Kosher Chili Cook-Off Builds Jewish Unity Deep in Heart of Texas

Building Bridges One Blazing Hot Bowl at a Time

Hot Moishe! The winner of the People’s Choice award at the 2014 Dallas Kosher Chili Cookoff was Moishe House, represented by Austin Litoff (with big stirrer), an alumnus, with residents Jaycee Greenblatt (center) and Elissa Riesenfeld (right).
rob kutner
Hot Moishe! The winner of the People’s Choice award at the 2014 Dallas Kosher Chili Cookoff was Moishe House, represented by Austin Litoff (with big stirrer), an alumnus, with residents Jaycee Greenblatt (center) and Elissa Riesenfeld (right).

By Rob Kutner

Published April 03, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.
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“You want to try the Republican chili?”

That’s the kind of invitation I got, repeatedly, from many of the 50 contestants at this year’s Dallas Kosher Chili Cookoff. And after trying the Republican Jewish Coalition’s surprisingly garlicky spoonful, I faced a Jewish institutional smorgasbord. Whose culinary sensibilities would I sample next — those of the Anti-Defamation League, or those of the Hebrew Men’s Poker Association?

“It’s like a giant Kiddush,” Dallas Kosher supervisor Rabbi Sholey Klein said about the cook-off, now in its 21st year. It’s arguably the best-attended annual Jewish event in Dallas, attracting crowds in the thousands.

And beyond the numbers, it’s an appealing stew that attracts participants from diverse parts of the community. Judy Safern, president of public relations firm Leading Thinkers and my guide for the day, pointed out “a left-wing shul serving chili side by side with a right-wing outreach organization.”

For event co-chair Ed Jerome, this is the point: “We have the Democrats, we have the Republicans, from the nonaffiliated all the way through the black hats.”

It’s also the rare Jewish event where (nearly all) the organizations reach ideological agreement on one point: “Vegetarian chili isn’t chili.” (Though don’t tell that to the hopefuls in the “veggie chili” competition.)

Achieving unity through chili was the brainchild of Dan Prescott, former vice president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas. He put the initial event together along with fellow members of Tiferet Israel — A Traditional Congregation, Jack Baum and Mark Kleinman. Prescott said that in the early 1990s, “the community was a little fractured, and we were looking for a way for everybody in the Dallas Jewish community to pull together, find some common ground. Since we’re Jewish, we thought food, and since we’re Texas, we thought chili.”

In its first year, 1993, the event attracted 12 teams and 600 attendees and, Prescott said, “we went to Home Depot and got paint-stirrer sticks to stir the chili with.” This year, it featured 50 teams and more than 4,000 attendees, and “we’ve graduated to large spoons.”


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