There is odd food on the table when a local charity brings men together once a year to compete for the best dishes in a fundraiser.
A McKeesport historical recreationist who only identified himself as Ghost in the Head was serving frog stew Saturday at the 8th Annual Men’s Culinary Classic at Washington County Fairgrounds in Chartiers Township, while wearing an American Indian costume featuring a helmet and cape created from bear fur.
“I won best booth last year, but more importantly we’re able to feed the hungry and help the people in need,” he said. “It’s my way of giving back.”
Nearly 20 men were competing in the event to support Community Action Southwest, whose programs in Washington and Greene counties include Head Start, nutrition services through Women Infants and Children, senior services and other initiatives to help low-income residents achieve a greater level of self-sufficiency.
“Most of them are amateur chefs,” said Juli Lawrence, CAS’s marketing and development director. “They’re all guys who like to cook. It’s real good.”
Winners were selected by the highest number of wooden coins the men received in votes cast by the more than 200 people who came to the competition.
At a booth next to Ghost in the Head, Bryan Cunning was dressed as a casual President George Washington and handing out samples of a dish he named townburner chili.
“George Washington was named ‘Townburner’ by the Indians,” said Cunning, of Washington, who portrays the nation’s first president at Sen. John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh. “During the American Revolution, he did burn some villages out.”
Cunning, however, told a fable to those who stop by, saying Washington earned the nickname because he took some Indians this chili and it’s so hot “it actually burned their village down.”
Across the hall, Jack Dodson of Washington was passing out mushroom caps stuffed with alligator sausage.
Dodson said he could feel the heat because his booth is situated next to one run by defending champion Eric Miller of Canonsburg. Last year, Miller won the best overall award for his chicken carbonara flavored with bacon and heavy cream.
“You can’t go wrong with bacon,” said Miller, who went on to win the championship again Saturday and take home a high-quality engraved skillet produced by All-Clad Metalcrafters in Canonsburg.
This year he handed out 400 glazed meatball lollipops, and they were all gone within the first hour of the competition.
His meatballs on a stick were cooked in a tomato-based sauce with horseradish and brown sugar and then coated with Japanese-style bread crumbs.
“I do it more for the charity,” he said. “They’re all good people, and it’s a good time.”
Among the other highlights of the evening was a pierogi-eating contest. The winner, James “the Bear” McDonald, flew in to compete from Connecticut and won by eating 56 pierogi in three minutes, said Tony DePalma, a WJPA radio news reporter in Washington, who served as master of ceremonies at the cooking contest.