How Did It Start?

It was Christmas 1989 (or thereabouts...being a nice Jewish boy from Cleveland, I don't keep to close tabs on such things!). I was living at The Beach House with Gerry, and I was grumbling to my buddy Terry about yet another seemingly endless Minnesota winter stretching ahead.

Terry came up with the idea of a skating party. Seeing as how I lived on a lake, it would be easy to have a bunch of friends over, spend a couple hours playing on the ice, then come in and warm up with some chili and maybe a beer or two..."brilliant idea Terry, let's do it!"

Now we needed to wait for a few inches of snow so that we could shovel a rink on the ice (you pack the edges, then drill a hole and flood the rink...pretty cool, huh?), then call our friends and have our party. And so we waited...and waited...and waited...

January turned to February, and still no snow (and let's face it, this is a pretty strange weather phenomenon up here!), and Terry and I started getting a bit impatient. Not being ones to let a little thing like an act of Nature get in our way, we forged ahead with an alternate plan...let's pick a date, plan the party, and if the snow and skating happen, great...of not, we can still eat chili and drink beer..."brilliant again Terry...let's get cracking!"

While throwing together an invitation, and thinking about how to separate our event from other parties thrown to take our minds off the cold and snow, we hit on the idea of a competition. Anyone could enter a chili simply by bringing enough for 30 or so people to taste. Gerry and I came up with 5 categories, plus a grand prize, and went out and bought prizes.

On a typically blustery and wet Saturday, sometime in March, 1990, what was to become the inaugural Chili Bowl was held at The Beach House. About 6 chilis competed for prizes, with about 40 guests tasting and casting their votes. The prizes were kinda cheesy that year, except for the grand prize (which was something tasteful, although I have no idea what it was!). One thing I didn't give much thought to came back to haunt...the hosts won too many of the prizes!

The buzz after the party was that everyone had a great time, the chilis were fabulous, and folks were already talking about their plans for next year. And so the annual Chili Bowl was born.

In 1991 we had about 10 chilis and about 55 people, the host chilis were no longer eligible for prizes, the prizes began improving in quality, and that party was a swan song for The Beach House. That summer I moved back into the city, and not too long after the house was sold

and torn down...what would become of the Chili Bowl? My new place could host a party of about 6 people (as long as they all didn't try to get into the same room at the same time!)

Into the void stepped some of the best friends a guy could ask for. In '92 it was Barb and Dave Kleist, in '93 it was Tom and Carolyn Jensen, in '94 Jim Thompson and Kathy Klovstad, in '95 Bill Debacker...each year, someone simply volunteered to host the party at their house. And so the legend continued to grow.

In 1996 and 1997 we were back at Kathy and Jim's place, which was a fabulous place for a party. Attendance had dropped a bit from the high around 60-65 people, with 12-15 chilis competing each year.

In 1998 we headed in a new direction for a while, moving the party into a commercial space. Our friends at Dan Kelly's were amazing hosts for the next four years, pretty much giving us the run of the joint for one Saturday night in March every year. They also made up some awe-inspiring corn bread to go along with the chili. 1999 and 2000 we had another new feature, with live music from Big Jig and The Fatheads. It was a fun-filled experiment, with lots of great memories, but with attendance and entries continuing to drop, and with Ian and Judy now married and Ian finally a home-owner (yet another thing to add to the awe-inspiring list of reasons we are thankful for Judy in Ian's life!), we headed back residential in 2002.

For the first time since 1991, the Chili Bowl was not guest hosted! Judy took up the party reins with Ian, and old time party-goers started to notice significant improvements in prize quality, party decorations, prize presentation, party themes and invitations. Shopping for the Chili Bowl became a year-round game and adventure! These years also saw the introduction of so many new great friends, as we became settled in our home, neighborhood and synagogue.

In 2009, the 20th anniversary celebration, as a tribute to all those who have made this party such a labor of love these past 20 years, we created a cookbook and photo album of favorites from the first 20 years. (You can get your very own copy right here!)

As we say every year, THANK YOU for making this party what it is. Enjoy these recipes and memories from the first 20, and let's get busy making more for the next 20!

-- Ian and Judy

(copyright 1990-2018, Ian Silver)