Home Madison 25th Annual Men Who Cook Spurs Appetites, Raises Funds for Scholarships

25th Annual Men Who Cook Spurs Appetites, Raises Funds for Scholarships


Growing up in Chicago as the only boy in the kitchen with all the women in his family, UW-Madison Ph.D. Candidate Philip Denis says his love for cooking has always been a major part of his identity. Denis said he never competed in anything before deciding to prepare a dish for the 25th Annual Men Who Cook competition but he was eager to try. The Senior Academic Advisor for the First Wave Hip-Hop Learning Community said his love for cooking and inspiration from his Abuela was the main force behind his unique latin fusion brisket and octopus salad, which was served to over 350 guests at the 25th Annual Men Who Cook Scholarship Fundraiser hosted by the Kappa Psi Omega chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., last Saturday.

“Octopus salad is something that I take back to when my grandma used to make on the special occasions,” Denis said. “Abuela, she would eat anything that came out the water and so being raised in Chicago anytime you ate seafood it was a delicacy, it was a luxury, so we always appreciated that and preserved it. So, man, this is a tribute to my grandma.”

Photo by Kynala Phillips.

Denis described the Puerto Rican-inspired surf and turf as a kind of ceviche with steamed octopus, fresh vegetables and olive oil. The brisket in the dish was smoked for 12 hours in preparation for Denis’ first Men Who Cook competition, where he was competing against men who are well known as reigning champs.

Kromrey Middle School’s cafeteria was packed with tables adorned in pink and green ribbons and aromas filled with smoked meats and mouth-watering desserts.

AKA member and event co-chair Gloria Ladson-Billings introduced each competing chef before guests were allowed to line up for samples. The competition was steep. Long-time competitors boasted about their award-winning recipes, while newer contestants brought new flavors to the Men Who Cook table.

The competition was divided into three categories: side dish, main entrees and desserts. All contestants were judged by local chefs Kipp Thomas, Ron Moore, Zackery Loyd and John Marks. In addition to the chef’s choice, every guest got a ballot to choose their favorite dishes of the evening.

“I took the AKA’s advice and I prepared in advance,” said Chief of Staff and Special Assistant to UW-Madison’s Chief Diversity Officer Edward Brown.  Brown began his position at UW-Madison May 2018. “I thought [this] was a great way for me to get acclimated to the community come out and meet some community partners as well as others within the community just to begin expanding my network since I’m very new to the area.”

Brown said he’s been cooking all his life and is influenced by his Godmother who is a culinary chef. For the dessert competition, Brown chose to make a lemon pound cake with raspberry sauce.

“Baking has become my specialty lately but I do cook anything else since this was my first contest entry, I just wanted to keep it simple. Nothing better than a lemon pound cake.”

Community member Geraldine Bernard has been supporting the annual scholarship fundraiser since its start in 1994. “It started at a very small facility and I’ve watched it grow over the years,” Benard said. “It’s just encouraging to see our people all together in one place at least once a year.”

The retired Aldo Leopold Elementary teacher said that her favorite two dishes of the night were the “Who Dat Mighty” Bread Pudding by Derrick Smith and a Jalapeno, Bacon Mac and Cheese prepared by TJ McCray.

Benard wasn’t alone in selecting the mac and cheese and bread pudding as her favorite. McCray’s Mac and Cheese racked in two first-place prizes in both People’s Choice and Chef’s Choice.

“The jalapeno bacon mac and cheese definitely stood out. Like the flavor profile, it had that complexity but also was like ‘oh okay I haven’t tasted mac and cheese like this before’,” said attendee Joshua Wright.

First-time contestant Denis won over many hearts with his brisket and octopus salad bringing home third place in People’s Choice.

Judges’ Choice (Chefs Forrest “Kipp” Thomas, Ron Moore, Zackery Loyd, John Marks)
Side Dish
1st Place – Jalapeno Bacon Mac & Cheese – TJ McCray
2nd Place – Deviled Corn – Jon Gramling
3rd Place – Smoked Turkey Black Beans – Joe Maldonado
1st Place – Deconstructed PoBoy – George Yelder
2nd Place – Jerk Chicken – Donale Richards
3rd Place – Vegan Smashed Potatoes/Portabella mushrooms stuffed spinach – James Bloodsaw
1st Place – Who Dat Mighty Tasty Bread Puddin – Derrick Smith
2nd Place – Cream Cheese Passion Fruit Delight – Mark Taylor
3rd Place – Carrot Cake – Hank Kuehling

People’s Choice Winners
Side Dish
1st Place – Jalapeno Bacon Mac & Cheese – TJ McCray
2nd Place – Puerto Rican Red Beans – Jose Madera
3rd Place – Deviled Corn – Jon Gramling
1st Place – Deconstructed PoBoy – George Yelder
2nd Place – Honey Mustard Chicken Wings – Eric Williams
3rd Place – Latin Fusion Surf-n-Turf Smoked Brisket with Octopus Salad – Philip Denis

Results Courtesy of Kappa Psi Omega Chapter of AKA