Monday, October 05, 2009

No More Chili For the Soul

One of our favorite spots in the culinary wasteland that is the Valley (sorry, but you know it's true) has been Chili My Soul in Encino.

I dream about Chili My Soul's low-fat chili -- especially the HABANERO/MANGO CHICKEN -- "The world's hottest pepper takes center stage with its hot, fruity notes accenting the sweet succulence of ripe mango in a Caribbean inspired masterpiece."

Check out all of their full list of flavors here.

So there you go. Amazing chili flavors, and low-fat to boot (thanks to their "exclusive 4-stage de-fattening process").

Driving home on Friday from a day in Santa Barbara, we decided to exit the 101 -- well, the screaming infant was also a factor -- in order to pick up some chili to go.

It was quite a shock, then, to pull into the parking lot and see Chili My Soul completely empty. Gutted. It wasn't just closed for the day, it was closed forever.

Adding to the shock: Chili My Soul had just made an appearance in a recent episode of Food Network's Chef vs. City. The show's Los Angeles episode featured regulars Aaron Sanchez and Chris Cosentino battling competing team (and L.A. foodies) Amy Powell and Nino Linsmayer as they raced through culinary L.A. -- including a stop to chow down on Chili My Soul's ultra spicy "Inferno" flavor.

The reason for Chili My Soul's shutdown is incredibly sad: Owner Randy Hoffman passed away in June. The blog Museum of the San Fernando Valley has the details:

Chili My Soul is now closed and its future is in doubt. Randy loved to play the drums, and he prided himself in the creation of the most wonderful chili - in fact his restaurant featured over 35 of his chili recipes.

On any given day about fifteen of them, rated in heat from one to ten, were available to his customers. Randy was a perfectionist, using only the finest ingredients in a process that took 30 hours or more of simmering during which he skimmed off the fat four times.

His chili was not only delicious, it was healthy. He loved to greet his fans and urged them to taste a sample before ordering. He started as a chef decades ago by supplying other restaurants with his specialty. In the 1980's he opened his own take-out chili restaurant, Chili My Soul, at a strip mall located at 4928 Balboa Blvd., Encino. Eventually, he took over the store next door and added an area to sit and dine.

Check out a tribute from the blog Marc's Muse here.

Such a shame; besides the Food Network appearance, Bon Appetit magazine in March named Chili My Soul one of the nation's ten best chili restaurants.

Sadly, I can't find much online about Hoffman's death or the fate of the shop. The website says the store is closed indefinitely, but doesn't offer up much more info. At least we'll always have memories of that spicy and oh-so-amazing chili from a place good enough for the soul.

WATCH Food Network's recent trip to Chili My Soul -- taped, I assume, not too long before Hoffman's death -- including an appearance by Hoffman himself, here. The Chili My Soul site says, "Randy was so excited knowing this show was coming."

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