By Deb Silverthorn
The Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off will celebrate its golden birthday after 27 years of connecting community, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 27, on the grounds of Congregation Tiferet Israel.
“COVID cases are falling as predicted. Let’s all celebrate together with a day of fun and food at the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off,” said Ed Jerome, Congregation Tiferet Israel vice president and Chili Cook-off event chair. He is working with committee members Jay Abrams, David Bock, Janet Bubis, Esther Hazan-Cohen, Sonia Meltzer, Stuart Roosth, Heddy Roth and Shirley Rovinsky.
Title sponsors — Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Key Whitman Eye Center and Marsh & McLennan Agency/Prescott Pailet Benefits — lead numerous supporters who make the event possible. At its beginning, the event hosted a dozen teams — with almost 600 guests — and, at its height, nearly 60 teams with many thousands in attendance.
“It’s great to be back in person; we need to be around our people,” said Dan Prescott, who initiated the event’s concept in 1993. Prescott approached his good friends Jack Baum and Mark Kleinman, and the trio, along with their wives Stephanie, Janet and Betsy, led the charge in the Cook-off’s first years, still supporting it today.
“The idea came as I walked to shul one day, thinking about how to bring all facets of our community together — people of any congregation or organization and those not affiliated other than that they were Jewish. We all love food and fun and that seemed the way to bring us together,” said Prescott. “Breaking bread — breaking chili, so to speak — laid the ground for what has grown into a favorite event. It’s been greatly missed the last two years and we’re all so excited to come together as community.”
“The Kosher Chili Cook-off truly is one of our community’s unifying events,” said Bill Finkelstein, Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas board chair, “Jews of all ages and backgrounds, neighborhoods and congregations coming together for a day of fun, games and friendship.”
This year’s event, considering safety protocol due to the pandemic, will host four teams per tent, rather than its usual eight; those involved in preparing food, and anyone entering Tiferet Israel, are required to wear masks.
The teams, after meeting in advance to learn the competition rules, requirements and scheduling supervised by Dallas Kosher, will compete in beef and vegetarian categories, with winners announced in the late afternoon.
There is also a People’s Choice category that allows all attendees to participate in choosing their favorite chili. Simply cast your vote at the booth of your choice by placing your token in the team’s ballot box. Each paid admission includes a single ballot for the People’s Choice award.
In addition to a People’s Choice award, this year’s judges include VisitDallas CEO Craig Davis, The Preston of the Park Cities’ Executive Director Keo Velasquez and David Feder, returning to judge for the 12th time.
“While bribing the judges with cold beer is encouraged,” Feder joked, “it’s only fair to disclose that judging is completely blind. We have no idea who made what until the winners are announced.”
Feder attributes a successful chili to the art of the spice blend and skill of the execution. “We’re not sticklers for a classic ‘Texas chili’ — including beans and ground beef are fine — but we’re looking for a full, balanced, flavor with some good heat,” Feder said. “Less can be more and it’s not necessary to have a list of ingredients a mile long. Only a vegetarian chili should have vegetables other than tomatoes, onions and chili peppers.”
Feder, who was raised at Congregation Tiferet Israel, is the son of Allen Feder (of blessed memory) and Golda Edwards and the brother of Haiya Feder, Laurie Feder and Andrea Roosth. In Dallas, Feder was a chef at The Grape, The Hotel Crescent Court and Margaux Natural. After 26 years living out of the state, he is a registered dietitian and food, nutrition and health journalist living in Austin.
As event host, Congregation Tiferet Israel has shared event proceeds with 59 area nonprofit organizations over the years. This year’s beneficiary is Jewish Family Service’s Food Pantry, which will receive the event’s proceeds, leftover ingredients from the teams and goods collected at a food drive, co-sponsored with Tiferet Israel’s neighbor Royal Lane Baptist Church.
“We’ve always had a great time participating in the Cook-off and we’re absolutely grateful for the continued support,” said Kirsten Jackson, JFS director of Volunteer Engagement. “There’s been a tremendous increase in the need over the last two years and every bit of the support makes a difference.”
In addition to the chili samples (free with admission), there will be hamburgers, hot dogs and more sold by Kosher Palate. There will be a raffle and an expansive children’s entertainment area with rides and activities; the Mazik Experience, Side Gig and Windy City bands will take to the Cook-off stages, playing music of the decades.
“There’s nothing better than getting together for a good time, while supporting a good cause, and we’re so happy to be back,” said Rusty Cooper, providing music at the Kosher Chili Cook-off for 15 years, many with Jim Schwartz, of blessed memory, as the Mazik Bros. “It’s the most fun gig all year.”
Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 4 to 10 (includes all children’s activities) and children under 3 are free. The JCC will provide parking and shuttles to the event. For more information, to register a team for participation, for sponsorships or to volunteer, call 214-691-3611 or visit kosherchilicookoff.us.