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Sunday, August 21, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

CPA's passion was for chili

Seattle Times Staff reporter

Most people knew Philip Walter as a CPA, or as the animated accounting instructor at Bellevue Community College, or simply as a big man with a kid's heart.

But to those who compete in chili cook-offs or merely love good chili, Mr. Walter was "Tarantula Jack," the 1989 Chili World Champion and owner of Seattle's two Tarantula Jack's Championship Chili Parlor restaurants, where the specialty of the house was served up "mild, medium or damn hot."

Mr. Walter, 54, died Aug. 12 from a heart attack after a long battle with diabetes. He had lived in Tucson, Ariz., for the past six years.

Mr. Walter had his hands in many activities, said his girlfriend, Mary Truehill.

His collection of model airplanes, boxes of "Babylon 5" trading cards and the "Star Trek" costume he wore to "Trekkie" gatherings underscored the child within Mr. Walter. But there were some things about which he was serious: his CPA business and chili.

When he was well enough, Mr. Walter traveled to about a dozen chili cook-offs each year, said his brother, Rick Walter of Bellevue.

"The whole chili nation is in mourning right now," he said.

Tarantula Jack's World Championship Chili

Serves about six

Ingredients:

3 pounds cubed top round (cut into about 1/2-inch cubes)

2 medium-sized onions,

grated

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 (10-ounce) cans of chicken broth

1 (8-ounce) can of tomato sauce

7 tablespoons of chili powder

2 tablespoons of ground

cumin

1 cup water (only if

necessary)

1. Sauté the beef in a large skillet. Put into a large pot and simmer, covered, with the onions, garlic and broth for 1 ½ hours.

2. Add the tomato sauce, chili powder and cumin. Stir; simmer for another hour. Add water if needed. Stir occasionally.

Note: The original recipe called for using Gebhardts chili powder, but any good-quality spicy chili powder can be used. Add a little cayenne pepper or jalapeño chili if more heat is desired.

Joe Canavan, owner of World Class Chili in Pike Place Market, met Mr. Walter early in both their chili careers. He said Tarantula Jack was generous in giving other cooks help with their recipes. At the championship level, half a teaspoon of an ingredient in a gallon of chili can be the difference between a win and a loss, Canavan said.

"It's just a fine level of detail," Canavan said. "Phil was good at that. ... He would taste it and say, 'You've got some old spice in there; you might want to get rid of that.' "

Mr. Walter's ability to discern when there was too much of a certain ingredient in a batch of chili is what set him apart from other cooks, said Doug Wilkey of Shoreline, a friend who traveled with Mr. Walter to many cook-offs.

Mr. Walter used his talent to win eight state and regional championships, which qualified him for the World Championship Chili Cook-off each time, Wilkey said.

In 1989 he won the world championship and a $25,000 prize, and he used some of his winnings to start his two restaurants, Rick Walter said.

Mr. Walter's chili parlors in the University District and downtown Seattle attracted the favor of former Seattle Times food critic John Hinterberger, who called the fare "American food at its best" in a 1993 review. The restaurants closed after about a half-dozen years, friends recalled.

When asked what his great chili secret was, Mr. Walter would tell people he made chili with "firm young tarantulas," said Cathy Wilkey, another world chili champion.

When Mr. Walter wasn't cooking chili, doing taxes or collecting toys, he taught accounting at Bellevue Community College.

Tom Pritchard, social-science division chair at the college, remembers taking an introductory class from Mr. Walter.

Mr. Walter would bounce around the room to get students excited about numbers, Pritchard recalled.

"The room was always buzzing," he said. "He had a big personality, so I can't imagine him standing in one place and talking."

Mr. Walter moved from Seattle to Tucson in 1999 with his wife, Devon Sloan. The couple divorced a short time later.

In 2003 his condition worsened and his kidneys failed. He received a transplant from his brother.

"It was a life on dialysis without it," Rick Walter said. "He's a brother; what are you going to do about it?"

Mr. Walter was buried earlier this week in a family grave at the Baron Hirsch Cemetery in Memphis, Tenn. Bellevue Community College's business division may hold a memorial in the fall. For more information, call 425-564-2311.

Brian Alexander: 206-464-2349

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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