You may have never heard of Zephyr Wright, the family maid-turned-White House chef to President Lyndon Baines Johnson, but the revolutionary cook is famous for much more than her skills in the kitchen.
Ms. Wright made her way to Washington when LBJ took office to feed the man addicted to her famous chili, a favorite dish he regularly enjoyed and served at family and Presidential events.
But, in an interview with NPR, the Marshall, Texas, native said her trips across country from Texas to the Capitol with her family were never easy:
When Sammy and I drive to Texas and I have to go to the bathroom, like Lady Bird or the girls, I am not allowed to go to the bathroom. I have to find a bush and squat. When it comes time to eat, we can’t go into restaurants. We have to eat out of a brown bag. And at night, Sammy sleeps in the front of the car with the steering wheel around his neck, while I sleep in the back. We are not going to do it again.
It wasn’t too long thereafter LBJ was able to master Congress’ passage of the Civil Rights Act, which he said Wright deserved “more than anybody else” after signing the bill into law.
Even after LBJ initiated a wave of change across the nation with the legislation, and Wright cut out some of the unhealthier ingredients from her dishes following the former President’s heart attack, her indulgent treats were in no short order:
Recently, the Scrumptious Chef discovered Wright’s chili con queso recipe, known to be another favorite of the former president, not to mention a Texas culinary staple:
Chili con Queso
1 No. 2 can tomatoes
1 large onion chopped fine
1 bud garlic chopped fine
1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp, powdered comino seed
1 tsp. oregano
1 lb. aged cheddar cheese
Simmer all this except cheese slowly for about 2 hours, covered, stirring often. Uncover, turn heat up high and stir constantly until all fluid is gone and you have a thick paste. This paste can be frozen. If so, set out to thaw a couple of hours ahead allowing for about 30 minutes in a double boiler before serving time. Add to it, in double boiler, 1 pound best aged cheddar cheese cut up in chunks.
Cover and let stand over water that is simmering, not boiling, as boiling water tends to make cheese stringy. Stir occasionally to mix well. Taste and add salt if needed.
Serve in a chafing dish with large size fritos if desired, but tortillas quartered and fried in deep fat are better.
Hardly a healthy snack, but anything deep fried in fat is better.
They say the best way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, and Ms. Wright may know that better than anyone.
Thank you for severing up some influence, Zephyr!