Men cooking for charity (and glory)

by Brian Clarey

The Greensboro Women’s Resource Center does a lot of good work — providing classes, counseling and support for women looking for a leg up in the job market or to further their education. It’s a cause I believe in, which is why I’ll gladly give my time to the organization, particularly when all they want from me is to cook something and share it with others.

For the last seven years, the organization’s biggest fundraiser is the Men Can Cook event, wherein they ask 50 prominent Greensboro men to make a dish, and then dish it out to the crowd that comes to the event. This is my second year participating — I was involved three years ago, when it was still held in downtown Greensboro’s Empire Room, and I made my relatively famous white chili, which utilizes hominy instead of beans, ground turkey and not a single tomato. It moved pretty well that year, and I considered making the same thing again this year. But, upon reflection, I decided that repeating was pretty weak. My other infamous dish is a chick pea remoulade, a cold bean salad that I can throw together in 20 minutes or so. It has chick peas, of course, and red or green onion, diced bell pepper, capers and a secret ingredient, which I will disclose for you now: Marie’s garlic dressing. A caveat: Marie may not make the garlic dressing anymore — they didn’t have it at the Harris Teeter — so I used Caesar dressing, which worked okay. But I probably should have made something a little more tempting and a little less vegetarian-y. I’ll explain shortly. Now, I don’t consider myself to be one of Greensboro’s luminaries. It’s all I can do to get this paper out every week and maintain my family, my house and my lawn. So I felt like a real small fish in the Greensboro Coliseum Special Events Center on Saturday night next to citizens like Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, Greensboro Police Chief Tim Bellamy, City Councilman Zack Matheny, City Manager Mitch Johnson and Superior Court Judge Stuart Albright. Most of the city employees, by the way, made shrimp dishes, leading me to suspect that they all chipped in and got a deal. Matheny denied this. Also in attendance were many from the city’s restaurant community — Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, for example, took up three whole slots where they grilled steak and served it with mashed potatoes. They ran out of food before my remoulade even hit the halfway mark. Everyone, it seemed, brought something more appetizing than I did. On my right, Bob Cone served brown rice pudding, sweetened with honey and raisins and flavored with dry white wine. To my left, Mitchell Sommers ladled out matzo-ball soup that probably took two days to simmer down. My friend, community organizer and blogger David Hoggard, spent the night cooking Boston butts in his big smoker. Carl Wilson, food writer for the News & Record, brought a pot of roux-based gumbo. And so it went… a chocolate fountain with fresh fruit, peanut-butter balls, spinach and mango chutney on whole wheat crackers, cold melon-rosemary soup…. There were some pretty serious eats going down there, with most of the patrons avoiding my table like I was peddling cold mush. The few tasters brave enough to try my dish, I’m afraid, did so mostly out of pity. It should be noted that this year’s event featured a silent auction, a raffle for a diamond and an Iron Chef-style cookoff between three area chefs: Chef Bryan Dahlstrom from Centerplate at the coliseum, Chef Ben Roberts of Undercurrent and Table 16, and Chef Jason Jones from 223 South Elm. The mandatory ingredients included chicken breasts, lump crabmeat, chorizo sausage, red pepper, green tomato, pineapple, black beans, lima beans, bib lettuce, corn, egg-roll wrappers and tortilla chips. The winner of the competition, Jones, shared with me his five-course menu: First course: a crab-corn spring roll with chorizo-pineapple relish. “That one is now on our menu,” he said. Second course: risotto with bleu cheese, crab and mango puree. “I coddled an egg yolk on top and added a grilled tilapia truffle salsa.” Third course: shrimp salad with corn, red pepper and tomato-basil vinaigrette. Fourth Course: crabmeat and parmesan-stuffed, bacon wrapped chicken breast with black bean-saffron grits, bordelais sauce and foie gras butter. Fifth course: dessert nachos with bleu cheese, vanilla saboyan and a syrup with blueberry, rosemary and clover honey. Next year I’m going to ask him for a recipe.

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Chef Jason Jones of 223 South Elm restaurant in Greensboro won thecelebrity chef cook-off at Men Can Cook, a benefit for the Women’sResource Center held on Saturday. (photo by Brian Clarey)