Dateline NBC’s Dinner Party — “Killer” Chili

Liz Lydic
The Haven
Published in
4 min readMar 18, 2023

Narrated by Keith Morrison

Photo by Ting Tian on Unsplash

To understand Josh Mankiewicz ‘s kitchen, you’d have to picture a big, elegant setup: one of those Hamptons-meets-Boho outfits. An island in the center. Citrus in a clear, inviting bowl. Large, capable steel refrigerator; matching dishwasher. And in the middle of it all, a dutch oven simmering with something homey, rich.

Josh and I were situated in his home on one of those end-of-summer, about-to-be-fall kind of days.

“And this,” I was asking Josh, “Fiestaware? What’s it like owning something so colorful? Have you always had this…aesthetic?”

Josh — a strong-looking guy, with an ‘aw-shucks’ sideways smile, and my colleague of many years — looked at me across the table, a beer in his right hand. “You know, Keith, I loved Fiestaware right away when we first bought it. Michelle did, too.”

Ah, Michelle. Josh’s lean, sassy, do-it-all wife. Never had I heard Mankiewicz speak so intimately about her. “Michelle has a taste for things like this?”

“Oh yes, she has a great taste for things like this.”

“Tell me more about Michelle, and these…kitchen hobbies.”

Josh’s face tilted up. “Oh, man. She is…organized and creative. She cooks.”

“What’s the signature Michelle Mankiewicz dish? Coq au Vin? Boeuf Bourguignon? Osso Buco?”

The smile again. “No, actually,” Josh said. “Her specialty is chili.”

Up next: a disturbing discovery as Josh and I reveal a sinister story right here, inside the Mankiewicz home.

****

“Keith, this chili is…incredible. There’s something in it…I asked Michelle once, but she wouldn’t tell me the secret ingredient.”

A devoted husband. Not interested in ripping apart his wife’s beloved recipe. But someone had to know what was in that chili. Or someone…could!

I sat up straighter. “What do you think, Josh, if I give the chili a try, see if I can, I dunno…sense something?”

Josh Mankiewicz didn’t have to say a word.

He and I made our way over to that dutch oven, helped ourselves to lapis-colored, small bistro bowls, and there we were.

***

Funny thing, this chili…

You see, if there’s one thing I knew, it was Dennison’s. And this chili — the one I’d been told was Michelle’s secret creation? None other than Dennison’s original chile con carne with beans.

“Josh,” I said. “This chili has defatted soy flour.”

Josh Mankiewicz — the man with the perfect home, and the beautiful, domestic wife — took a breath. “Keith…” he said. “We don’t have defatted soy flour in this home.”

With the evening closing in on us in the Mankiewicz kitchen, I looked at my friend and sighed. “Josh…” I began, disappointment evident in my gravely voice. “What happened? Where did this betrayal from Michelle come from?”

Josh began to weep.

There was one person who could help get to the bottom of this. But she was nowhere to be found.

“I’m heading off to the restroom,” said Josh. “But when I come back: a stunning revelation…in my own home.”

***

Things were not looking so good for Josh Mankiewicz.

“Keith, I can’t get a hold of Michelle. Her phone is going to voicemail, and she’s not answering texts.”

Just around this time, the garage door opened. I could hear it, sitting in Josh’s looming kitchen: the automated, mechanical sound. A kind of…squeaking.

And then, the familiar unlocking of a door. And who do you think was there on the other side, but Michelle herself.

She stopped when she saw me. “Oh god, Keith, a mystery again?”

“Michelle Mankiewicz…” I started. “I know about the chili. It’s Dennison’s, but you’re saying it’s your own.”

“What do you mean, ‘saying it’s my own’? It is my own.”

I strode over to the six-burner oven I remember Josh had so fondly purchased with his NBC bonus three years ago, and reached for the pot lid, but Michelle blocked me, and fast!

“No, don’t touch that! Leave the dutch oven-”

And then?

Chili. All over the floor.

Stunned, Michelle’s eyes furrowed. “Fine. You win! You’re right. It’s Dennison’s. There you go. I’m a terrible housekeeper. Better make a story about it, huh!” Michelle, in a rage, mopped chili from the floor with one single-ply paper towel square.

Josh and I finished our beers, and smiled at one another. “Well, Mankewicz. I don’t know if I can necessarily forgive, but I do feel a sense of closure.”

“I agree, Keith. Nothing will bring back my belief in my wife’s homemaking skills, but I do feel like there’s some justice. At least that. Justice.”

“Would you say, Josh, that this case of the chili went cold?”

“Yeah, Keith, I’d say the case of this chili went…cold.”

***

Join us next week…When we meet up at Lester Holt’s townhouse for another Dateline NBC Dinner Party. Until then, goodnight.

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Liz Lydic
The Haven

Liz Lydic is a mom, writer, and local government employee in the Los Angeles area. She also does theatre stuff.