Food, glorious food!

Rev. Kenny Irby, senior pastor of the historic Bethel AME Church, stuffing his face at the 24th annual Dine With Men Who Cook Culinary Food Festival.


ST. PETERSBURG – If there’s ever a time to make a pig of yourself, it’s at Bethel AME’s Dine With Men Who Cook Culinary Food Festival. For 24 years, budding chefs from around nation have vied for the title of “Top Chef” and bragging rights for a whole year.

“This is a citywide version of Sunday Best,” said Rev. Kenny Irby, senior pastor of the historic Bethel AME Church. “You know, Sunday supper when you used to go to Big Mamma’s house.”

Well, Big Mamma took May 19 off and headed over to Lake Vista Recreation Center where she and a bunch of other hungry folks took three and four trips around the u-shaped smorgasbord that included 46 senior chefs and 10 juniors.

This healthy competition between men wearing aprons started some two decades ago with co-chairs Lena Brown and Patricia Wright and became a part of Bethel’s history when it was incorporated as a prelude to their 1996 Calendar Tea. After 10 years, the baton was passed to Altamese Cannon and Suzanne Felton. Under their successful co-chairmanship, the event expanded to a new venue and grew by leaps and bounds.

In 2010, Larry and Faith Walker took over the reins and added a competitive edge, a VIP component, a larger venue, celebrity judges and chefs and monetary prizes.

The basketball gym was transformed into a mega banquet hall with cuisine ranging from Italian to Caribbean fare and everything in between. The dessert table was also a hit with hundreds of tantalizing treats courtesy of Swinton’s Bakery laid out in splendiferous glory.

Although the event was from 2-4 p.m., those who arrived around three o’clock missed out on a lot of dishes. An hour into the festival, some chefs were seen twiddling their thumbs because their pans were empty.

First-time competitor Jonathan James and his pint-sized sous chef Emory prepared macaroni and cheese with a drizzle of bacon. Emory’s job was to make sure the bacon was spread evenly over the cheesy goodness.

Rev. Kevin Wardlaw prepared chicken parmesan, or parmigiana if you want to get fancy. For the last two years, he made beef stew but decided on a little Italian for his third go round. It worked too; he was one of the five chefs to receive an honorable mention.

Edward Zeigler also decided on Italian cuisine with his Chicken Marsala. After cooking all week at Punky’s Bar & Grill on Central Avenue, this first-time competitor couldn’t help but show off his kitchen skills to the more than 300 people present.

Continuing the culinary cruise around the world, Julian Fullmer whipped up some oxtails, Jamaican style. His wife Christine is from the tropical island and has been teaching him how to cook their flavorful fare.

It wouldn’t be a competition without barbeque ribs. Walter Ivy smoked his ribs on the grill for three hours and prepared his own sauce, baked beans and dirty rice. He’s a butcher by day and runs a small eatery called Tips’ BBQ every first and third Saturday out of his house, 2570 15th Ave. S.

On the more gourmet side, LaDarian Cole made chuck roast with a steak béarnaise sauce and cream and red mash potatoes, and last year’s winner, Golden Monix, prepared chili with jalapeno cornbread, pulled pork sliders with pickled slaw, cheesecake with apple caramel drizzle and lemon bundt cake.

“These bake beans so good they’ll make you slap your mamma, but don’t slap your mamma though,” said Rep. Wengay Newton about his Newt’s Bangin’ Baked Beans. With sausage, bell peppers and bacon, somebody will get slapped!

Lennie Bowman and his best friend Joseph Davis whipped up some beef sausages with onion, Mexican corn and beef sliders in gravy. Bowman admitted that he does the cooking at home because his wife, Councilwoman Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, is too busy helping run the city.

Sam Hemingway, Jr abandoned his 94-year-old father, his usual cooking partner, and joined forces with former pastor of Bethel AME Bryant Fayson. The two cooked macaroni and cheese with crab meat and a little Spanish paella to boot.

But don’t feel bad for Sam Hemingway Sr., who has been in the game since the inception of the competition, he made the cheesiest, gooiest, creamiest macaroni and cheese ever. His pans were empty less than an hour into the event.

This year’s celebrity judges, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway, Bay News 9 anchor Erica Riggins and recent Gibbs High graduate Daniel Sanders, ate so much they were ready to take a nap. Before they passed out, they managed to pick three winners:

  • 3rd Place – Milton Lilly
  • 2nd Place – Nate William
  • 1st Place – Shawn Bowman

Lilly won second place in the 2017 and 2018 competitions with his curry chicken and shrimp. This year’s third-place win garnered him $50 for the same recipe, while Williams took home $150 for his black rice dish.

Bowman, however, was able to stave off the competition with his Mongolian beef and lo mein noodles. He won first place back in 2017 but had to sit out last year due to a back injury.

Bowman started cooking as early as five years old in his grandmother’s kitchen. Maybe that’s where he learned to marinate the beef for up to eight hours to tenderize it. He served the meal in cute little Chinese takeout boxes, and the judges went wild.

Born in Rochester, N.Y., the unmarried Sarasota resident is a nurse and owns a home health agency. So ladies, if you’re looking for a man with a good job who cooks so well he wins competitions, you can reach Bowman at the Light of the World International Church on Chapel Drive in Sarasota.

Congratulations to all who participated. You’re all winners!

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