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Culinary Central

Culinary Spotlight: Chili

August 21, 2009 Le Cordon Bleu Dallas 0 Comments

It used to be that stealing a horse could get a man hanged. These days putting beans in chili can run you afoul of the rope, at least if you’re in Texas. Well … not really, but it can get you kicked out of an official Texas chili cook off. That’s right. No fillers allowed. No beans. No macaroni. No rice. No tomatoes. Just good old Texas Red Chili.

Chili Is Cooking in Dallas

Texans seem to have a love affair with chili. And why not? It’s been a part of Texas and TexMex cuisine for generations. While there are similarities to some dishes made with meat and chilies from Mexico, chili is likely descended from a tangia-like stew made by Canary Islanders recruited by the government of New Spain in modern-day San Antonio. This gives Dallas chefs a legitimate claim to Texas being the rightful home of chili.

To All Dallas Chefs: No Beans!

It should come as no surprise then that the Chili Appreciation Society, International (CASI), the governing body of most official chili cook-offs, is headquartered in Dallas. It’s also home to the philosophy that real chili--Texas chili--doesn’t have beans. The ingredients should consist of chili peppers, meat and not much more. Salt? Sure. A pinch of oregano? Yes. Cumin? You’d better! But don’t look for tomatoes, green peppers, celery, or any odd spices like cinnamon in Texas chili. You just won’t find them.

While there are many variations of chili recipes that do contain beans, the reason Texas chili doesn’t have any may be utility. Many TexMex dishes call for chili to be served alongside or pored over the dish. It’s difficult to imagine TexMex staples like tamales and enchiladas being served with a generous helping of chili with beans. Even the East Coast staple, the chili dog, would lose its luster trying to fit beans in the bun along with the required onions and mustard. There would just be too much competition for flavor and texture.

While Dallas chefs are free to put any ingredients they want in their chili, contestants in CASI-sanctioned events are faced with dire consequences for any competition chili that has beans.

So the next time you find yourself in Texas, hop in your car and head out to the nearest county road. Chances are you’ll find Texas chili cook-off where Dallas chefs and others will be competing to see who best represents the ideal bowl of Texas chili. Don’t worry about your Yankee accent showing through. You shouldn’t be talking with your mouth full anyway.

This article is presented by Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts Dallas. Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts Dallas offers Le Cordon Bleu culinary education classes and culinary training programs in Dallas, Texas. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit Chefs.edu/Dallas for more information.

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