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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It’s a near-military operation for the annual hosts at Tiferet Israel. This year, Jerome is joined by co-chairs and TI members Linda Greenberg and Diane Goldblatt. They say planning began last year, on June 1 (for a March 30 event) and involved more than 250 volunteers.

The synagogue also hosts a mandatory series of preparatory meetings for would-be chili chefs. These classes teach the logistics of a strictly kosher cooking competition: In addition to following all city health rules, all ingredients must be kosher certified, all equipment is provided by the venue and all cooking must take place at the event, under full rabbinical supervision.

That supervision comes from Klein and Rabbi David Shawel, who oversee an army of mashgichim, kosher supervisors — after whose lighting of the cooking fires (a little after 7 a.m., “right after Shacharit”), the cook-off begins.

Then the cooking lasts until the public is let in at 10:30 a.m., and judging begins an hour later. A winner is announced at 3 p.m.

This year’s competition looked about as fierce as a parking lot full of beaming, T-shirt-wearing Jews can get. Recurring champion and People’s Choice favorite Moishe House (a national network of houses where service-oriented Jewish youths live together) claimed to be “mixing it up” chili-wise, adding more “spicy and sweet.” Personally, though, my money was on last year’s second-place finisher, the Hebrew Free Loan Association, whose concoction packed a tasty tang.

Frequent contestant Howard “Chaim” Goldfeder said of the competition, “There are some guys out there who take this as serious as women’s softball.” But for the most part, it’s not about the competition so much as the camaraderie. “[With] over 50 teams,” Goldfeder said, “20 or 30 don’t expect to win.”

Jerome agrees, arguing that the chili cook-off is more about community and tzedakah, charity. TI always shares the proceeds of this fundraiser with a handful of nominated local charities. This year’s co-beneficiaries are the Bnai Zion Foundation, a humanitarian group; the Fighting Maccabees Jewish Special Olympics team, and the Veterans Recovery Center of the Dallas VA Medical Center. Prescott continues to seek creative corporate sponsorships, such as from Rolaids. However, he drily noted, “They kind of stopped returning our calls.”

Of course, there have been controversies. Recent years saw a dispute between a few individuals, who wanted a woman to sing the national anthem, and traditionalist religious groups, whose men are forbidden from hearing a woman sing. The most common complaint voiced, though, is “judge-fixing.”

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