The Office’s Brian Baumgartner Talks Chili And That Famous Chili-Spilling Scene – Exclusive Interview
Considered to be one of the greatest sitcoms of all time, The Office changed the landscape of TV forever with its single-camera setup and mockumentary-style approach to the daily absurdity unfolding at the fictional Dunder Mifflin paper company. Steve Carell was at the helm of the ensemble cast, playing awkwardly charming regional manager Michael Scott, but the secondary characters were just as important to the rhythm of the show.
One of those characters was the lovably bumbling accountant Kevin Malone, played by Brian Baumgartner for the series’ entire nine-season run. Kevin may be most famously known for spilling a giant pot of chili on the office floor and futilely trying to clean it up.
That 2009 scene has followed Baumgartner throughout his career, even paving the way for him to pair up with Bush’s Beans to unveil his very own, real-life chili recipe and one-of-a-kind No Spilly Chili Pot.
In an exclusive interview with Mashed, Baumgartner dished on his recipe and personal feelings on chili, and revealed what it was really like working on The Office for all those years.
From beans to toppings, Brian Baumgartner shares his thoughts on how he likes his chili
You’ve once again partnered with Bush’s Beans for National Chili Day, and you’ve been perfecting your own chili recipe for years. What are some tips you have for making the best chili, and why should people try your recipe?
Well, first and foremost, I think it’s about love, right? It’s about making it and serving it with love. It’s a crazy thing that I’ve gotten into this chili game [after] one episode of The Office that, when I was shooting it, I had no idea would translate now, a decade or so later, into this. But I love it. I love making it. I love the way that it makes the house smell. I love my partnership with Bush’s. They came to me to create some fun around chili, which I’m always game for. And, yeah, I enjoy their beans. I use their beans. I cook chili fairly often, kind of all different times of the year for different occasions and different reasons. It’s something that I enjoy doing, and I feel like our partnership is the perfect symmetry between a brand that I love and something that I’m known for.
And now, what would you say to people who believe chili shouldn’t include beans?
Well, I think they’re wrong. I actually enjoy a couple of different varieties of beans in mine, both the kidney and the pinto, Now, I think the mistake that a lot of people make is putting [the beans] in too soon. I take a slow-cook approach to the chili that I make, in general, but the beans, you need to put in later. And I think it just adds a whole other layer and complexity to it, and I always make it with beans.
As a vegan, I only eat bean chili. But I’m not a big heat/spice person. I like flavor, but not spice.
I’m not either. [My recipe] is not terribly spicy, but I do like to have a little bit of the spice. My recipe is up right now through Bush’s website, and hopefully we’ve perfected that recipe. It’s fun. My biggest issue, at least publicly, with making chili is, well, actually getting to eat it. So that’s in my partnership with Bush’s this year. It’s a lot about making sure that I can finally enjoy the chili that I enjoy making so much.
Tell us more about your special chili pot and why chili connoisseurs need it.
Well, here’s the thing: It doesn’t do you any good to make excellent chili if you don’t actually get to eat it. I mean, it makes the house smell nice. That’s good. But it’s important when making chili to actually be able to consume it. So, yes, me and a crack team of scientists and engineers have constructed a pot that is impossible to spill.
Chili toppings can get a bit controversial, kind of like Hawaiian pizza. What do you top yours with? Cornbread? Crackers? Nothing?
Well, I don’t really top. I mean, I like some cheese, a little shredded cheese. That’s good. I don’t really top it with any additional carbohydrate or bread topping. There is occasionally — I’ll keep it non-brand-specific — a cracker that I will use in lieu of a spoon to eat the chili. Yes. But I don’t crumble it on. I think that’s … no, then you’re asking for trouble. You are asking for trouble.
Brian Baumgartner dishes on that famous chili-spilling scene on The Office
Going back to the famous chili-spilling scene on The Office, what was it like filming that? Did everything go according to plan? Did anything happen behind the scenes that fans didn’t get to see?
Actually, it’s a bizarre question, but, yes, actually, it went exactly according to plan. I was supposed to spill it. So I guess in that regard, it went according to plan. I have discussed this a lot. It is something that I’m tremendously proud of. When we were about to film that scene, the set decorators, the prop people, they came to me. We had done a special little construction on that pot and [discussed] how we were going to use it. It was a lot of discussion, but they came to me kind of panicked before we shot it. Because, obviously, it created a mess.
