Food & Drink : Man cries over onions

Real Men Cook combines recipes with anecdotes and life lessons

“Real Men Cook.” Hmm. If here be truth, then it sort of throws the whole man-mouse quandary into flux for me, as I am, shall we say, culinarily retarded. Delayed. Impeded. Like the type of dude who could burn a bowl of Corn Flakes. That’s me. For sad, no-cooking me, then, and for similarly afflicted Men of the Microwave, 100-plus African-American fathers, sons, and grandfathers are here to help.

In 1989, Chicago community activist Karega Kofi Moyo and wife Yvette founded Real Men Cook for Charity, a Father’s Day cook-off intended to elevate the family, challenge negative assumptions about men — particularly African-American men — and recognize males who are positive examples for and contributors to their families and communities. More than a decade-and-a-half later, lists 13 participating cities and the event has become the largest Father’s Day charity celebration in the country, raising more than $1 million for nonprofits like YMCA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

Real Men Cook: More than 100 Easy Recipes Celebrating Tradition and Family is the second cookbook (or the first, depending on how you look at it) by K. Kofi Moyo and Real Men Cook, following last year’s hardcover offering Real Men Cook: Rites, Rituals and Recipes — which, near as I can tell, is the same book with $9.95 tacked onto the list price and minus a foreword by Senator Barack Obama. This year’s paperback edition provides recipes, stories, poems, and writings from recreational and professional chefs of all walks and ages, as well as eight pages of glossy dish depiction.

Moyo begins each chapter with an essay, and the topics range from his bringing-up on Chicago’s South Side to life lessons to food philosophy. He writes about slow-cooked gravy as a metaphor for ascending to manhood; about the joys and heartaches of raising (and feeding) nine children; about his oak-strong grandmother Bessie Moore, a “professional domestic engineer” (not “servant”) who demanded — and got — respect from her wealthy white employers, negotiated her work schedule to her liking, and purchased a lakefront vacation cabin, something of a rarity for a black woman in 1948. Elsewhere, Moyo includes a brief history of Real Men Cook and a play-by-play of a typical Father’s Day, à la RMC, with food and family high on the menu. Food, Moyo says, brings people together, reinforces family bonds and traditions, and creates personal connections. “I have evolved into a person who sees food as something more than just fuel to keep the body going,” he writes in his introduction to Chapter 1. “It is a thing to be experienced, savored and shared.”

Insofar as cuisine is concerned, there’s a good mix here, with a healthy Cajun-and-Southern emphasis, including everything from Walter Cannon’s Stop-Fighting-In-That-Line Shrimp and Broccoli Casserole to Peter Henderson’s Buffalo Soldiers’ Stampede Stew to Otis Henderson’s This Ain’t Momma’s Tuna Casserole. (There’s even a tutorial for homemade Sangria.) Vegetarian options are limited, particularly in terms of entrees, but there are some; Dr. Bacon’s (yes, Bacon) Vegan Chili and Curlee Adams’ Vegetable Casserole are among them. There are also decidedly non-vegetarian dishes — Illinois Congressman Danny K. Davis’s Special Barbecue Raccoon, for instance, or Charles Sherell’s Don’t Be a Boar Feast, which calls for “one 40-pound wild pig from Zimbabwe” and “one 16-pound wild turkey from West Virginia.” (Cosmopolitan, no?)

Real Men Cook: More than 100 Easy Recipes Celebrating Tradition and Family
By K. Kofi Moyo
$16, 182 pages
ISBN: 0743272641

In reviewing a cookbook, I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t try making something, kitchen aversions notwithstanding. So, I approximated two of the simplest-seeming recipes and set intrepidly and Columbus-like to work. Results? Sporty King’s Macaroni and Cheeze is nigh-absurdly Cheezy, and Devin McCormick’s McWaldorf Salad calls for too much mayonnaise for my palate (which, faith, is one heckuva lot of mayo), but both were eminently edible, and represented the most complicated meal I had ever made. (By the way, that thing about cutting onions and crying? Totally true, I found out. Just so you know.) Real Men Cook is a uniquely spirited, able cookbook, and more. The only real complaint I can voice concerns the binding: My copy fell completely and mystifyingly apart after about three days in my care ... who’s the Real Man now? Really, though, I’m not sure what happened — I must’ve gotten a dud. I now own the Real Men Cook Assortment of Sequential Pamphlets. At any rate, the content is heartfelt, intriguing, entertaining and, potentially, tasty. Come for the food, stay for the wisdom and tradition. Then, eat the food.

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