Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off heats up March 19
Photo: Steve Israel
Thousands attend the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off.

By Deb Silverthorn

The Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off, hosted by Tiferet Israel, will have flavors, friendships and fun coming together from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 19, at the synagogue. Twenty-four teams will prepare their best at the annual event, which is open to the public.

Founded in 1994 by Jack Baum, Mark Kleinman and Dan Prescott, the Cook-off originally started with 12 teams and 600 attendees. Every year since, except 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic, the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off has been a beloved presence.

“In just a few days from now our parking lot will be filled, friends will see each other maybe for the first time in three years. We know the sense of camaraderie, of friendship and really the best of our community, along with great food, will be here,” said Ed Jerome, Tiferet Israel’s president.

Competing synagogues, day schools, youth groups, camps and agencies will stir and simmer 1,000-plus pounds of kosher meat and serve up the chili shots — hot, spicy and sweet — with a likely vegetarian version or two as well.

For Mollie Mirsky, who grew up at Tiferet Israel and is its bookkeeper and event planner, being part of the professional team is special.

“I can’t remember ever missing a Cook-off because my Bubbie and Zadye, Shirley and Erv Rovinsky and my mom, Robyn, have always volunteered,” said Mirsky.

Working with Jerome and Mirsky in planning the event are Jay Abrams, Janet Bubis, Sonia Meltzer, Stuart Roosth, Heddy Roth, Jon Roussel and Shirley Rovinsky.

Kosher Palate is providing the Kosher Food Court, the Mazik Bros, Side Gig and Windy City return to entertain, the Jewish War Veterans Harvey Bloom Post #256 will provide the color guard. There will be inflatables and other activities to keep children entertained (no charge for rides) and local vendors on-site.

Tiferet Israel chose Dallas Friendship Circle, an affiliate of Chabad of North Texas, which provides year-round programming, camps, Saturday night dance parties, field trips and more, to share in this year’s proceeds.

“Friendship Circle brings together families with children living with special needs and also neurotypical volunteers and friends. We hope to make new friends at the Cook-off,” said Leah Dubrawsky, Friendship Circle director. “This is a day that brings the whole community together and we’re honored to be chosen as this year’s partner. That Tiferet Israel respects our efforts means so much.”

Event judges are Deborah Benaim, private chef, caterer and consultant; David Feder, registered dietitian and food, nutrition and health journalist; Danny Hall, Starwood Hotels chef; and Jordona Kohn, The Market Local Comfort Café co-owner and executive chef. 

Benaim, born in Caracas, Venezuela, with family background from Spain, Morocco and Israel, brings her palate to the judges’ table.

“I don’t know how but I’ve never been to the Cook-off. I’m really looking forward to coming in with a fresh perspective. A good chili has almost all the food groups and with the many influences of my background, heat is not something foreign to me,” said Benaim, who went to Akiba Yavneh Academy.

New team entries for the Cook-off are Heart to Heart Hospice and Torah Outreach Center of Dallas (TORCH Dallas).

“I’m grateful to share Heart to Heart, my workplace with the community, on such a fun occasion. I was hired, as Jewish liaison, as our leadership wants to reach out wherever we can be helpful. Our philosophy of care, based on compassion, is everything I am and I’m so proud,” said Rachel Bloom, Jewish community liaison for Heart to Heart.

Rabbi Bentzi Epstein has attended the Cook-off almost every year since its inception, this year introducing his newly launched TORCH Dallas.

“This is one of the best days of the year in Dallas. If it’s not meat, it’s not chili and we’re bringing it. The TORCH logo is fire, and we’ll have plenty of that. We want to inspire Jews to live with energy and passion, to help Jews connect to Jews. We and the Cook-off, have that in common,” said Epstein.

Partnering with the DEA, Recovery Resource Council and the Dallas Police Department, the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off will host the Drug Take Back program. Attendees, participants and passers-by can drop off unwanted, unused and outdated animal and human prescription and non-prescription drugs for proper disposal.

For its past 28 events, the Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off has retained a record of no rain. As many rabbis and minyan-makers gather for the afternoon, prayers are always up for clear skies. Rabbi David Shawel, Dallas Kosher’s director of supervision, always walks the premises with pride.

“The Dallas Kosher Chili Cook-off is everything good about our community. In gematria, 28 is chof (20) ches (8) — and the peak of koach, simon bracha the sign of a bracha,” he said. “Twenty-eight events, we’re just at the peak of our strength. The beauty of this day is coming together. When Jews are together, there is shalom and that should be praised.

“There is strength in numbers and Dallas Kosher is for sure proud to be a part of this experience, this annual celebration and to participate in what brings us all together,” Shawel added.

For more information, visit kosherchilicookoff.us. Tickets are $10/adults, $5/children (ages 3 and under are free). Cook-off volunteers receive free entry (call 214-691-3611 to register). There is free parking at the Aaron Family JCC with shuttle service to Tiferet Israel.

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