|Theresa Sanders, the “Mother” of Men Who Cook (l-r), AKA President
Nichelle Nicoles, Cooks Goeorge Yelder and Mark Taylor and AKA
Communications Officer Corinda Rainey-Moore
25th Annual Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Men Who Cook
A Magnificent Competition for Scholarships
color, specifically Black women, to get out and get mammograms. In partnership with East High School, we’re doing an HBCU Fair. We will be focusing on high school
students getting prepared for college admissions. That programming will be kicking off shortly. And we have a focus on Black entrepreneurship and Black art. Some of
that work is being developed now. We’re excited about the direction we are going to continue to go in.”
One of the most important things that the AKAs have done over the years is provide scholarships to graduating seniors and continuing students of color. Last year, the
chapter awarded over $10,000 in scholarships. And the premier way that the chapter has raised the scholarship funds over the last quarter century has been its Men
Who Cook competition.
It all started with an idea and a road trip back in the early 1990s.
“T. Ella Struthers and I went on a road trip,” said Theresa Sanders, the first Men Who Cook chair and co-chair of this year’s event. “We were looking for an event that
included family and fun and something that the community would enjoy. I was the president and T. Ella was the vice-president. We took a road trip to different places,
but we landed in Kentucky and found this wonderful event where men were cooking these wonderful dishes and the community was invited out to this event. The food
was in categories: Entrees, side dishes and desserts. We brought the idea back here to Madison to our sorority sisters. And we started the First Annual Men Who Cook
event in February 1994.”
Just like any other series of events, the first Men Who Cook was a modest affair, especially by today’s standards.
“The first one was at Lincoln Elementary School,” Sanders said. “We had 10 cooks and there were two AKA judges. Some of the cooks back then were Paul
Higginbotham who is a former appellate judge, his brother Steve Braunginn. We had Police Chief Williams. Anthony Brown was there. Juan José López was there with
his Mexican pork chops. The pork chops were so large, we thought we were about to feed an army. Whenever Juan brings a dish, it’s always bigger than anyone else’
s. He just brings tons of chicken. But that’s Juan and we love him.”
The event has grown and expanded over the years. It has been held at Madison College-Truax, CUNA Mutual and the Fitchburg Community Center. It is now held at
Kromrey Middle School in Middleton and has also doubled the number of cooks and raised the bar on the quality of the food offered.
“We are expecting 20 cooks,” Sanders said. “The cooks are the ones who make the show. All of them are going to do a great job. And the audience, because they are
the judges of the food, enjoys going through the line and picking up all of the little samples. People just get excited about sampling all of that food. It’s quite a bit on an
international array of food. We have Mexican, Puerto Rican, soul, Cajun and American food. We just have a good mix of food that is going to be prepared by the cooks.”
While all of the cooks are volunteers and amateurs unless they do catering on the side, all of them bring a commitment to quality and a pride in the flavors and textures
that they are able to conjure up in the kitchen.
“I love cooking,” emphasized Mark Taylor who in his second year will be making Cream Cheese Passion Delight. “We basically built our house around the kitchen. And
I just love to experiment with different things. I take classes in cooking. I want to know how it all works. I cook all nationalities of food. I go for it. Two years ago, I was
into chocolate, so I took a commercial chocolate class. Last year, I took a sausage class and got into making sausages. I started smoking meat last year. I bought a
smoker. And recently, I’ve been doing Indian food from the subcontinent of India learning how to make my own masala spices and various spices. I love to learn new
techniques and new flavors.”
Taylor loves to experiment with different types of cooking and urges people to follow their instincts.
“The biggest key to cooking is to have fun with it,” Taylor said. “Don’t listen to the ‘professional’ chefs as gospel, especially if they are hardcore French chefs. They are
going to tell you that you must do it this way. You don’t. A lot of people get scared with cooking because of that. They think that it is too hard. And example that I always
give is when I make hollandaise sauce. The French chef is going to say that have to use clarified butter. No you don’t. I use whole butter in mine and it tastes just as
good as any French chef’s. Experiment. I got my partner to start experimenting. ‘What happens if I put this in here?’ ‘Try it and let’s see how it works.’ Don’t be afraid of
failure. You learn from failure.”
George Yelder is in his 10th year of competing and is bringing back his award-winning Deconstructed Po Boys for the 25th anniversary. George learned to cook by
watching his mother and grandmother cook.
“I like to cook a lot of very eclectic dishes,” Yelder said. “Mom was about you couldn’t say you didn’t like it if you didn’t try it. Whatever was there, you would try it to
see what was going on with it. I remember hearing about clams one time during Sea Hunt. We went to this restaurant in San Francisco and I ordered clams on the half-
shell. I was about seven-years-old. The waiter was looking at my mom like, ‘You know what those are, right?’ She said, ‘He may not, but he’s going to eat them.’ They
tasted great. So I’m always trying a lot of different things. Grandmother was always a great cook. She cooked for a lot of families when we were growing up. And we
would always try her stuff.”
By Jonathan Gramling
The Kappa Psi Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority has been busy meeting the
challenges that the new AKA international president, Dr. Brenda Glover, gave to the
organization last summer when she was installed during the international convention. While
the AKAs have traditionally worked in many facets of community life — and continue to do so
— Glover brought a fresh perspective to the community service work that is at the heart of
what the AKAs do.
“One of the very first things that we did starting in September was a focus on supporting
HBCUs financially,” said Nichelle Nichols, the president of the Madison chapter. “We are
proud of that work. We’ve been supporting HBCUs as a sorority, but she had a new thrust
with a Community Impact Day in September. We had a goal of raising a million dollars in
September and we exceeded that goal and have already distributed money out to HBCUs. We’
re super excited about that. There’s a focus on breast cancer. We had another Community
Impact Day in October focused on breast cancer awareness and encouraging women of
For Yelder, who enjoys cooking a variety of dishes including Cajun and Creole,
cooking is almost a mystical experience.
“The secret to being a good cook is honoring the ingredients,” Yelder said.
“That’s really the big thing. Whether it’s a cow or broccoli or a vegetable or a
grain, it’s changed its life and you have that in your hands to be able to make
something different and have something that can nourish others. It’s a spiritual
thing as much as a nourishing thing.”
While Men Who Cook is a friendly, yet passionate competition for the cooks, all
of them feel, without a doubt, that the reason they compete year after year is
because the funds raised help deserving students of color attend higher
So for an experience that will give you a warm feeling inside from great food
and a noble cause, attend the 25th ANNUAL Men Who Cook on March 9, 2-5 p.m.
Tickets are $25 adults and $5 children. Tickets must be purchased ahead of
time by contacting an AKA member or visiting their website at www.kappa-psi-
omega.com. There are no sales at the door.