White chili, because we have a book to sell

White chiliWhite chili has run wild on the Internet. But back in the 1980s, before everyone was connected, few people had heard of the idea. That was how Tim Barnes, a restaurateur featured in our just-released book, Lost Restaurants of Louisville, was able to convince many people that he had invented it. The recipe, using white beans instead of traditional red kidney beans and chicken instead of beef, was sometimes credited to Barnes and sometimes to his chef James Aydlett. The dish became so popular the recipe was published in both Louisville’s local newspaper and in the national magazine, Bon Appétit—and, as we mentioned, has now become almost ubiquitous. (We also mentioned that we wrote a book—and it’s just been released.)

Barnes’ restaurant, Timothy’s, as well as several others he owned before his untimely death in the 1990s, made him a Louisville legend. White chili, however, was revealed not to be Barnes’ creation, but actually an idea he got from a recipe published in a Kansas City Junior League cookbook—though the bookstore owner who revealed the secret did say Barnes’ version “had more zest.” Michelle decided she could also improve on what (for all we know) may be Kansas City’s non-BBQ signature dish. She replaced shredded chicken breast with chicken sausage, substituted smoked cheese for Monterey Jack, and decided roasted tomatoes and some fresh hot chilies would taste better than jarred salsa and canned “mild” chilies. (She also partnered in writing our book, which has a Facebook page, of course, that you should go like.)

Our white chili alterations turned out to be quite good, especially with a side of salty-sweet cornbread. But we must say, in an only slightly shamefacedly bit of huckstering, that our book is better. Even those who have never been in Louisville, or much less eaten there, might still find our stories of ice cream moguls, bootleggers and cheeseburger “inventors” entertaining. (No pressure to buy, but if you’d like to, it’s available here.) We can’t say we’ve written the definitive book on the restaurants of Louisville, Kentucky—but we can say this white chili is a step above most of the recipes that Tim Barnes’ “invention” inspired.


(inspired by Timothy’s recipe published in the Courier-Journal)

  • 1 lb. dried white beans, rinsed and picked over
  • 6 c. chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 1 TB olive oil (plus more for frying sausage)
  • 1/4 – 1/3 c. seeded and finely chopped fresh chili peppers (we used jalapeno and cayenne)
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 large chicken sausages (we used a chicken-cilantro sausage from Whole Foods)
  • Salt and pepper

For garnish:

  • Grated smoked cheddar cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Sun- or oven-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and julienned
  • Cilantro sprigs

Place beans, chicken stock, half of the garlic and half of the onion in a large soup pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and simmer. Check occasionally and add more stock if necessary.

While beans are cooking, sauté remaining onion and chilies in olive oil in a skillet. Season with salt. When onions are tender and slightly colored, add remaining garlic, then cumin, oregano and cayenne. Mix thoroughly then remove from heat.

Cook the beans until they are almost tender (about 1-1/2 hours). Then add the cooked onion mixture and continue to simmer for about half an hour more, until beans are done.

Remove sausage from casings and fry in a little olive oil in a skillet, breaking it up with a spatula. Add to beans. Season the soup with additional salt and some black pepper.

Garnish with cheese, sour cream, tomatoes and cilantro.


  1. Wonderful! Congratulations on the book, that is such an exciting adventure! The chili looks and sounds exquisite, I would love to try it out during the cold winter months (oh wait, it still feels like summer here…). Chicken sausages don’t exist in this part of the world, is there anything I might use instead? Or just grind my own chicken and throw in some spices and herbs?

    • Merci, Darya! I’ve never understood why Americans love chicken sausage so much (I suppose they think it’s healthy). The texture is so off lots of the time. But, yeah, I’d just spice up some ground chicken or turkey. Of course you could use a veal sausage of some kind color-wise, but it would probably be hard to find one with the right spices in your neck of the woods.

    • It really was quite tasty. And now that I’ve bought up every dried bean in sight at the farmers’ market (last year they were so good I went back for more, and they were gone), I expect you’ll be seeing all sorts of legumes here!

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