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Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew

Ponderosa Steakhouse team
vows to retain food titles

Madison Chamber prepares
to mark 10th year of festival

By Tess Worrell
Contributing Writer

(October 2012) – On a recent afternoon, patrons at Ponderosa Steakhouse in Madison, Ind., were drawn by a delicious new aroma filling the restaurant. Waitresses repeatedly declined customers’ requests to try the new option.
“Sorry,” they said. “We’re testing our recipe for the brew category of the Soup, Stew, Chili, and Brew. If you want to try it, you’ll have to come by our booth.” Customers will likely line up knowing Ponderosa’s success in prior festivals. Last year, Ponderosa swept the food categories winning first place for Soup, Stew and Chili.

Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew

Photo provided

Madison Main Street becomes
a busy street fair each year
for the Madison Area Chamber
of Commerce is annual Soup,
Stew, Chili & Brew event.

“We were honestly baffled by that success,” says Jami Brewer, manager of Ponderosa and organizer of Ponderosa’s entries for the last three years. “We were so excited. We decided to try for the brew category this year. Who knows? Maybe we could take all four categories. That would be amazing.”
On Saturday, Oct. 13, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., locals and visitors alike flock to Madison’s Main Street to enjoy one of the favorite festivals of the season – the 10th annual Soup, Stew, Chili, and Brew. The festival, organized as a fundraiser by the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce, pits cooks from across town against each other for the coveted title of top cook in each of the categories. In addition, local fire departments compete for the traveling trophy in best fire department chili.
Clifty 6 Fire Co. took top honors last year and members hope to reclaim that prize. “Last year, we had over 30 booths,” says the chamber’s Lynda Knoebel. “We are looking forward to even more this year.”
Each booth has at least one offering of soup, stew, chili or brew but can offer in as many categories as they like. Most booths offer other foods as well. Attendees purchase tickets at the entrance then trade tickets at the booths for whatever they would like to eat. The system makes it easy for people to sample the variety available while freeing vendors from having to deal with all the cash.
The festival features more than just food. Main Street becomes a street fair with neighbors visiting neighbors, while bands play in the background and children visit the game area. Face painting, a bounce house and a costume contest are just a few of the activities geared toward children. Adults can catch up with each other while listening to bands such as Rusty Bladen or Big G Johnson Big Brass Band. Adults can also sign up to compete in the annual corn hole tournament.
The top moment of the day comes at 4 p.m. when winners of the cooking categories are announced. Vendors can compete in just one category or any combination.
Booths also vie for the prize of Best Decorations, so booth operators take their fall themes seriously. If booths want to enter the judging, they must contact the chamber.
“They don’t have to enter,” says Knoebel. “But if they choose to enter, they must have the rules. We have a packet of information that details everything they must do to comply with Health Department regulations as well as preparing for the day.”
Main Street closes at 6 a.m. with booth operators arriving at 8 a.m. “They have to be ready to go by 11, so it gets very busy that morning,” says Knoebel.
What does it take to win? Ponderosa’s Brewer says her team has been preparing for weeks. “We’ve been looking at recipes, bringing in decorations and searching for props. We will start cooking and baking about 5 a.m. the day of the festival. It’s a team effort, and we love it.”
Customers flock to the Ponderosa booth for their award-winning seafood chowder, banana bread, pumpkin bread and peanut butter fudge. “We sold out of the seafood chowder twice last year, so we will bring even more this year. We’ll also bake about 100 loaves of bread,” says Brewer.
When asked the secret to her team’s success, Brewer says, “We went back to the old recipes. Recipes Ponderosa used 10 years ago. People love them.”

• Anyone interested in having a booth should contact Lynda Knoebel at the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce at (812) 265-3135.

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