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Community cookin’ for a cause

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New teams spice up 2014 USCL cook-off

By Reece Murphy

Every year, stories about the University of South Carolina Lancaster’s annual Soul Food Cook-Off & Fundraiser include a menu of mouth-watering southern home cookin’.

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With delicacies such as pulled pork, barbecue pork ribs, shrimp and grits, Cajun beans and rice, buttermilk fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, greens and cabbage and cold peach soup – it's amazing there’s still soul food loving folks around here who’ve never been.

But a lot of ’em have, and word seems to be spreading as hundreds of folks flocked to USCL for the fourth annual cook-off in honor of Black History Month and an opportunity to raise money for the university’s emergency textbook fund. 

Jane Twitty Rinard, who walked the halls at USCL in the early 1980s, attended the cook-off with her husband, Sam. 

While it was their first time, Jane said it won't be their last, a sentiment her husband agreed with as he returned to the table carrying a plate loaded with tasty desserts.

He said he was having the same problem many others were having: southern sensory overload.

“I think it’s too much food for us to eat and critique at one time,” Sam said. 

Such a sentiment was repeated time and again as diners struggled to choose their favorites from among the 12 categories of food cooked by seven chefs and their teams of soul food-fanatics.

Joining veteran teams from Comporium Communications, An Expression of Taste, Founders Federal Credit Union and Leroy Springs Catering this year were three new teams: the city of Lancaster, Lancaster County School District and Springs Memorial Hospital.

“They comin’ up,” said Springs Catering team leader Kenneth Beckham, going easy on the new team taunts.

“They’re trying,” said An Expression of Taste foodie, Bobby Bailey with some good natured ribbing of the new teams. “No, I ain’t gonna do that. Really, I think everybody is doing a good job. And it’s for a good cause. The competition just keeps getting better.”

City of Lancaster IT Manager and team chef Jarvis Driggers drew from his love of cooking and South Louisiana Cajun roots to help coordinate and cook the city’s menu of Pastalya, corn soup with shrimp, smothered cabbage and jelly rolls.

Driggers even enlisted the help of his grandparents, Huey and Phyllis Dufrene, who brought the team’s cache of fresh shrimp and sausage here from New Orleans. 

Phyllis Dufrene also baked 24 jelly rolls by herself.

“We enjoyed it and were eager and ready to come,” Driggers said. “The ‘smack’ talk? That’s what made it fun, gave it all a little bit of a competitive edge.” 

Longtime Lancaster County educator and former USCL professor Carolyn Taylor said while the food is undeniably delicious, the best aspect of the cook-off for her is the wide participation.

“The students, the teams, the community, it (the event) has cultivated a new direction you see today, and it’s good to see,” Taylor said. “It is a wonderful example of the spirit of the community coming together.

“And they’re doing this out of a sense of community to help the students,” she said. “They take of themselves and say, ‘We want to be in this.’”

USCL TRiO Programs Director and cook-off organizer Thelathia Bailey agrees, and said she believes this year’s cook-off was the best so far.

Bailey said the cook-off is the perfect celebration of Black History Month because it honors a cuisine rooted in southern Black culture that cuts across racial lines in its popularity and tradition.

“It’s about family, life, and your journey through it,” Bailey said. “It’s cornbread and mac and cheese, greens and cabbage, your garden foods and farm meats. It’s the kind of food that’s on the sideboard when you get together with family that sticks to your bones and satisfies you.

“I think it speaks for itself, and the hospital, and the school district and city did a great job with our veteran teams this year,” she said. “We raised over $4,000 last year for the textbook fund and I believe we’re going to surpass that this year.”

Cook-off results

This year’s winners and runners up were:

• Best Main Dish (Poultry) – Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Springs Memorial Hospital and Chef Cora Twitty; Chicken Legs, Comporium Communications and Chef Vickie Porter

• Best Main Dish – (Beef and Pork) – Meat Loaf, Founders Federal Credit Union and Chef Bruce Brumfield (accepted by Jay Rainey); N.C. Pulled Pork BBQ, Expressions of Taste and Chef Bobby Bailey

• Best Vegetable Dish – Beans, Peas, Corn: Corn Pudding, Lancaster County School District and Chef Bobby Parker; Red Beans and Rice, Founders Federal Credit Union

• Best Vegetable Dish – Cabbage, Greens: Smothered Cabbage, city of Lancaster and Chef Jarvis Driggers; Collard Greens, Leroy Springs Catering and Chef Evelyn Springs (accepted by Kenneth Beckham)

• Best Side Dish (Seafood) – Shrimp & Grits, Founders Federal Credit Union; Seafood Bisque, An Expression of Taste

• Best Side Dish (Mac & Cheese) –  Leroy Springs Catering; Springs Memorial Hospital

• Best Side Dish (Soup) –  Cold Peach Soup with Mint, An Expression of Taste; Corn Soup with Shrimp, city of Lancaster

• Best Side Dish (Salad) –  Tomato and Cucumber Salad, Lancaster County School District; Slaw, An Expression of Taste

• Best Side Dish (Bread) – Cornbread, Leroy Springs Catering; Cornbread, Comporium Communications

• Best Dessert – Banana Pudding, Springs Memorial Hospital; Coconut Cake, Lancaster County School District

• Best Theme and Presentation – The city of Lancaster; An Expression of Taste

• Best Authentic Soul Food Menu – An Expression of Taste; Leroy Springs Catering

 

Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151