By Leilani Roberts Ott
Saundra Smith Moore, who is whipping up sweet potato pies today, believes the church is in the business of nourishing souls. So why wouldn’t members participate in the Soul Food Cookoff?
Grace Episcopal Church of Muskogee is one of about 15 participants in the ninth annual event where groups bring their best dishes to be tasted by celebrity judges like Joe Horn, former NFL player. The public is welcome from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Muskogee Civic Center. Admission is $10 per person. To get the party started, the Rhythm and Blues Yearbook party is at 7 p.m. today at The Roxy Theater with $10 tickets available at the Civic Center. At 6 p.m. Sunday, the Gospel Explosion concert featuring Pam Wiley of Tulsa is free.
“We’re trying to bring the church to the community and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King,” Moore said.
Cedric Johnson, a member of the church’s vestry, encourages everyone to attend the cookoff to try the “delicious food” and learn about the traditions.
“It’s called ‘soul food’ because you are putting your soul into what you are making,” Johnson said. “When we say, ‘Bless this food for the nourishment of our body,’ it’s for the soul.”
Organizer Cassandra Gaines said each cookoff group usually enters more than one entry in the five categories — meat, vegetable, dessert, bread and miscellaneous.
“Last year, they were head over heels over cheese grits,” Gaines said of the crowd. “In the miscellaneous category, they liked tea and lemonade and barbecue sauce.”
Gaines, Civic Center manager, said she started the cookoff in an effort to keep the tradition of soul food going.
“This is about cooking food instead of fixing food,” she said. “Every cook has a story to tell about the recipe. I enjoy it. I like to see the elders saying different things to the younger cooks.”
For Malindi Holder, 15, it’s also about trying new things. She’s a member of Grace Episcopal and is participating in her church’s booth. On Wednesday night, she got to sample her church’s entry of cheesy grits made by Kathy Coburn. The word “grits” didn’t sound appealing to her so she hadn’t tried them. Church member Pam Lipscomb, who served at the cookoff last year, encouraged Malindi to try the “crusty edge” because it’s the best part. Malindi’s friends watched to see her expression when tasting cheesy grits for the first time.
“Ummm, it’s good,” Malindi said.
Chloe Moore, 14, agreed.
“I like Kathy’s grits,” she said. “They are the only ones I’ll eat.”
Chloe’s father, David Moore, is making baked macaroni and cheese again this year. It received third place last year, while cheesy grits didn’t place.
“It was a crowd favorite,” Coburn said of her grits made from a family friend’s recipe.
Moore started making his baked mac and cheese about 10 years ago. He makes it for work and church dinners. Everyone loves it, he said.
“Last year I made 40 pounds of mac and cheese and that wasn’t enough,” he said. “I’ll make more this year.”
When asked what’s the special ingredient, he replied: “Love makes it special.”
“My philosophy is there’s no such thing as too much cheese,” he said.
He uses mild and sharp cheese sometimes adding mozzarella and colby.
His wife, Saundra Smith Moore, said Johnson gave her tips on how to make her sweet potato pies. That’s why she likes participating in the cookoff. It brings people together for food, fellowship and fun, she said.
Several members said the church is a “downtown church” and they want to be involved with the downtown community.
“We want to bring our church to the community,” Saundra Smith Moore said. “I enjoy the church, all the people. The diversity of our community is in the pews of this church.”
If you go
WHAT: Soul Food Cookoff.
WHEN: Noon to 3 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Muskogee Civic Center.
COST: $10 per person.
PROCEEDS: Used as prize money for first through third in five categories.