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A Community Rallies from the Pot

A pot of chili helps build a home.

Hi, I’m Chef Eric and here’s what’s on my plate this week:

Recently, I was asked to enter a chili cooking contest. At first my thought was, "Well, this is kind of dated and old school." Then I learned what the focus of the event was going to be. More than 20 professional and amateur cooks were going to be coming together to show their goods and raise funds for a Habitat for Humanity rebuild. The purpose of this Habitat project was to bring together local churches, universities and synagogues in an effort to make someone’s life better.

Habitat's mission is to construct safe, decent, simple and affordable housing. Their motto of putting faith into action, tearing down walls and building bridges together offers hope and inspiration when a family needs it most. As a chef, I appreciate that mission. It's at the root of why I do what I do.

There was no way I could turn down this opportunity to use my skills. Old school or not, this project brought the community together for the purpose of goodness, harmony and respect. Our individual chili recipes were as varied as our backgrounds, but our mission was to serve a deserving family, and to do it while having a good time.

This event had me reflecting on the power of food and community. Food is a common thread that ties us to one another. No matter our religion, race, creed or national origin, food is a common bond we all share. Some say (especially in these times) that nothing brings people together like a common enemy. I disagree. It's really food that unites us. This event brought people together whose paths might otherwise never have crossed. There was discussion, debate, laughter and harmony. Food serves our basic needs and often provides us with an opportunity for socialization.

Enjoy my recipe!

Chef Eric's Award-Winning "Wanton White Chili"

Makes 3 quarts

Ingredients:

½ cup olive oil

3 cups onion, diced

12 cloves garlic, crushed

12 oz dried cannellini beans, soaked overnight

2 qts chicken stock, homemade or good quality

3 lbs boneless chicken breast, cut into ¼ inch cubes

2 cups poblano peppers, diced

2 cups leeks, sliced

2 Tbsp cumin

2 Tbsp oregano

2 Tbsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until the onions are slightly browned. Add soaked beans and chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer an additional 30 minutes. Add the peppers, leeks and seasonings and simmer 15 to 20 minutes more. The beans will become tender and start to break down. The broth will become slightly thickened. Serve at once with a table full of optional stir-ins.

Kicked up stir-in options:

Feather shredded cheese

Diced red and yellow peppers

Chipotle peppers

Green onions

Pickled jalapeño peppers

Cilantro

Salsa verde

Diced tomato

Sour cream

Crushed tortilla chips

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