with cornbread. Chili fans can help choose this year’s winner at Souper Bowl V on Saturday, Jan. 25. (File photo by Meglin Bodner/The Source | Buy This Photo)
While NFL fans might be caught up anticipating the league’s annual football championship spectacle in February, Madison residents might want to start whetting their appetites for a different kind of Super Bowl.
Souper Bowl V, Madison’s annual outdoor winter chili and soup contest extravaganza, will take over downtown on Sunday, Jan. 26 (moved from Saturday, Jan. 25 by impending rain), featuring all the varieties of hearty soup-related dishes residents have come to expect, along with some fun new entertainment.
Madison Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Eileen Banisch said this year will feature a “halftime show” for the first time, featuring dancers from Limelite Dance Studio.
“It’ll be a bunch of kids doing a dance routine on the steps of the Post Office,” Banisch said. “So that’ll be fun—that’ll be a lot of fun.”
Otherwise, residents can expect to find the usual array of simmering warm soups or chilis to meet their appetite, preferences, or dietary needs. Banisch said that residents can always anticipate a very wide selection of dishes offered by the businesses that participate.
“All sorts...some people do a vegetarian chili, some will do a turkey chili...The fire departments...last year, one of them did like a smoked brisket. That was the meat. It was real good, had a real punch, a real zing,” Banisch said.
Other businesses focus on clam chowders or other kinds of soups, Banish said. The chamber names winners in two categories: chili and soup, based on the votes of attendees who have tasted them.
Banisch said Madison’s two fire departments have always dominated the chili contest, with the current reigning champion being the Nomads of the North Madison Volunteer Fire Company.
“We’ll see what happens this year. They have their secret recipes, they change it all the time,” Banisch said, laughing.
Nomad President Fire Paul Harris said that last year’s win was the department’s first victory over Madison Hose Company No. 1. He said that taking the chili crown meant a lot, in the world of “first responders busting each other’s chops.”
“It was friendly competition,” Harris said. “We work with [Hose Company No. 1]...a lot, but when it comes to bragging rights, certainly we like to be on top—as do they. So every year it’s a clash. We’re mixing up our menu a little bit.”
Harris declined to share details of North Madison’s new recipe, for fear that Hose Company No. 1 “would try to copy us.”
Despite the sometimes hot competition, Harris said that the chili contest is a way for firefighters in town to bond.
“It certainly brings the two fire departments together, because although we bust each other’s chops, we love each other and have a great relationship,” Harris said.
Other participants include local restaurants What’s Cookin’, Madison Beach Hotel, Friends and Company, Jia Mei (which will throw its hat in the ring despite the event coinciding with the Chinese New Year, Banish said), and Café Allegre, among others.
Gayle Dufour, owner of What’s Cookin’, said she had participated in four out of the five Souper Bowl events. This year, she said she is going into the contest not necessarily aiming to win—though she said her chili has won contests in the past—but instead just to let locals know the kind of food she serves at her restaurant.
“Most people do want to go in to go and win, which is fun. You want to get your name out, saying, ‘Hey, I won this.’ But the people who win every year, they obviously do something good,” she said.
This year, What’s Cookin’ will be offering a buffalo chicken chili, which Dufor described as both very healthy while still offering the heartiness of chili.
With 500 or so people expected to show up, Banisch said she sees the event’s popularity as both an endorsement of the skill of local chefs, as well as a sign that many people are looking for a reason to get outside during the long winter months.
“It’s an outdoor fun event that we decided to do in January,” she said. “Because after the holidays, people [have] the winter doldrums.”
The event will be extended slightly longer this year to make room for the halftime show, Banisch said, running from noon to 2:30 p.m. downtown. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact the Madison Chamber of Commerce at 203-245-7394 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets can also be purchased at the event.
Jesse Williams covers Guilford and Madison for Zip06. Email at .