The history of chili cookoffs begins with the Chili Appreciation
Society International (CASI), which was the first organization to support the notion that chili is more than just
meat and chiles--it's a way of life. Despite controversy and warring factions, CASI has been enormously successful. According
to the ChiliHeads of Arizona, in 1992 there were fifty CASI "pods" or clubs in the United States and Canada . That year CASI
had more than 800 members, and some 9,000 cooks competed in 420 sanctioned cookoffs that raised $471,291 for charity. In 1993,
CASI affiliates raised over $600,000 for charity. Affiliated CASI Pods sponsor and support local and regional Chili Cookoffs.
In 2002, CASI sanctioned more than 500 Chili Cookoffs throughout the United States, Canada, and the Virgin Islands, and contributed
over $1.2 million to worthy charitable organizations. For additional information, go to www.chili.org. But here's how it all began.
CASI--A History, Sorta
The late Jo Ann Horton, who was the editor of The Goat Gap Gazette, a publication devoted to chili, wrote
the following "history" of CASI in 1989 for The Whole Chile Pepper magazine.
The Chili Appreciation Society was formed in 1951 by George Haddaway and Jim Fuller
to "improve the quality of chili in restaurants and broadcast Texas-style recipes all over the earth." When chapters began
to form in other countries, the word International" was added to the name.
It was a non-dues-paying organization and members did their own secretarial work.
Their bible was With or Without Beans by Joe Cooper of Dallas, which is now out of print. The Society slogan was:
"The aroma of good chili should generate rapture akin to a lover's kiss." The organization was headquartered in Dallas .
The Society's chapters had luncheon or dinner meetings about once a month over steaming bowls of red. Their 'missionary endeavors'
would be discussed and members spent a lot of time answering letters from all over the world and sending out "approved" recipes
to those who requested them. Vats of chili were even packed in dry ice and shipped to chili-starved members in Europe .
Haddaway--as Chief Chilihead--and a crew of Society members traveled to Mexico
City to help start a new chapter. They signed up more than fifty new members there, all of whom raved enthusiastically about
Chief Chili Cook Wick Fowler's chili.
By 1964 Haddaway and his honchos loaded up on Texas chili ingredients and headed
for Los Angeles to establish a California chapter, which was duly installed at the Airport Marina Hotel . The Californians
liked the chili and the Society, but warned the inexperienced: "Real chili con carne is not for sissies. Fowler's Four-Alarm
Chili is reputed to open eighteen sinus cavities unknown to the medical profession."
Fowler went even further afield in his missionary work when, as a war correspondent, he took along a big supply of chile peppers
and spices to Vietnam . There, he prepared and served the fiery brew to front-line troops. He said later that water buffalo
meat made great chili.
The first Terlingua cookoff, held in 1967, was a fun promotion for Frank
X. Tolbert's book, A Bowl of Red, and land sales in that area for David Witts and Carroll Shelby. Tom Tierney, a
public relations man, and Frank Tolbert dreamed up the idea and chose Wick Fowler (inventor of Two-Alarm Chili Mix), and Dave
Chasen of Beverly Hills as the combatants. Chasen became ill, and humorist H. Allen Smith was chosen to replace him after
Smith wrote an article entitled "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do," which was published in a 1967 issue of Holiday
Because of the remoteness of the location, nobody thought spectators would come,
but 209 chapters of CASI were represented. They flew into Chiricahaua Ranch and came in school buses to Terlingua. Judges
for the first event were Hallie Stillwell, who voted for "Soupy" Smith; Floyd Schneider of Lone Star Beer, who voted for Fowler's
chili; and attorney David Witts. Witts tasted Smith's chili, said his taste buds were paralyzed and declared he could not
break the tie. The contest was called a draw by the referee, Frank Tolbert. Over 1,000 spectators attended.
In 1968, the second cookoff at Terlingua was also declared a draw by Tolbert. He
had no choice--the ballot box was stolen by masked men with guns who threw it into an outhouse located over a mine shaft.
The third world championship saw C. V. Wood of California declared the winner over Wick Fowler. The third contestant, Wino
Woody DeSilva, fell into his huge "chili wok," and the judges didn't want to taste his chili. Judges were said to be influenced
by the bevy of starlets Wood had imported from California .
Wick Fowler finally won in 1970. C. V. Wood brought more girls and a double-decker
bus, wore a crown of chile peppers and robes with fur, but declined to cook. That year marked the first time women were allowed
to compete, and H. Allen Smith had Janice Constantine of Midland, Texas, arrested for "trying to cook chili while then and
there being a female person." It didn't work. More than 5,000 spectators were on hand.
In 1972, Fred McMurry of Houston attended a CASI meeting in Dallas and then returned
to Houston determined to form a CASI "Pod," as he called it. His friends Allegani Jani and Tex Shofield assisted in signing
up members and getting Fred elected "Great Pepper."
From that moment on, CASI changed forever. Things began to get organized. Other
Pods were formed, but for a while there were so few cookoffs that people flocked to every announced event, no matter how far
away they lived. But the number of cookoff contests grew, and eventually "chiliheads," as they were called, eventually developed
such a listing of cookoffs that competition cooking is now akin to a professional sports circuit.
Cooks in today's cookoffs might be termed "professionals." They know a great deal about cooking competition chili, about herbs,
spices, pots, stoves, cooking temperatures, the weather, and other factors affecting the outdoor cooking of chili. Although
cooks are allowed to bring meat and vegetables such as onions already cut up, and spices mixed in advance, they must still
cook the pot of chili on the spot.
Most members of CASI belong to "pods" and compete for points to get to the big
cookoff, Terlingua. Cooks are given points for placing at sanctioned cookoff throughout the year: four points for winning,
three for second, two for third, and one for fourth. At the end of the year, all cooks having enough points to qualify are
invited to cook at Terlingua, always held the first Saturday in November.
Unfortunately, Terlingua can no longer legally be called "World Championship"
because that phrase has been trademarked by the International Chili Society--it is now called "CASI Terlingua International
Chili Championship." But such legalities don't matter to CASI members, who still view Terlingua as the "big one." Even if
they can't cook there, they will likely go anyway and volunteer to judge or help in some manner. Nobody wants to be left out
when it comes to Terlingua!
The road to TICC is paved with the trials of competition... but the
qualifiying cook is rewarded with the beauty that is Terlingua, Texas