The Best Chili in the World


The Best Chili in the World

In Texas we take our Chili pretty seriously. In the years I have lived here I have been asked to judge quite a few Chili cook-offs and have learned that issues related to ground beef vs. chopped steak, the presence or absence of beans and matters related to the tomato sauce, spices and cooking methods are taken as seriously as issues like A&M vs. UT, religion and politics.

But I can tell you without a doubt that after sampling hundreds of Chili recipes over the years I have been here the best chili is made in Winnetka, Illinois (a suburb of Chicago) and remains one that I never ate.

Almost 40 years ago my dad became ill and my young mom had a lot of responsibility suddenly thrust on her shoulders. Caring for a sick husband, raising three teenage boys and trying to keep a household going. Lots of people we knew called with encouraging words and said things like, “you’re in our thoughts” – “call if you need anything.” But one day the doorbell rang and when I answered it I saw a neighbor, one I had never met standing on our front step holding a covered pot. She mentioned that she had heard my father was sick and thought my mom might have needed help with dinner and had made a pot of chili for us. My mother kept a kosher home and I knew this neighbor was not Jewish and I was afraid of insulting the neighbor by telling her we couldn’t eat the food she had prepared so I did what most teenagers do – yelled for my mom and let her deal with it. Well it turns out that my mother invited this woman in and it was more than two hours later when our neighbor finally left – still carrying her pot of chili but more importantly carrying a bit of my mother’s burden as she had let her tell her story, have a bit of a cry a and made a date to come back.”

You see, instead of sitting on the sidelines while everyone argued about who would “jump in first” this kind neighbor actually jumped into to a scary situation and did something. And as imperfect as the attempt may have been it had the desired healing effect and her action, and her chili are still talked about in my family today.

We have all heard the phrase, “It’s not the gift but the thought that counts” but as I think back on those dark days – and our neighbor – perhaps a slight twist on that phrase is more accurate, “It’s not the thought but the action that counts.”

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