Start the grills! Co-founder of Spiedie Fest explains history of beloved event

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BINGHAMTON, NY – For decades, one of the biggest events of a Southern Tier summer has been the Spiedie Fest and Balloon Rally at Otsiningo Park.

And while it may seem like the fest has been going on forever, it only dates back to 1983.

NewsChannel 34 talked with one of the co-founders of the original Spiedie Fest, Paul VanSavage about the history of one of Binghamton’s most loved traditions.

“Just a very relaxed, laid back, family friendly, no vendors, no music – just a real simple get together for folks to come out and hang out on a Sunday afternoon,” VanSavage says, recalling the August day everything started.

The festival we know today was built on the Spiedie Cooking Competition, that still occurs on the Sunday of Spiedie Fest.

VanSavage says he and a friend got the idea from a rib cooking contest in Chicago.

They were shocked when 11,000 people showed up for the simple afternoon in the park, only featuring a couple of cooking contests, a volleyball tournament and a handful of other happenings.

“This community does have a love affair with spiedies and it is clearly our signature food. There aren’t very many communities around the state or country that can say this is our very unique signature food,” VanSavage says.

Eventually, he says the were approached by hot air balloon enthusiasts.

“How about if we combine balloons and spiedies? Wow. It just made so much sense. So, the rest is history,” VanSavage adds.

It was a far cry from today, where Otsiningo is flooded with people, vendors, rides, games, food and of course, hot air balloons.

And it all comes down to the cooking contest, where anyone with a family recipe and a love of spiedies can try and wow the judges with their own takes on the dish.

“The fact that this community can identify with that food in it’s history, it’s remarkable,” VanSavage says.

The Spiedie Fest kicks off this Friday and runs through Sunday.

There’s still time to enter the now infamous cooking contest before the grills are lit at 1 on Sunday.

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