Men like Joe DeFrates of Springfield, Illinois, a near-mythical figure of importance in that state, and a man who can take at least partial credit for the popularity of folks up there spelling the dish ‘chilli’.
DeFrates came from a long line of chili men. Joe’s father Walt “Port” DeFrates, created Port’s Brand Chili, and began marketing a jarred version in 1933. Walt’s brother Ray changed the name of the product to Ray’s Chili in 1936, and that chili enjoyed a half-century run til 1985 when it was sold to Kelly Food Products of Decatur.
But young Joe DeFrates was ambitious, and wanted to be a player in the chili game himself. In 1953, after years spent learning the trade while working for his uncle, Joe launched Chilli Man Chili and ran the concern til 1971 when he took a buyout from the Milnot Company. Joe DeFrates was far from finished in the world of chili however.
In 1973, in his fifth year of competing, DeFrates won the gold at the Terlingua World’s Chili Championship
Two years later, Joe DeFrates traveled to the World Championship Chili Cook‐Off at the Tropico Goldmine near Rosamond, California, about 90 miles north of Los Angeles .
DeFrates won the championship, and to this day is one of only two men to have ever won both events (along with C.V. Wood Jr.)
Mr. DeFrates started the Illinois State Championship Chilli Cookoff in Springfield in 1975 and ran the shootout til 1987
Here’s his championship winning recipe:
Chilli Man Chilli
1 pound ground beef
1 envelope Chilli Man Chilli Mix* (available online)
8 ounce can Hunts tomato sauce
1 dash Tabasco sauce
Brown ground beef in heavy skillet. Stir in contents of chili mix and add tomato sauce. Simmer for 1 hour and add Tabasco.
Did DeFrates business kingdom, and chili championship success hinge on Texas? Perhaps, the old chili man once admitted in an interview: “My winning recipe is basically my Dad`s. In 1914, he left to help open the new Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, and returned here with a recipe for chili he later gave away to good customers at his restaurant.”
Texas is the reason.
Did the old chili man ever divulge his secrets? No, but he did offer this insight “The main thing is the sauce. You must wet those spices, and they’re up there in the numbers.” DeFrates told an Illinois newspaper in 1986
“If there was more beer in the chili and less in the cooks, you’d have some world championship chili” Joe once told a competitor.
“Good chilli has got to have good sauce. You can even pour it over cardboard and the cardboard will taste good.” is another great DeFrates quote.
For more information on Illinois chilli seek out Les Eastep’s ‘Springfield Illinois: A Chilli History’
A proclamation proclaiming Springfield “the Chilli Capital of the Civilized World” was passed by the Illinois legislature in 1993
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