Blackened Voodoo Chili

The award-winning chili that took Findlay Market by storm has taken on a life of its own, and is making its way into the hands – and mouths – of Cincinnatians, one event/venue at a time.  The chili will be served this week at Tom+Chee on Court St., and at an event benefiting the Cincy Blues Society’s Blues in the Schools program.

On the cold Sunday afternoon of January 23, several hundred people braved the icy chill to make their way to Findlay Market’s 2011 Gold Star Chili Cook-off and warm up with the chili of 26 contestants.  The chili was ultimately judged by a crack team of ‘chiliologists’ from Over-the-Rhine’s own Engine Company No. 5, of the Cincinnati Fire Department.

The winning recipe was “Blackened Voodoo Chili,” concocted by James Czar and Mary Beth Weaver, of Mt. Washington and Kettering respectively.  They were inspired by food enjoyed on their recent trip to New Orleans, and since Czar’s band Voodoo Puppet was playing the Chili Cook-off, they decided to develop a recipe in honor of the band, and their saucy bayou blues sound.

The winning entry got some special feedback long before the winners were announced:  Mike Rohrkemper, CEO of Gold Star Chili Inc. that sponsored the contest, sampled what would become the winning recipe.  In the small sample cup, served as prescribed (by the recipe) over Creole dirty rice, the chili was topped with a pinch of bleu cheese crumbles, and a generous sprinkling of green onions.  "Awesome," were Rohrkemper’s exact words.  "It’s very well blended, and I like the bleu cheese – it really complements it," he said.  The winners had no idea he was the CEO until after they won and Rohrkemper presented them with the grand prize and title, “Chili Meisters.”

2011 Chili Meisters

Voodoo Puppet, the Cincinnati-based blues, rock, and soul band, plays upbeat, danceable blues, roadhouse hits, blues-inspired classic rock, Motown, soul, and Cajun favorites.  Their road-tested song list is packed with popular, upbeat tunes designed to get a wide variety of crowds up and dancing and keep them entertained all night.  And their New Orleans/Cajun flavor transports one to a back porch on the bayou or seedy juke joint in the Big Easy, for a truly unique experience.

For more info on Voodoo Puppet, our music, our shows, our song list, etc.,
feel free to explore the rest of the site from the menu at the top.


Before they even got home from the Cook-off, Czar and Weaver were inundated with requests from friends, relatives, and associates on their phones, in text messages, emails, on Twitter, and on Facebook.  “People really want to try this chili,” a surprised Czar commented.  “This has taken on a life of its own.  This chili is going places!”

At first the idea was to start small, and have a Sunday dinner with some friends and family.  “But numbers climbed quickly, and we knew it wasn’t something we could do at home,” stated Weaver.  “We needed a bigger venue – and some help.”


Since both Czar and Weaver are Members of the Board of Trustees of the Cincy Blues Society, they immediately thought about how they could use the chili to benefit the Blues in the Schools (BITS) program, the centerpiece of the Society’s efforts.

And within hours they had already secured the help of several sponsors, and a few bands to play the event.  Healthy food catering and home delivery service Heath Savor agreed to cook all the chili for the event, “using our recipe – which they fell in love with,” noted Weaver.  “We like the fact that this chili emphasizes fresh ingredients, low-fat meats, and low sodium cooking,” explained Health Savor’s Chef Brandon Paul.  “We’ll also have our own popular vegan chili there for a no-meat alternative.”

The event will take place in late March or early April, on a Sunday afternoon.  Three to four blues bands will play, there will be a modest cover charge at the door, and guests will pay by the bowl for the chili – with all proceeds going to BITS.

“We haven’t decided on a venue yet, but we want to make sure that it’s provided at no cost to us.  And we’re looking into sponsors to donate the ingredients for the chili,” explained Meister Czar.  “If we can bring this event’s costs as close to zero as possible, we can raise a great deal of money for the Blues in the Schools program.  Then the kids will be the real winners here.”

Additional information on developments on the event will be available on this page and the Cincy Blues Society’s website.


Hot on the heels of their win, and several media appearances – including Fox 19’s Morning News, and articles in the Enquirer and CityBeat – Weaver and Czar have had several requests from commercial establishments to make their own versions of the recipe and serve it as a special menu item.

The first such location will be TOM+CHEE – named after the ultimate comfort food: tomato soup and grilled cheese – at 133 East Court Street, in Downtown Cincinnati.  The chili will be served as the daily special on Tuesday and Wednesday, February 1st and 2nd.

“I’ve known James for many years, but I had no idea he was such a foodie,” quips Tom+Chee co-owner Corey Ward.  Ward’s wife, Jenny Rachford – one of the co-owners of the lunchtime hotspot – continues, “I’m excited about collecting all these great ingredients!”

Tuesday, February 1, and Wednesday, February 2, 2011

133 East Court Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202


The chili is rooted in Creole cooking, particularly gumbos.  Czar explains, “The concept was, ‘what might chili be like during Louisiana’s Spanish and post-Spanish colonial period?’ – thus the chorizo.”

The base is a Creole gumbo starting with the ‘holy trinity’ (celery, onions, and peppers) and adding tomatoes, as well as okra for a thickener.  Anaheim peppers are substituted for traditional bell peppers.  “We both hate bell peppers.  They saturate whatever they’re in,” notes Weaver.  “Anaheims are a great balance between the bells and chiles.”

Blackening spices are used for the overall central taste – thus the name.  Although blackening wasn’t invented until the late 20th century, Chef Paul Prudhomme used traditional Cajun spices when developing the process, and thus they would be authentic to old Louisiana recipes.

No chile powder is used – only fresh/frozen green chiles, and crushed dried chiles... both of which take much longer to release their full flavor, but are well worth the wait.  Self-proclaimed ‘Craft Beer Geek’ Czar imparts the final “secret weapon – an amazing porter that will balance out the rich heat with a smoky sweetness – a perfect complement to the dried chipotles that help with the smoky sweet taste as well.”

“Of course Findlay Market was where we sourced most of our ingredients,” explains Czar.  “You can get hard-to-find cuts of meat from various butchers there, as well as excellent produce, exotic herbs and spices, and great cheeses.  It’s a cook’s, food-lover’s, or localvore’s dream!”

This chili is not a very ‘hot’ chili, but it is spicy and rich in flavor.  “Any spice heat you do feel will be at the end of a spoonful, in the back of your mouth, not at the beginning,” explains Weaver.  “It's not too hot for those who don't like very spicy foods – like me – but it will warm you up and possibly make you sweat after a bowl of it.”  Czar continues, “It’s the perfect warmer in the winter, and a delightful reminder of the Louisiana heat any time of the year.”


The Cincy Blues Society created a "Blues in the Schools" (BITS) program soon after the Society was founded in 1990, as keeping the blues alive for another generation is an integral part of the group’s mission.  The BITS educational program has two areas of focus: presentations by professional musicians and performances by young people who are learning to play the blues.  The program brings accomplished area blues musicians into local schools to educate students about the history and significance of the blues, and keeps another generation listening to, learning about, and performing this uniquely American music.

3   Blackened Voodoo Chili   3
click here for recipe

The Chili Meisters on the Fox 19

Morning News, Jan 31, 2011

Winning Chili served to
Fox 19‘s Rob Williams in our

Cincinnati Chicken Soup Cook-off Mug

Voodoo Puppet’s own Brother James and band PR chica Mary Bob

create a special recipe in honor of the Puppet.