GREENSBORO — For two decades, community chefs who are “famous in their own kitchens” have gathered to participate in an annual event called Men Can Cook.
Over the years, barbecue, slaw and other culinary creations have helped raise thousands of dollars for the Women’s Resource Center.
In three months, the event will ring in its 21st year with a new twist for those 21 and over — locally crafted wine, beer and distilled spirits served with the food.
Ashley Brooks, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, said that chefs will also be encouraged to create smaller, cocktail-friendly dishes to go along with the event’s new upscale feel.
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For Brian Smith, a Men Can Cook alum, the food he’s served has always been about creating a little piece of a bigger meal.
He’s been involved with the event since his wife, Marti Smith, started working as the director of operations at the Women’s Resource Center 15 years ago.
At past events, he’s served dishes ranging from tiny beef tacos with a side of pico and crema to Greek chicken bites with tzatziki sauce, and thinks of ground beef as his signature ingredient when cooking at home.
But this year, Smith plans to let the new twist have an influence on his hors d’oeuvres.
“We didn’t have a local craft brewery scene 10 years ago like we do now,” Smith said. “I like the challenge of thinking along those lines, of what goes well with that.”
Although ground beef is Smith’s special ingredient, he sees the Women’s Resource Center as relating to a well-known phrase about fish.
In his eyes, the center is an expansion of give someone a fish, you feed them for a day, but teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.
“Maybe you already know how to fish but don’t know where to get a fishing rod,” Smith said. “Maybe you have some ideas about fishing but it just needs some refinement. Or maybe you’ve never tasted fish, and don’t care for it, but need to do something else to feed yourself… That’s one of the things I love about the center’s way of working, they think both things are important.”
Brooks said this twofold purpose, both as a bridge to resources and being a resource itself, was one of the founding principles of the center when it started in 1995.
“I think it’s pretty much a proven deal that access to resources is one of the biggest problems that people have,” Brooks said. “We have all these wonderful agencies and a great community system of caring in Greensboro, but you need to know how to access those services. Being able to find those resources when you need them is the most difficult part and that’s really why we opened.”
Annually, the center serves about 9,000 women and 7,500 families who come from multiple backgrounds and different experiences. Brooks said the center is designed to help women no matter where they are in their lives.
Like the widow who’s lost her husband and now has to handle the finances.
Like the single mother who just lost her job, her family’s main source of income, and now needs to rejoin the labor force and start anew.
And like the many women who have been taking care of others for so long, who are now faced with taking care of themselves and don’t know where to start.
“The mission of the women’s center is to help women to lead self-directed lives,” Brooks said. “To live up to their full potential so they have independent family success.”
Brooks said a lot of the resourcing the center is focusing on now is related to the housing crisis.
Due to financial drains from the pandemic, a lot of women are unable to pay their rent and find affordable housing, Brooks said. And about 25% of the women who come into the center are from the homeless population.
In addition to this housing crisis outsourcing, the center is also continuing to provide in-house programming like job training, support groups for emotional wellness and community resource counseling, where women meet one-on-one with trained research specialists that connect them to resources within and outside of the center.
One of the major sources of funding for the center’s programming is Men Can Cook. Brooks said that last year, the event raised over $100,000 for the center through tickets, sponsorships and silent auction gift baskets.
This year, the center has a goal of signing up at least 40-50 chefs as they move the event back to Greensboro Coliseum’s Piedmont Hall.
“There have always been men involved with the women’s center,” Brooks said. “So, (Men Can Cook) is kind of showcasing the men that have been helping us all along the last 27 years… Showcasing the everyday fella who’s been supporting the women’s center for a long time who is an excellent cook.”
Smith has yet to decide what he plans to make for the event, but said he is looking forward to seeing what the new twist will bring.
He encourages all home chefs to apply for Men Can Cook, which he said is a lively time that brings all members of the community together.
“It’s a relatively low commitment for a whole lot of fun,” Smith said. “It’s a neat atmosphere, it feels like a party at the event… And it is the one time a year I get to cook for just the enjoyment of it, just because I enjoy cooking.”
Contact Brianna Atkinson at 336-373-7312.