16th Annual AKA Men Who Cook Scholarship Fundraiser
Vince Carey (above) and Juan José López (r) will cook at
Men who Cook on March 6.
By Jonathan Gramling
When he was growing up in San Antonio,
Texas, Juan José López watched his mom and
grandmother prepare food. While his father
was a good cook, he cooked infrequently. It
was his mother who made the mainstays of
the López household.
López carried that Mexican culinary flair
with him when he came to study at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison back in the
late 1970s. And for 15 of the past 16 years,
López has used his culinary talent in the Alpha
Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Men Who Cook
Scholarship Fundraiser. On March 6, over 18
men will display their cooking prowess at the
Fitchburg Community Center on Lacy Road. For
$20 people can sample the dishes that these men will serve up and vote for their favorite entre, side dish and dessert. All proceeds go
toward the Alpha Kappa Alpha scholarship fund.
And these men take their cooking seriously. In years past, López has made Chicken and Salsa Rojo or Chicken Mole. “When I boil
the chicken, I cook it with a lot of different spices,” López said. “I put cumin, garlic, salt and pepper with a little bit of seasoning salt. The
cumin and the garlic are more of a Mexican staple in terms of the seasonings that we use. My mom cooked with onion, cumin and garlic
all the time. I also use onion salt. Instead of putting salt in my food, I put onion salt. Those are my secrets. I cook with garlic and cumin
whether I’m cooking chicken, pork or steak. When I make my Mexican style rice — not Spanish rice, there’s a difference — I use cumin.
I have a large 16 oz. bottle of cumin.”
Vince Carey, another man who will be cooking, could be considered a professional. Carey has had some culinary school training
and worked on a cruise ship for a while. And after he retired from Oscar Mayer’s, Carey’s son volunteered him to do some cooking at
the Boys & Girls Club when Earsie Green, the regular cook, fell ill. “I started cooking and they loved it,” Carey said. “When Earsie came
back, they said ‘Hey Vince, we would love for you to take over the cooking duties at Allied Drive. Once I got there, I loved it. I’ve been
here going on five years.”
Carey was born in the Bahamas and so his cooking can have an Island flair, although he can cook chicken and soul food with the
best of them. What has worked for Carey at Men Who Cook is his Bahamian Seafood Salad. And apparently, Carey isn’t the only one it
has worked for.
“We were at a game at Janesville Craig on Thursday,” Carey said. “And Judge Genovese came up to me and said ‘Vince, we are
having a banquet for the basketball team on Wednesday. Bring some of that Bahamian dish.’ She always asks me for the recipe. I told
her that I am going to sit down and just write out the recipe for her. She came to Men Who Cook and she got some, went to her table,
came back for some more and went back and ate again. I said ‘Judge, I’m definitely going to have to get you this recipe.’ She just loves
it. And a lot of people like it. That’s why I keep doing it. There are 2-3 people who always ask me to make the dish for them.”
Perhaps the beauty of the event is that the chefs bring their favorite dishes and the culinary fare is very diverse, reflective of the
chefs’ cultural and culinary backgrounds. And how good is the food? Well after those in attendance have had their fill, the chefs walk the
line and sample each other’s dishes as well. “I sample the cooking of the other chefs and then I frequent the one I like the most,” López
said. “What I have been doing lately is I have been bringing my containers. It is so popular that a lot of cooks run out of food. I bring my
own personal containers so I can take food with me.”
While the cooking completion is great fun, it is the money raised for the high school scholarships that keep the men coming back
year after year. “Like anything, the key to good cooking is you have to have it in your heart,” Carey said. “And what you put into it is what
you get out of it. I put everything into it. If I’m doing something for you, I’m going to give you 150 percent because I always want you to be
able to be satisfied.”
With a commitment like that, it is easy to see why Men Who Cook is a perennial winner for food lovers in the Madison area.
The 16th Annual Men Who Cook Fundraiser will be held Saturday, March 6, 3 – 5 p.m. at the Fitchburg Community Center. Tickets are $20
and children under 10 years old get in for $5. Call 845-2579 for ticket information.