Male politicians to create dishes for African-American center's fund-raiser

October 23, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

When he's not pushing for passage of legislation or fighting opponents' proposals, Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray gravitates to his kitchen to enact culinary measures.

"I've always liked to cook, but I haven't done much lately," said the Democrat, who's running for re-election.

The three-time county councilman and other male Howard County male politicians will get plenty of practice cooking today when they serve their tasty creations at the first "Men in the Kitchen" fund-raiser at the Spear Center in Columbia's Rouse Building.

Money raised from the $25-per-ticket event will help pay for a permanent home for the Howard County Center of African-American Culture Inc.

Wylene Burch, the center's director, established the nonprofit center in 1987 to make the public aware of blacks' contributions to the country.

The center now is in One Commerce Center in Town Center and features a public museum and library. It holds roughly 2,000 artifacts, 500 magazines and 1,200 books.

Only 7 years old, the center has had four locations.

"That's a really hurting thing when you have to keep moving," Mrs. Burch said. "It's really not a disaster, but it's wear and tear on the materials each and every time you have to move."

Moving not only costs money, she said, it also means more work. Every time she moves, she has to decorate the center's new home and redo the center's catalogs.

Mrs. Burch said she would like to either raise at least $50,000 to get a separate building for the center or to share space, preferably in a cultural center.

During today's fund-raiser, 62 local men will serve their prepared appetizers, entrees, salads and desserts. Among the dishes to be sampled: herbed chicken wings, crab cakes, gumbo, shrimp and pasta salads, and cheese cakes, Mrs. Burch said.

Mr. Gray will serve his cream cherry tarts. County Executive Charles I. Ecker will serve chocolate chip cookies called Chuck's Cookies, and Republican Del. Martin G. Madden, District 13B Republican, will prepare seafood gumbo.

Mr. Ecker said he'll bake three or four dozen cookies because "I'll probably eat half of them."

The event's honorary chairman is James E. Henson Sr., administrator for the county's Office of Human Rights. He will serve his three-hour simmered Louisiana gumbo of oysters, crabs, smoked sausages, chunks of chicken and ham and other ingredients.

"When I cook my gumbo I always get a nice crowd," he said. But he said Mrs. Burch, a native of New Orleans, jokingly warned him that she would supervise his gumbo "to make sure I do Louisiana right."

He said, "I don't claim to be a Chef Boy-Ar-Dee or anything like that. But the dishes I cook, I'm told I prepare well."

Mrs. Burch noted that cooking is not a women's-only task. "We're trying to honor the men in Howard County and their specialties," she said.

Mr. Gray said he enjoys cooking, though it wasn't something he necessarily chose to do.

"My wife said the kitchen is her least favorite room in the house so I had to cook," he joked. His constituents, he said, probably would be surprised to learn that he likes to cook.

Mr. Gray used eggs, vanilla wafers, sugar, cream cheese and other ingredients to make his cherry tarts.

Gourmet cooking is his favorite. He uses a lot of wine and typically spends about three hours in the kitchen, cleaning as he cooks.

He ad-libs a lot, too. "I don't like to follow recipes. I use my intuition -- a little -- here and a -- there," the councilman said.

Mr. Henson is the opposite. Gourmet cooking isn't his niche. "I do fundamental cooking," he said.

He cooked his first meal at age 9 for his mother. "She loved it," the 58-year-old man said, recalling the hamburger and baked beans he prepared. "I didn't burn anything."

Mr. Henson noted that many great leaders have dabbled in the kitchen.

"I remember reading Dr. King's wife's book," he said. "In her book, she [Coretta Scott King] said Dr. King would cook on Thursdays when he was in town and his buddies used to tease him. He really didn't have anything to be embarrassed about. He could cook. That was the '60s, this is the '90s," Mr. Henson said.

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