Sampling the Goods

But can he cook?

By Mara Zepeda
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Dec. 13, 2006

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Dessert storm: Deacon Tom Carroll Sr. (from left), Halik Carter and Will Hammond show off their sweet potato pound cakes- plain and frosted.

When I came upon Philly's Men Are Cookin' at the Constitution Center last week, I was convinced it was a mirage: Before me, 186 men in aprons set out trays of food they'd lovingly prepared in their own kitchens.

For 15 years the Ivy Legacy Foundation, part of the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, has lured professional and amateur chefs into cooking up a signature dish for this annual charity event, which raises scholarship funds for local high school seniors. More than 2,000 hungry folks (this year including Mayor Street) stop by for some socializing and home cooking.

A man bedecked with gold necklaces and bearing a 5-inch scar down his chest offers me his seafood salad. Next to him, a comrade sets up an elaborate strawberry champagne fountain. Men in chef coats cart around pink roses to set up on tables. A gorgeous woman in a white pantsuit maneuvers a buffalo chicken wing in one hand and a glass of flaming red "Special K's Sweet Juice" in the other, an art few will ever master.

The most unassuming participant might be Richard Hart, who's squirreled away in the corner by the bronze Constitutional Convention statues. Hart, who's retired, plays flugel horn in his church's jazz ensemble. He doles out small Dixie cups of his homemade plum wine which, hands down, is worth the $50 admission price. Beside Hart are two chefs who both made sweet potato pound cake and are unluckily positioned right next to one another. They laugh at any suggestion of a rivalry, and detail the distinguishing elements of each recipe.

After five minutes in the two-tiered fishbowl lobby it's obvious these men are serving up more than dinner. Take police sergeant Jonathan Josey, dressed in a pink button-down shirt and a diamond ear stud, whose dashingly handsome good looks (or is it his mama's peach cobbler?) attract swarms of women to his table. Not one for modesty, Josey prominently displays a Daily News article listing him as one of "Philly's Sexiest Singles." In the accompanying photo he appears in red, white and blue swim trunks, shirtless. "Woo, it's getting hot in here!" exclaims one woman who fans herself with a paper plate.

To Josey's right, the decidedly more cerebral Christopher Sample, in a black mock turtleneck, is portioning out morsels of his succulent lamb with gravy.

Sample admits his participation these last five years isn't entirely altruistic--he met his last girlfriend at the event. "I like women who like good food," he says, eyeing the crowd. "And these women have goals, agendas. They're movers and shakers."

On cue, Carla Kasner and her friend approach and ask for a sample of Sample's special lamb. Kasner proclaims it to be fantastic, and asks if the recipe is in the cookbook handed out at the front door. Sample winks (or maybe he doesn't ... but he might as well have). "You got to get to know me ... got to come to my house for the recipe."

Kasner says this is a popular approach. "They tease you with the recipe so they can get your number."

"Well let me tell you," she says, "I'm selective." She takes another bite of lamb and shrugs. "But at least this way you know if he can cook."

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