Making the Perfect Chili (hint – it tastes better when you serve people you love)

“What is cooking if not an art form? From the mandala of fresh whole foods and spices carefully selected for each dish to the mindful manner in which it is prepared, presented, and enjoyed, every meal is a unique manifestation of your authentic voice.”
― Julie Piatt,

1-IMG_3524It’s been a while since I wrote a foodie-post so here’s my latest adventure in cooking. Any time I prepare something new there is a lot to be learned and this time has been no exception. I’ll share the background story too because food always improves to the extent that it is served in a particular context.


Rebekah meets with her staff every Tuesday for devotions, prayer, planning, and then a meal together. One of the many ways we are incredibly blessed as a church is in having Mandy as our official “Director of Food Ministries,” and among the many gifts of multiplying loaves and fishes she conjures an amazing staff lunch. But this week was Mandy’s birthday, so Rebekah asked if I would like to prepare the luncheon and I said I’d love to.

Mandy’s request was chili. Sounds simple enough, right?


Mandy and Rebekah – Dec 2017

For some of you “chili” may simply mean five minutes and a can-opener. But you have to understand, Mandy is a bona fide gourmet and I wasn’t about to do that. Besides, I love Mandy and I wanted her to experience the same level of care and preparation she shares so generously with our church.

So, having never prepared chili before, I did some research. I read some articles in Cook’s Illustrated, I looked in The Joy of Cooking. I read about chili on line. I leafed through some of the other cookbooks on our shelves.

Then I settled on a hybrid preparation. Mostly my recipe is based on a concoction I found in Some Like it South from the Junior League in Pensacola, circa 1984. Then I tweaked it, most importantly ditching ground beef and going with steak instead, a mixture of tenderloin and sirloin.


  1. 1-IMG_3521Chop and brown – very lightly – the steak.
  2. Chop and sauté sweet yellow onion. Do the same with green bell peppers. Then crush, chop, and add a few cloves of garlic. Add to the steak, along with a generous amount of diced tomatoes.
  3. Remember, as you go along, lightly salt each new ingredient. This encourages the particular flavors to be released in a timely manner, to infiltrate everything completely, and to collaborate fully rather than simply laying next to each other in the pot. Also, take note in these photographs how the texture of the chili changes over several hours of cooking. Time is your friend in this recipe – use lots of it.
  4. Now add the beans – pinto, white, kidney. Add some tomato sauce. Blend in the spices – chili powder, oregano, paprika, cayenne pepper, cumin… Include just a little sugar.
  5. Cook all this deliciousness slowly, for a minimum of three-four hours. I cooked it Monday afternoon, refrigerated overnight, then cooked the chili another three hours before serving lunch Tuesday.

I made an elaborate salad, baked some bread, and supplied all the traditional garnishes (grated cheese, sour cream, green onion), but found I enjoyed the chili most without anything at all, not even the sour cream.


1-IMG_3530This is where I emphasize serving people you love. Rebekah has always placed deep regard and very high value in our church staff. We are blessed with some extremely competent, committed folk, and we can’t say enough how much we appreciate their ongoing ministry.

Food can be good, delicious, and well-prepared, but it only takes on greatness when paired with people. Without good company, food can never be much more than decent; served in the right context, with love, then even the most rudimentary preparation can become a feast, a banquet, a gourmet delight.

Peace, and more – DEREK

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