So there was a huge cut-out carpet that would fit like a jigsaw puzzle into the front part of the office. And they came to me and said, "We have three pieces of carpet. That is it. So we cannot do it any more than three." They were very concerned about this. And I said, "No problem. We’re going to get it in one. We’re going to get it in one." And we did. And as I have joked about many times — though it’s true — they could have replaced the carpet. They could have cleaned the carpet, and they could have put more chili into the pot. But I don’t think that I could have been sufficiently cleaned in order to do it three … even two times. But certainly not three times. It was a lot of work, and let’s just say that the smell of chili lingered around me for, well, for quite a while.
You’ve mentioned you had never made chili before that scene … or were you a chili guy before that?
It was not something that I really did, no. Have I said that, that I’d never made it? I don’t know that I had never made it. But then, I think, I started making it a little bit, kind of as a joke, like, "Okay, I’m going to make it," and then really kind of got into it and enjoyed it and started making various … I mean, there are so many types of chili. You’ve got Cincinnati chili, which has got noodles in it. And then you’ve got the Texas chili with brisket. The bean chili and white bean chili. So it’s something I enjoy. Especially during these winter months, it feels like something that is comforting and feels good, and it makes me feel good.
Brian Baumgartner reveals what it was really like working with Steve Carell on The Office
Last year you did the podcast The Oral History of The Office, and now you have The Office Deep Dive. What made you want to do those? And what has the response been from your former co-stars?
Well, so, first and foremost, I could not have done it without them. I sat down … and this goes pre-pandemic … and wanted to put together a true oral history of the show. A lot of people who discovered the show on Netflix don’t know that we were almost canceled multiple times. I mean, we were kind of dead on arrival, and we had some champions at NBC who fought to keep us on, and I just really wanted to tell the story and to give people who had found the show later sort of a greater context with how the story played out.
What I found was people were so generous with their time and with their stories and their recollections, and we were putting together essentially an eight-hour history so we were going to cut up everybody’s interviews. And then what happened was I was sitting down with people for two, three, four hours, and we accumulated over a hundred hours of recorded interviews. And really, from the very first one I did, which was Rainn Wilson, I went, "Oh, people have got to hear all of this. How can I choose just a few minutes of this?"
So now what I’m doing is going back and releasing those [full] interviews, and I think if you went to the oral history for a concise story of what happened on the show, then what you’re coming to [Deep Dive] for is to really get to know the people [behind the series] in a deep, meaningful way, and hear their stories and experiences on the show and how different all of their personalities are and how connected we really are. I think it further accentuates and tells the story of us becoming a real family over the course of ten years [that the show aired].
It really does seem like a family, and everybody seems so great that works on the show. But what was it like working with Steve Carell in particular for so many years?
He is the best. It’s just so simple. It’s not something that you say. It’s not a press answer that you give. He’s just simply the best as a performer. He might be the greatest improviser ever, and certainly, that’s working today. He is a genius in terms of being able to improvise on story, on character. He doesn’t ever go for the cheap joke. He just always goes for the true joke in terms of behavior and character. And as a person, he’s the best. Super kind, family man that cares about his family and the people that he works with, and I consider it my pleasure to have worked with him for so long.
Any funny stories or memorable moments stand out for you with him?
Oh, there’s just so many both on and off the set. The one that always immediately comes to mind, that I think through YouTube blooper reels will never die, is the scene between him and I when Kevin goes and sits on Michael’s lap [when dressed] as Santa Claus is kind of a cast-favorite memory that was a lot of fun.
Do you think there might be an Office TV reunion in the future?
I don’t know. It’s tough to say. I think there’s a desire from a lot of people to make it happen. It’s complicated, though, right? Not to be negative because I think that [show creator] Greg Daniels is a genius, and if they came up with an idea of a reason to get us back together, I think it’s totally possible.
When a lot of people ask or hear that question, they’re thinking about like rebooting the show, which seems like a complicated thing, just because when The Office was done on the air, like Jim and Pam had gone to work in Austin. Kevin was fired. Stanley retired to Florida. I’m sure I’m missing people, but it wasn’t the same at the end. Andy Bernard was gone. And I think that’s challenging. Do I personally think at some point there will be some sort of a reunion that happens? It’s quite possible.
If there is a reunion, how do you think Kevin and his office mates have evolved — or not — in the years that have passed?
Wow. That’s a really good question. I don’t know. I hope that Kevin is really happy and successful running his bar outside of Dunder Mifflin — and that he’s hired his own accountant to deal with the finances and he never has to be an accountant again. I guess that’s what I hope for him.
And what was your favorite part of playing Kevin Malone?
His child-like exuberance for life.