Chili chefs testing spices as cook-off approaches
Levine Academy took home the first-place trophy and the people’s choice award at last year’s Kosher Chili Cook-off. Photo: TJP Staff

By Ben Tinsley

DALLAS — An elite team of top-of-the-line chefs will serve as this year’s panel of judges this year for the 23rd Annual Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-Off held Sunday, March 6 at the campus of Congregation Tiferet Israel, 10909 Hillcrest Road.
Thousands of people — last year’s crowds numbered 4,000 — are expected to attend the longstanding event, located just north of Royal Lane.
The cook-off runs from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. As many as 46 teams are expected to participate. There will be 20 vendors, at least 1300 pounds of beef used, and ultimately more than 900 gallons of chili created.
Neal Stollon, marketing chair for the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off, said while delicious chili does make up the central theme, the event really doesn’t focus on any one particular element.
“I defy anyone who attends to say that they didn’t have a great time,” Stollon said. “It is a day with something for everyone, Jewish or not, young and old, carnivore or vegetarian, will find something that day that they will enjoy and remember.”
The judge panel will consist of such culinary professionals as Chef Cassondra Armstrong, Michael Scott, Chef Stephen Erwin, Chef Pete Nolasco, Chef Michael Mrugala, David Feder, and Chef Danny Hall – all colleagues who know one another.
Together they will channel their collective culinary experience to judge what is still believed to be the largest kosher chili cook-off on the planet.
The winner or winners get bragging rights for preparing the best bowl of kosher chili in Dallas.
Chef Armstrong, “The Chef To The Stars,” is a 20-year veteran of the food industry, a master “culinarian,” and a published author. She owns and operates Chef Cassondra Culinary, Inc., which includes Fab U lux Events Catering, Inc. She has served the Dallas area as a caterer, educator and executive chef for nearly 30 years.
Chef Armstrong said judging the contest is basically like coming home for her.
She grew up working with her mother, her grandmother and other top Jewish caterers who helped prepare food for Congregation Tiferet Israel’s bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs and any catering event they had.
Chef Armstrong said she is really looking forward to judging this event.
“I’m going in with open arms and open taste buds,” she said with a laugh. “I bring a unique twist to this tale. I am known as ‘The Healthy Chef’ and I will be looking for chili that is prepared different ways but preferably healthier versions that are tasty. … This is going to be a great event.”
Michael Scott, who became executive chef at Northwood Club in Dallas in March 2005, said while he has never judged a kosher chili cook off before.
However, Scott said he doesn’t anticipate that to be a problem because the spices tend to be similar in both kosher and non-kosher contests.
“I have judged chili cook-offs all over the country – including the international cook off in Terlingua,” Scott said. “When you do a chili cook-off – any cook-off – the ingredients can be all over the map, but the chili itself doesn’t deviate a lot.”
Chef Stephen Erwin has been a Dallas chef for 26 years and  is an active voting member of the Dallas Chapter of the Texas Chef’s Association. He’s a big fan of hearty Dallas chili.
Chef Erwin, currently the culinary service director of Town Village North, he is hoping to judge well but also learn from the recipes he experiences.
Learning about kosher chili would help him greatly because Town village has a senior Jewish community of about 60 percent, he explained.
“Being involved in this cook off is good for all of us,” Chef Erwin said, “There’s going to be a lot of tough competition out here.”

Communitywide cook-off

Ed Jerome, president of Congregation Tiferet Israel announced in a written statement that Prescott Pailet Benefits Charitable Fund and Key-Whitman Eye Center are the cook-off’s title sponsors for the fourth year in a row.
“We are thrilled and honored to once again have two of the most prominent philanthropic organizations within the Dallas-Fort Worth area as lead sponsors for the Kosher Chili Cook-off,” Jerome stated.
The beauty of the event is it brings all denominations of Judaism together to cook for this communitywide event, officials said.
All food served will be kosher under the rabbinic supervision of Dallas Kosher.
Miranda Winer of Dallas Kosher (the Vaad Hakashrus of Dallas) are happy to be of service at the chili cook-off.
“We are so pleased to again facilitate this community event, where kosher brings together the entire spectrum of Jews in one place, for an event that benefits so many in our community,” she said.
The various kinds of delicious chili are expected to range in flavor from hot and spicy to not hot. Additionally, there will be concession stands with snacks, treats and beverages. There also will be rides, popular games and a silent auction.
Returning to provide entertainment will be the Mazik Brothers, a band formed in 2003 by Jim Schwartz and Rusty Cooper that focuses on songs from ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. The group has played at the event for the past 12 years.
Admission is $12 for each adult and $6 for children 3 to 10 years old. Under age 3 is free.
A special $20 wristband will get children unlimited rides.
Parking for the event is free at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas, 7900 Northaven Road. A climate-controlled bus will transport attendees from that location to the cook-off.
The proceeds from the 23rd Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off will go to support The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center For Education and Tolerance and Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas — Women’s Abuse Support group.
Also this year, the cook-off personnel will continue to participate in a food drive being jointly sponsored by Jewish Family Services food pantry, an affiliate of the North Texas Food Bank.
Officials with Congregation Tiferet Israel and Royal Lane Baptist Church are coordinating the food drive.
Royal Lane Baptist Church, located next door to Tiferet Israel, has a long history of cooperating and helping during high-attendance events and holidays, officials said.
Both Tiferet and Royal Lane Baptist have food collection receptacles Donations of money or non-perishable food will be accepted either before or on the cook-off date of March 6.
Non-perishable food includes items typically stored in a pantry – such as oil, sugar, rice, crackers, dried cereal, canned goods, peanut butter and so on.
The food must have a valid shelf life. Out-of-date food cannot be accepted.
Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of The Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center For Education and Tolerance, said it is an honor to be selected.
“For years, we have enjoyed being part of the cook-off to test our culinary skills against the best in the community,” Higgins stated in a release. “We look forward to the fun and camaraderie of this year’s event.”
Michael Fleisher, CEO of Jewish Family Services, said he greatly appreciates JFS being selected as a beneficiary of this year’s chili cook-off.
“The cook-off contribution is targeted to help underwrite our support group services for women as they address the impact of abusive relationships,”  Fleisher said. “Those with children find the groups beneficial in helping not only their recovery process, but assisting their children. One of the joys of the chili cook-off is sharing the experience of our diverse community coming together in friendly competition.”
To inquire further about this year’s Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off  visit

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