Anyone familiar with Walt Disney has probably heard that one of his favorite foods was chili. Simply put, Walt was a Midwestern boy and had a Midwestern appetite; he stuck to familiar “meat and potatoes” dishes. So, of course, Walt liked his chili. As his wife Lillian recalled, “He liked basic foods. He loved chili.” Walt would eat this favorite food at high-end restaurants like the iconic Chasen’s in Beverly Hills, but was equally happy eating it at home. His quick, no-fuss, at-home preference? A mixture of Gebhardt’s and Dennison’s canned chili.
In addition to the canned variety, Walt enjoyed fresh chili at home and at the Disney studio Commissary. The two chili and beans recipes seen here both come from a file in the Walt Disney Archives marked, “Walt’s Favorite Foods.” Although the exact dates are unknown, one recipe is marked revised on March 25, 1958. Based on the ingredients in the other, namely the chopped suet, we can determine that is the earlier recipe. Suet is a raw, hard fat that’s part of beef or mutton and later was often replaced by ground beef, as seen in the revised recipe. The other clue that hints at the first recipe being earlier? It called for more spices. Walt famously preferred milder foods and the second recipe reflected those preferences. The main part of the recipe calls for less spice, but at the bottom there’s an option for making it spicier. It is likely that this revised recipe not only accounted for the then-newer and more popular usage of ground beef, but Walt’s personal tastes.
By Nicole Carroll, Walt Disney Archives