SI Vault
Gary Cartwright
December 11, 1967
When Author H. Allen Smith claimed he knew more about chili than anyone else, some simmering Texans challenged him to a cookoff that wound up in controversy and settled nothing, including stomachs
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December 11, 1967

The Great Chili Championship Fix

When Author H. Allen Smith claimed he knew more about chili than anyone else, some simmering Texans challenged him to a cookoff that wound up in controversy and settled nothing, including stomachs

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Justice was never an issue: Texas chili had been defiled. Yet the world championship chili con carne cookoff ended in no contest October 21 when the Dallas-based CASI (Chili Appreciation Society International) got cold feet.

It started as a routine Saturday afternoon lynching. Author-Humorist H. Allen Smith had waived caution and had submitted himself to CASI's plot to call attention to itself, hence to the chili recipe it is sworn to protect. Smith's attraction was that he fixed his name to an August story in Holiday magazine titled: Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do. From a hook that large, CASI could hang a Brahma bull. When Smith allowed himself to be coerced from his home in Mount Kisco, N.Y. to the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas, in the remote Big Bend country-there to cook burner to burner against CASI's chief chili chef, Wick Fowler—he had played into the hands of his enemy.

Texans for historical reasons believe that any chili that isn't theirs is trickery. A man who orders chili with beans would probably put catsup in his coffee. Beans are another matter entirely. So are fresh tomato, sweet bell pepper and other ingredients of Smith's school of chili. CASI is a self-appointed police force against such practices. In 1962 CASI Founder and Chief Chili Head George Haddaway attacked the chef of the Dobbs House kitchen at Houston International Airport because some infidel included Boston baked beans in his order of chili. The police came and, according to CASI records, berated the cook.

For the chili challenge, CASI selected the perfect battleground: Terlingua (pop. 9), in sprawling, barren Brewster County, which has a land mass equal to the combined areas of Rhode Island and Connecticut, but a population of fewer than 7,000. Only foolish pride or an incurable dope habit would force a man into this country to take a chance he knew he didn't have. CASI did not care which it was with H. Allen Smith.

Founded in 1951, CASI is an indefinite number of middle-aged, middle-class chili lovers. They are publishers, newspaper editors, prosperous attorneys columnists, local television personalities and ranking public-relations men. They have granted chapters to Los Angeles, Mexico City (Chino Ortiz, former Mexican ambassador to Chile, is a card-carrying CASI member), Tokyo, Saigon, Danang, Kansas City and to the National Press Club in Washington. But the nerve center of the organization is Dallas. Members of CASI prefer their chili thick, and they demand that it be hot. They are proud to burn in the name of chili con carne.

In the week preceding the contest, the chili war attracted front-page notice in papers ranging from The Austin-American Statesman to The Wall Street Journal , which billed the cookoff as the "Chili Bowl." Prodded on by The Dallas Morning News Columnist Frank X. Tolbert, the cookoff took on the aspects of a bitter political campaign.

Wick Fowler is a 255-pound sometime newspaper reporter who packages and sells his own chili mix and travels extensively (he recently returned from Vietnam) in the name of CASI. His recipe is the outgrowth of a bunch of fun-loving pals dumping personal theories in the cook pot aboard his houseboat; but he believes it to be so surefire that he brought along a package of his two-alarm mix to use in the preparation of his entry. His Caliente Chili, Inc. of Austin will package and sell 200,000 batches this year: together with two pounds of lean, coarse-ground meat, one eight-ounce can of tomato sauce and some water, each package makes 1� quarts of chili (the alarm number is optional) and costs $1 by mail.

Fowler admitted that he had never tasted Smith's chili, but added, "I saw a punch bowl of it recently. It makes a very clever centerpiece."

Smith heard this and called Fowler "hen-headed." He observed further that a "fowler is a despoiler of little birds. A wick is a hunk of rag stuck in a container of oil. It burns with a flickering, smelly flame. This Wick Fowler. I believe, will burn with the searing flame of ignominy at Terlingua next Saturday at high noon."

Columnist Tolbert—once threatened with expulsion by CASI for championing a greaseless chili favored by LBJ's doctors, but more recently, on publication of his book, A Bowl of Red, elevated to the position of a poet laureate of the society—jumped on the story.

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