Leslie Gulak: best home-made chili at PAHS?


Row of all the chili at the PAHS chili cookoff. Photo by Mr. Thurman.

Dylan Stanford, Staff Writer

Who knew chili was such a hot competition among the PAHS staff? For the past several years, many staff members have brought in their special chili recipes for tasting and judging. This year on the Virtual Learning day, Special Education Teacher Leslie Gulak won first place with her special home-made crock-pot chili, while two-time winner assistant principal Ryan O’Meara came in second.

On the day of the chili cook-off, 10 staff members brought in their chili for tasting. Each crock pot was lined up and assigned a number so that each staff member could vote anonymously for the best chili. According to Gulak, all the chilis were really well prepared and nothing seemed missing. However, two elements that she believes made her chili extra special are that she “switched out the peppers to sweeter ones and tossed everything in bacon fat before it went into the crock-pot.”

For Gulak, the total preparation time for her chili was about 10 to 12 hours on low heat in a crock-pot; she was preparing for it long before the day of the chili cook-off. However, she likes to make such big batches because it allows her and her family to “eat throughout a whole week, take to a chili cook-off, or freeze in batches.”

In case anyone would like to try the first-place chili, Gulak was generous enough to share her chili recipe with The Page! 


5 slices hardwood smoked bacon

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1 green bell pepper, finely chopped

1/2 cup (~2 stalks) celery, finely chopped

1 cup (~1 small) yellow onion finely chopped

1-2 small jalapeno peppers, optional* seeds removed and finely diced

2 cans (15 ounces EACH) chili (pinto) beans in medium sauce

1 can (15 ounces) chili (pinto or kidney) beans in mild sauce

2 cans (28 ounces EACH) petite diced tomatoes, undrained

1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste

2 pounds (32 ounces) ground beef chuck

1 pound (16 ounces) Italian sausage


4 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon dried oregano

2 teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon seasoned salt & 3/4 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 tablespoon minced garlic

3 regular sized beef bouillon cubes

Optional: fresh cilantro, sour cream, freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese


In a skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove on to a paper towel lined plate and dab off the excess grease. Set aside.

Reserve the bacon grease in the skillet. Remove the stem and seeds from the red pepper. Finely chop. Remove the stem and seeds from the green pepper and finely chop.

Finely chop the celery. Remove the peel of the onion and finely chop. Chop the jalapeno pepper and remove the seeds if desired — leave them in for extra heat.*

Add the red pepper, green pepper, celery, onion, and jalapeno pepper to the skillet with the reserved bacon grease. Saute the veggies over medium heat until tender. Transfer to the crock-pot.

Add in the three cans of chili beans (undrained and do not rinse), petite diced tomatoes, and tomato paste to the crock-pot.

In the same skillet used to cook the bacon and veggies, cook the ground beef chuck and Italian sausage until no longer pink over medium high heat. Drain off all the fat and add into the slow cooker.

Add all the seasonings to the crock-pot. Crumble up the bacon (or chop) into very small pieces and stir that in the crock-pot. OR reserve the bacon in the fridge and add at the end. Stir everything together.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Taste and adjust seasonings (salt, pepper, chili powder, etc.) Enjoy with fresh cilantro, sour cream and cheddar cheese.

Recipe Notes

I use a 6-quart crock-pot and this chili fills it to the top! *The jalapeno pepper(s) adds a lot of heat. Omit or reduce as desired.