, Muskogee, OK

January 9, 2014

Soul Food Cook-Off seeks entries

By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Cassandra Gaines is putting out the all-call for the best soul food cooks.

The 10th annual Soul Food Cook-Off takes place Jan. 18 at the Muskogee Civic Center. Gaines, the center’s director, said she wants as many cooks as possible to help keep the tradition alive.

Gaines said she’s expecting between 50 and 65 entries this year. Some cooks are entering more than one category. The entry deadline is Tuesday.  

Gaines said the event benefits the “whole community.” She also said it allows people to experience fresh foods.

“It’s important to me to get the younger generation eating more fresh foods,” Gaines said. “I went to a conference last year that talked about growing your own foods, and that’s what we did when I was younger.”

The five categories are: meat, vegetables, bread, dessert and miscellaneous.

“We have one guy who came in and registered before the holidays and he entered in all five categories,” Gaines said. “I told him to bring the heat, and he told me he would.”

This year, cooks will have the opportunity to have their dishes evaluated by not one, but two celebrity judges, she said.

“We have Philip Dobard and Brandon Boudet coming to judge this year,” she said.

Dobard is the vice president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, and Boudet is a champion from the television series “Chopped” on the Food Network.

Gaines said there will be five judges. They all are looking for taste, appearance, and originality in the submitted dishes.

“Knowing how to plate is an important part of the contest,” Gaines said. “Most of the cooks also bring in fresh foods and cook from scratch. Any cook will tell you that cooking from scratch isn’t cooking from a box.

“When you cook from scratch, you know it’s been cooked with love. A cook can tell when something has been cooked from scratch. Everyone loves a home-cooked meal.”

Gaines said she’s happy the event continues to grow.

“We’ve brought this thing from nothing to getting national attention now,” she said. “Who knows where it’ll go from here?”

A mandatory orientation for all cooks is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Civic Center. Cooks need to prepare their food to feed 200 people. Cooks can arrive at the Civic Center at 7 a.m. Jan. 18 to start setting up their booths.

Judging will take place at 10:30 a.m. Doors will open to the public at noon for tasting.

Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2908 or

What to do

Entry applications for the 10th annual Soul Food Cook-Off may be picked up at the Muskogee Civic Center. You may call (918) 684-6363 and receive the application by mail or email. Entry deadline is Tuesday.