24th Annual AKA Men Who Cook
Earning Bragging Rights
|Foreground: Alpha Kappa Alpha members Ernise Williams (l-r), Nichelle
Nichols and Monica Pembroke. In back: Chris Canty, is first-time cook
for Men Who Cook
over 300 people.
“The men are creative and they talk among themselves too,” said co-chair Ernise Williams. “They come with an idea. And sometimes it’s
probably their loved ones at home who say, ‘You know, you make this dish really well.’ So they start with their strengths and everyone has
different strengths. Usually one of the co-chairs will have some influence on some of the dishes. So if five people are making beef, that means it
is going to be tougher to compete in that category. And then sometimes the chef will say that he has something else up his sleeve, that they
have a dessert that they can make. We try to keep each category filled so that our audience can have a wide array of choices at the event. They
keep coming back every year.”
Chris Canty is competing for the first time. And while he isn’t a professional chef, he’s pretty close to it. Cooking is an important family value.
“Both of my grandparents were very good cooks, my grandmother especially,” Canty said. “And I think just growing up in a household with a lot
of cooks, a lot of soul, a lot flavor, cooking has always been in my blood, my genes and I learned a lot from my parents. I train now and I literally
do breakfast and work on knife skills. I read a lot of different cook books with different philosophies in terms of cooking. I actually know a lot of
chefs. I’ve spoken with a lot of chefs in good restaurants in Madison. I’ve never really done this event because I couldn’t find a dish that I
thought I could win with. I think I now have something to share that is going to be special.”
Canty is serious about his cooking and is used to cooking for a large number of people.
“I describe my cooking as fancy comfort food, food that is going to make you feel good,” Canty said. “It’s going to make you feel warm. It’s going
to taste delicious. It’s going to have different flavors. For Thanksgiving this year, I did baby-back ribs. I took a sage and rosemary crust, mixed a
little bit of white wine and olive oil in and smoked it for four hours. For barbeque sauce, I did a pan gravy and coated it for another hour. The
gravy really set in and I sliced them. It was a perfect smoke ring. We did that with corn bread stuffing, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, the
usually more southern comfort foods.”
In the traditions of his family, Canty will be cooking a variation of a recipe that he learned from his father Wayne who retired several years ago
from Oscar Mayer and now lives in Jacksonville, Florida.
“I’m doing a chicken and beef sausage jambalaya with lots of fresh vegetables, fresh parsley and fresh celery, green pepper and onion,” Canty
said. “I will be sautéing it. This is a little bit of a tweak. When you go get jambalaya, usually they don’t sauté the meat and vegetables in the
spices. I cook things in order so that the pan juices actually soak into the different layers of the dish. You cook your sausage first. The crust will
get into the chicken when you cook that and then those juices get into the vegetables and everything kind of meshes together when you
combine it and then bake it for about an hour with the rice and tomatoes. I’m also making cheddar, chive and jalapeno corn cakes for the side.”
And Canty is approaching his work very scientifically. There will be no last minute throwing a few things together.
“I’m going to make a test batch next week that I’m actually going to give to my son’s day care,” Canty said. “I’m going to weigh one batch of
jambalaya. I know we provide two ounce portions, so I’m going to divide that weight and figure out exactly how many ounces I am going to
have to make. I like to prep. I do a huge tailgate every year for about 150 people. That’s full-portion people. I do about 12-14 different dishes for
that tailgate. I hire chefs. I have people come help me. We rent trailers. I’m pretty good at doing big events. It will be interesting to only focus on
one dish and decide how I can make that one bite taste the best. I’m doing a couple of different things like cutting the meat so that the flavor will
get into your mouth just with a two-ounce portion. If I leave everything too big, you might just get some rice and tomatoes.”
While Canty wouldn’t mind taking first place in the People’s Choice, chosen by ballot by the audience, and Judge’s Award, chosen by five area
chefs and restaurant kitchen managers, and getting those bragging rights among his peers, he is centered on the most important thing about the
“I’m going to predict one thing,” Canty said. “The AKAs are going to make a lot of money and I’m proud of the work that they are doing. That’s
what I am here for. I do a lot of work with 100 Black Men. I’ve been on their board for almost 12 years. I appreciate anyone willing to work on
education. I mentor students a lot myself. We are trying to get our own scholarship ramped up. But to see the work that they are doing is
inspiring to me. And it’s inspiring to the city, which needs the help.”
The event attracts people from far and wide.
“My parents come from Michigan and they always enjoy it and always meet new friends with whom they sit,” said co-chair Monica Pembroke.
“It’s just a wonderful, friendly community event. They will be here again this year.”
A limited number of tickets are available for the event.
“People can purchase tickets online or from an active sorority member,” Pembroke said. “Tickets will not be sold at the event. People must
purchase their tickets by March 9th, 24 hours before the event. We also have $5 tickets for children. It is first come first served in terms of
seating. The only reserved seating is for our key sponsors and our judges. The doors open at 1:30 p.m. on March 10th and the program goes
from 2-5 p.m. We have a children’s room for our younger children who won’t partake in all of the exotic foods that we offer.”
Most of the chefs spend anywhere from 5-12 hours preparing their dishes. And the proof is in the pudding.
“The chefs put a lot of time into this and they do it as a labor of love as well,” Pembroke said. “Everyone understands that this is for the
students and our community. They come in working very hard with smiles on their faces and are just happy seeing everyone else being happy
eating their food. We couldn’t do this without the chefs.”
While bragging rights are important, it is, most importantly, for the children.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.kappa-psi-omega.com.
By Jonathan Gramling
For the 24th year, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority will be hosting the
Me Who Cook competition at Middleton’s Kromrey Middle School on
March 10th. It’s a great family-oriented event that funds scholarships
for deserving graduating seniors of color.
“We love Men Who Cook because it provides an opportunity for so
many people in the community to come together across age, across
ethnicity to really enjoy the event and support all of these local cooks
who are putting their best recipe out there,” said chapter president
Nichelle Nichols. “We feel like it is the right kind of public-facing work
for us to be doing. And it’s in our overall mission of having an impact
in the community, promoting scholarships, and promoting education
along with all of the other things that we do.”
At the core of the fun event are about 20 chefs. None of the chefs is
professional — although some have made their living cooking in the
past — but they all bring some gourmet-level food, like chicken and
beef sausage jambalaya and deviled corn flavored with commitment
and enthusiasm, to the competition with enough servings to feed