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Of the multitude of things I love about living in the Lone Star State, the dazzling array of chili options available on any given day is way up on the list. I may openly chuckle when the mercury drops below 70 degrees and the red meat section of the grocery store looks like it’s been sacked by the Huns, but it’s all affectionate laughter, trust me. Probably due to my upper Midwestern roots, I veer away from locals in their open hatred of the inclusion of the humble bean in chili. I won’t turn down a concoction just because somebody went rogue and tossed beans in the pot or went heavy on the tomatoes – but I do agree, beans disqualify a chili from being called a “Texas” bowl of red.

Granted, it’s my people’s fault the dish got bastardized in the first place. The culinary craft work of the San Antonio chili cooks were included as a part of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago back in 1893, which celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival. Outside all the magnificent innovations debuted at the exposition, there were two unintended side effects: America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes, was running amok and murdering innocent festivalgoers; and, secondarily, the rest of the country fell in love with the San Antonio-style chili and promptly started jacking around with the recipe in their own corners of the world. You’re welcome?

More than a century later, the argument about who has the best chili continues, as we gear up for the Fort Worth Weekly’s 3rd annual Celebrity Chef Chili Cook-Off. Last year, many of the city’s star chefs stirred and stewed their way to bragging rights. In typical Texas style, this year will be bigger, bolder, and spicier. 

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At high noon on Sun, March 4, 20 chefs will take over the street in front of the Tin Panther to dish up their take on a bowl of red and, if it’s like last year, sling some smack talk across the tents as well. Joining defending 2016 champion Juan Rodriquez of Magdalena’s in the competition will be Aaron Austin (Vintage Grill & Car Museum), Kyle Baker (Bird Café), Hillary Biediger (Juice Junkies), Terry Chandler (Fred’s Texas Café), Clint Connaway (Texas Republic Bar & Kitchen), Keith Hicks (Button’s Restaurant), David Hollister (Gas Monkey Bar & Grill), Jose Gonzales (Cork & Pig Tavern), Keith Grober (Gorgonzilla, Salsa Limón), Ben Merritt (Fixture – Kitchen and Social Lounge), Joe Riscky (Riscky’s Barbecue), Stefon Rishel (Texas Bleu Steakhouse), John Sanford (BBQ on the Brazos), Dee Saunders (Tarrant Area Food Bank), Michael Thompson (Michael’s Cuisine Restaurant & Bar), Manuel Vasquez (Tarrant Area Food Bank), Cindy Wheeler (Tributary Café), and Billy Woodrich (Billy’s Oak Acres BBQ). 

There’s a different twist this year, as both a popular vote and celebrity judge prize will be awarded. Anyone who buys a ticket will have a chance to sample and vote for their favorite chili and crown the new Best Chili Cook in Fort Worth. Upping the ante, a $5 donation from every ticket sold goes to benefit Cook Children’s hospital, so your soul will also be fed. Live music by Michael Richardson and Taylor Craig Mills will be going all day long at the family-friendly shindig, and there will be a bounty of prizes, cool swag from our sponsors, cocktails, and plenty of cold beer.

If you haven’t checked out the Tin Panther yet, this is the perfect time to do so. The space was once home to the much beloved J&J’s Blues Bar, and this new iteration pays homage to what the bar means to local musicians and patrons while at the same time forging new ground. The overall vibe of the Tin Panther is casual and comfortable, which is ideal for the kind of stretchy pants one needs at an event dedicated solely to sampling more than 20 different varieties of chili. Purchase your advanced tickets at a discount at ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1635884 or buy them at the door.

The Tin Panther 

937 Woodward St, FW. 817-720-6868. 

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