Occasionally, 2016 Men Who Cook Chairperson Marion Brown will ask some of the competitors for their recipes after they get done competing in the Alpha Kappa Alpha’s annual Men Who Cook competition.
“Some of them will actually share their recipes, but when I go home and make the dishes, they don’t taste quite like theirs does,” smiles Brown, a longtime member of the Kappa Psi Omega chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alphas. “I think they leave something out – some secret ingredient – that makes their dishes so good. They are so dang competitive.”
Brown is talking about the professional men of Madison from all backgrounds and walks of life who will cook enormous amounts of foods from scratch to raise funds for scholarships for college-bound African American students at the AKA’s annual Men Who Cook Fundraiser, a fun, family event that will be held this Saturday at 2 p.m. at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton.
And, yes, they are competitive.
“Many of the men know each other fairly well. They’re friends. So they come into the event as friends but they are very competitive,” Brown laughs. “They take great pride in their dishes and when they get together in a group, it sounds like they are shooting the dozens or talking about why my dish is better than yours. It’s funny to watch. It’s a lot of fun.”
This is the 22nd year for Men Who Cook where community members converge to sample entrées, side dishes, and desserts and then vote for their favorites. Awards for first, second, and third place are given in each category based on attendants’ choice or People’s Choice Awards. There are also the Judge’s Choice Awards given by professional Madison-area chefs. This year the judges will include: Kevin Beier of Great Dane Pub Hilldale; Mathew Grange of Great Dane Pub Hilldale; “Kip” Thomas of Kipp’s Cuisine; Rod Ladson of Bonefish Grill; and Ronald Moore, an independent chef.
Men Who Cook models itself after “Real Men Cook,” a family celebration observed on Father’s Day, which honors the entire family, no matter what its configuration. The program began in Chicago in 1989 and has since expanded to include competitions in 11 cities nationwide, with proceeds exceeding $800,000 for nonprofits and charities. Real Men Cook is a delight for women, who often see cooking as a job and are entertained by the male participants, who demonstrate their ability to serve something unforgettable to the masses.
“These men cook very well and they are very creative with their recipes,” Brown says. “It was interesting talking to [longtime Men Who Cook contestants] Manny [Scarbrough] and Ed Holmes the other day and they were telling me that men have been cooking for years … it’s just not something that most people know about it,” Brown says. “At least in the South, I am told, when the women were at work or out of the house, men did cook or they at least had their favorite dishes that they would prepare once in awhile.
“I think the men really enjoy it and they are always talking at the event how this is a good way to give back,” she adds. “Everything they make for the dishes for the event comes out of their own pockets to help young people in our community in this special way.”
The past few years, Willy Street Co-Op has been kind enough to give gift certificates to the men who cook to help compensate them for their generosity.
For several recent years the Men Who Cook event was held in the Fitchburg Community Center. Last year, the competition was at the CUNA Mutual Group on the west side. This year’s event will be held at Kromrey Middle School in Middleton. Don Johnson, the superintendent of the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District and Steve Soeteber, the principal of Kromrey, are proving to be wonderful hosts and partners, having made the full services of their school and district available to the AKAs.
“We have a new location and we’re excited about it,” Brown says. “We have outgrown several locations along the way in our 22 years. The number of people who attend the event has grown as has the number of chefs.”
They are 21 chefs participating in Men Who Cook this year.
Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. was founded in 1908 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. It is the oldest nationally recognized sorority for African American women. Brown has been an AKA for decades dating back to her time in college at UCLA in Los Angeles. She’s been a member of the local Madison chapter for about 8 years now. “We’ve grown quite a bit here in Madison,” she says. “There are now 37 active members in the chapter.
Scholarship funds raised through Men Who Cook will be used to foster academic excellence throughout the Madison community.
“The money raised at this event goes towards scholarships and to some community programs,” Brown continues. “Last year, we had 14 scholarship recipients who are going to schools all over the country including here in Wisconsin.”
Three of the scholarship recipients will be at Men Who Cook this year including Kynala Phillips, a graduate of East High who is attending UW-Madison; Derrick Wright, a graduate of LaFollette High School who is attending Madison College; and Lindsey Borleske, a graduate of East High School who is attending UW-Madison.
Brown encourages parents and high school seniors to go to the AKA website and apply for the scholarships if they’ll be enrolling in college in the fall.
Brown says the Men Who Cook tickets have gone fast, but there are still a few left. She added that it is a fun-filled and completely volunteer-driven event that is much beloved in the Madison community. Many of the guests come year after year after year.
“People really do enjoy the competition between the men at this event but they also really enjoy seeing the friends and the community members that they haven’t seen in about a year,” Brown says. “It’s very informal. It’s a a family-friendly fun event and it showcases leaders of this community in ways that most people don’t think of. It’s a side that most of us don’t see in these men.
“And, of course, good food,” she adds with a smile. “Really great food!”
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. invites the community to the 22nd annual Men Who Cook Scholarship Fundraiser Saturday, March 12, 2 p.m., at the Kromrey Middle School in Middleton. Great raffle prizes, good food, and family fun. Tickets are still available.