We've all heard it, particularly from our friends in Texas: There is no place for beans in chili. Chili con carne means chile with meat.
I was living in Milano and an American friend had given me a copy of the chili bible, A Bowl of Red by Frank Tolbert along with some chili powder. Even though I had never made chili in my life, the book made me homesick and inspired me to make my first pot. It was heaven and as much as I loved Northern Italian food, this was an essential part of me I didn't even know I had.
Tolbert is of the no beans school and after making his chili, I was too. Then I started a bean company!
I'll be honest, I'm not in love with thick, stodgy chili where you can stand a fork upright, although as a young fellow, this canned goo made a great nachos topping. Lately however I have been experimenting with beans in chili and I think it's not quite the sin purists claim. In a pot, a cup or two adds interest and really, the bean broth mixed in with the chile sauce is magic. But they star must always be the chiles, not the meat, the beans or anything else. I don't even like to put tomatoes in it. I love pure chile flavor and the tomatoes take it somewhere else.
Chili purists claim you must not mess with tradition but they seem to look the other way when heaping melted Velveeta over an enchilada. It's not to my liking but if it's your thing, go for it. Just don't pretend that food isn't an evolving, creative thing. I used to care, and care deeply, about these kinds of things. Now I think we should all relax a little and learn as much as we can from each other. Except when it comes to martinis. Everyone knows they should be gin and stirred and any variation should be strictly forbidden and punished by firing squad. There are limits to what we can change, you know.