What Does Dickson’s do with a Thousand Pounds of Beef Trimmings? Make Chili, of Course.

What did Brooklyn Star’s Chelsea Market Chili fest dish taste like? After 22 bowls, our author can’t quite recall.

New Yorkers sure do like their chili; when we arrived at Sunday’s Chili Fest at Chelsea Market, the line from the Tenth Avenue entrance stretched halfway back to Ninth.

Altogether, more than 1000 people jammed into the market to sample 22 different chilis made by shops and restaurants around the city.  To supply the meat bound for all those bowls, Dickson’s Farmstand Meats had been saving up its beef trimmings for a couple of months.  And that means all of them; Gramercy Tavern’s chili should have been called Tongue ‘n’ Cheek, because that’s what it was made of.

Jake Dickson and Mary Cleaver, who runs the Green Table down the hall, dreamed up the Chili Fest a year ago specifically to use up a post-Christmas glut of beef.  “All those Christmas roasts leave an awful lot of hamburger,” Cleaver said on Sunday.  (For more about Dickson and the Chili Fest’s origins, click here.) Feeding this year’s crowd  took more than a pound of trimmings per person, heaven knows how many kegs of beer, and a whole lot of logistics: both Dickson and Cleaver were armed with walkie-talkies to keep things running smoothly.

And smooth it was; for most attendees, the evening’s biggest problem was keeping all those chilis straight.  We passed one attendee who was bragging that he’d tasted all 22.  Which was his favorite?  “I can’t remember,” he said.

According to the judges–who could remember which chili was which–the evening’s top contender was La Palapa’s, made with a paste of guajillo chiles and chiles de arbol. Did we taste that one?  Who knows?  They were all good.

Andrew F. Smith

Andrew F. Smith (Editor in Chief) teaches nine courses on culinary topics at the New School in New York. He serves as the series editor for the "Edible Series" at Reaktion Books in the United Kingdom, and is the author or editor of twenty-four books, including his most recent, American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food (University of California Press, 2012), The Oxford Encyclopedia on Food and Drink in America (OUP, 2013), and New York City: A Food Biography (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013).

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