25 Men

Attendees sample smoked bacon wrapped chicken balls with mustard sauce from “Hobby chef” John Kearney.

OTTUMWA — Despite the strong wind and icy conditions, the ninth annual “25 Men Who Can Cook” still drew a strong crowd.

Ottumwa Symphony Orchestra Board President Maggie Morrissey required 300 samples from each chef in order to feed hungry visitors. She sighed with delight watching people make their way through the doors and sample savory foods such as catfish and coleslaw to sweeter options like chocolate ravioli and chocolate Bavarian torte. She was ready to raise funds for the orchestra, too.

“It’s so nice to open doors at 11 o’clock and see 200 people standing there, waiting to get in,” she said, “the cooks love it; the crowds love it.”

Bill Ward, a retired barber, talked to familiar faces who made their way to sample his chocolate Bavarian torte. He said the chocolate with sour cream makes for a “lighter taste.” The four layers of chocolate, he said, is what makes the dessert tastes better.

If the chocolate torte was not enough for chocolate lovers, all they add to do was add some of Ward’s chocolate hearts.

“It’s one of my favorite recipes,” Ward said, “Margaret Morrissey talked me into participating years ago. And I told her I’d do it and I love it.”

Brent Swearingen, Ward’s assistant for the event, chose to help because, “it’s a good cause and a good social community event,” he said, “I think this is the biggest fundraiser, or at least one of them for the orchestra.”

Unlike Ward, it was Ron Groenendyk’s first time participating. He made a Louisiana bourbon bread pudding, using a dutch oven. It was a good debut for him, earning first in the Hobby Division dessert category.

He said his membership with the Iowa Prairie Rose Dutch Oven Cookers helped him win. He said he felt honored to have won, but it did not compare to the interactions he had with the crowd.

“I enjoy interacting with people,” he said, “and the ‘you can do that in there?’ That’s what I enjoy doing — visiting with people; different tastes. Some people don’t like this. They try it, see that [say] sometimes it’s good; sometimes not. All in all, it’s a good experience.”

Frank Tafta, chef of Jefferson Place at Hearthstone, A Ministry of Wesley Life, was participating for the second time. He said he wanted to showcase how nursing homes can have delicious food with flavors. He created what he called “The Fusion,” pork tacos with lime and other spices.

“We wanted [Wyatt Russell, chef helper] to see if we could top ourselves from last year,” he said, “I think in our opinions we did, but we just wanted to get the stigma out of the way that nursing homes don’t have to be slobs on a plate — it can be something upscale and flavorful.”

Tafta summed up 25 Men who Cook, something he and other chefs said they look forward to in the future.

“We want to have people experience something they are not typically going to experience,” he added, “and take something that’s well-known and make that twist to it — make it something different that’s memorable.”

Here are the official results from 25 Men who cook:

Hobby Division for Pre-Dining

1st John Kearney for “Smoked bacon Wrapped Chicken Balls with Mustard Sauce”

2nd Derek Hedgecock for “Eggs di Shevele”

3rd Jeff Leonard for Cheeseburger soup

Hobby Division for Entrée

1st Brian Quinn for African Peanut Soup

2nd Alex Morely for Peach Habanero Pork Tacos

3rd Jessie Mattingly for Catfish and Coleslaw

Hobby Division for Dessert

1st Ron Groenendyk for Louisiana Bourbon Bread Pudding

2nd David Howard for Chocolate Ravioli

3rd Marc Roe for Tiramisu

Hobby Division People’s Choice

1st Terry Glick for Sweet Rubbed Smoked Tenderloin

2nd Alex Morley

3rd Brian Quinn

Pro Division for People’s Choice

1st Bruce Nord Blackened Shrimp

Note: Blaine Rupe for Red Velvet Dream Cake and Frank Tafta tied for 2nd and 3rd place

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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