BREWER, Maine — Those with a hankering for Maine-made chowder or homemade chili should head to the Muddy Rudder at noon Saturday for the ninth annual People’s Choice Chili-Chowder Cook-off.
Ten area businesses — Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, Brookside Grill, Four Points by Sheraton, Jeff’s Catering, Governor’s, Ground Round, Muddy Rudder, Red Barn, Sea Dog and Tim Hortons — will serve up their hot concoctions in hopes of earning bragging rights for the year.
“It’s insane,” Winterfest chairwoman Cindy Benson said Monday. “People are so competitive. It’s great.”
The hot food warms people up from the inside, but the camaraderie of bringing people of all ages together for a little fun is the reason behind the annual gathering, she said.
With plenty of snow on the ground, the two-day Brewer Winterfest will be a winter wonderland, with ice carving demonstrations, a skating and sliding party, games for children, live music and fireworks.
As usual, professional ice sculptor Jeff Day of Ice Designs in New Hampshire will kick off the community celebration Friday night when he begins to create an ice sculpture in the Muddy Rudder parking lot from large blocks of crystal-clear ice.
“The theme is Maine-made, so we’ll probably get lobsters and blueberries” and other items that illustrate Vacationland, Benson said.
Day’s designs usually are visible from the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge and are lit at night with colored lights.
Plans for Friday evening include skating, sledding, a reception with live music and free hors d’oeuvres courtesy of Trans-Tech Industries at the Muddy Rudder, and 7 p.m. fireworks shot off from the river’s edge.
“We have the only winter fireworks in Maine,” Benson said.
A Kiwanis French toast breakfast kicks off Saturday’s festivities, which also include children’s games hosted by Penquis, both at the Brewer Auditorium, and all the free sledding kids can handle on Doyle Field.
Also that day, ice artists hoping to take home a trophy for their work will be given two blocks of ice and four hours to sculpt them into Maine-made themed designs. They begin their work at 10 a.m. on the banks of the Penobscot River and must be done by 2 p.m., when awards will be given for the best ice sculpture, chili and chowder.
Thanks to area sponsors and residents, most of the Winterfest events are free, and everything raised above and beyond what is needed to pay for the two-day event is donated to the Keep Kids Warm program, Benson said.
More than $7,500 has been raised at Winterfest in support of the program over the last three years, Renae Muscatell, community relations manager for Penquis, said Monday.
“It’s for people who fall through the cracks,” she said. “It’s a one-time emergency fund for fuel. It’s 100 gallons or the equivalent for whatever their heating source is.”
This year, more than 13,000 Maine households applied for the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and about 2,000 didn’t qualify, Muscatell said.
“To qualify for LIHEAP, a family of four in Penobscot County can only make $44,000,” she said.
The Keep ME Warm Fund or Keep Kids Warm Fund provides assistance to low-income households that demonstrate a need but don’t qualify for federal assistance, Muscatell said.
Benson said she hopes people in the region brave the cold to stop by during the two-day Winterfest and make sure to stop by the Muddy Rudder on Saturday to sample the 10 Maine-made chilis and chowders.
Participants “are the ones who are going to pick the winners” for the two cook-offs, she said.
A complete list of Brewer Winterfest 2011 events is available at the city’s website, brewerme.org, and in The Weekly, which comes out Thursday.