Yes, I have all of the frozen okra: An email back and forth with my cooking competition

Yes, I have all of the frozen okra: An email back and forth with my cooking competition

Last night, I bought just about every bag of frozen okra my grocery store had in stock. I didn't even know grocery stores carried frozen okra until last night and there I was walking away with my cart loaded with the stuff. What does a 31-year-old man who rarely cooks need with an armload of frozen okra? I'm glad you asked. (OK, maybe I asked myself, but somebody had to ask about the frozen okra.) I'm competing in Geneva's 30 Men vs. 30 Women Who Cook competition tonight. (Click on the link for more information about it. It's a cool event.) Joining me in the competition will be Kane County Chronicle editor Kathy Gresey, a longtime friend and former coworker who replaced me at the KCC. So, of course, this means war. Or, at the very least, an email chain filled with mild trash talk:

Kathy Gresey: So, Joe, you and I are friends. But now Laura Rush with the Geneva Chamber of Commerce says that – out of all the chefs who are participating in 30 Men vs. 30 Woman Who Cook – you want to challenge me? What are you cooking? And, more importantly, what makes you think you can top the chili that I'll be making?

Joe Grace: Friend? Friend? In the kitchen, there are no friends. But we're better than that, right? Right? Maybe? OK, old friend, this is how it's going to go down. I'll be making my famous Going for Gusto Gumbo. And by famous, yes, I mean edible. Now while it's true I've never made gumbo before, I've also never made most foods before so I believe my vast experience with not making foods is really going to help me in this competition. Also, as a longtime veteran of these fundraisers, now in my fourth year of competitively cooking as a man, I have the added bonus of knowing how to propertly panic at 2 a.m. the night before when I realize I still have 200 portions of an item to make. So, I believe the real question is, what makes you think your chili can top my panic-flavored gumbo?

KG: I'll give you the "veteran" factor. But I have something even bigger going for the chili I'll be making – Fat Pete's Chili already has won a first-place award for best chili. That was at a work function a few years back. The chili is made with an array of beans, meat, peppers, spices and other ingredients. What are you throwing into your gumbo?

JG: Well, then you should know that Going for Gusto Gumbo has already won a first-place award for best named menu item. That was at a function in my mind a few minutes ago. That chili sounds awesome, by the way. You can never go wrong with an array of beans. Well, maybe in an oil field. As for what I'll be throwing in my gumbo, that's a secret, even from myself. This is because I may or may not know what actually goes into a gumbo. Chicken and sausage and rice and other stuff, right? I'm sure I can figure out the other stuff. Are you looking forward to your first true cooking competition?

KG: I am definitely looking forward to the event. I attended last year and really enjoyed the atmosphere and tasting the different foods. You?

JG: I love this event! It was one of the highlights of my year when I was editor and continues to be so afterward. Everybody and their mother attends. Grandma is there, too. There are so many chefs who – unlike me – are very talented and prepare some simply delectable morsels. It's a fun atmosphere, and everybody compliments me on my cooking – even when I made stuffed grape leaves, which made my kitchen reek for weeks. I still can't handle the smell of brined grape leaves. Blurgh. I must know one more thing. Your chili – does it have a secret ingredient? (And you can't say love. Unless, of course, they've discovered how to make an actual spice out of it.)

KG: I will be honest. One of the characteristics of this particular chili is that it has no exact recipe. The chili is named after my dad, Pete (hence the name). I've made the chili with my dad since I was just a little kid. We don't use measuring cups or teaspoons. It's a can of this one day and a dash of something else another. But it's always good. Anyway, I do wish you the best of luck Friday. May the best chef win!

So, there you have it. Two warriors in the kitchen ready for battle. One with an awesome-sounding chili. The other with bags of frozen okra. It should be special.

• Going for Gusto is a blog by Joe Grace that looks for the awesome in life. Please support Going for Gusto by liking the Facebook page at Facebook.com/GoingForGusto.

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