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‘Men Can Cook’ for parish fund-raiser

By Karen Mahoney
March 14th, 2008
Catholic Herald (www.chnonline.org)

RACINE, Wis. (Catholic Herald) - Fr. Ron Gramza knows how to feed his flock.

Since he began as pastor of St. Richard Parish, he has been busy sowing and reaping, and seems to have cooked up a winner with his latest venture.

Last Sunday, chef Fr. Gramza brought his cooking prowess - and his pistachio encrusted salmon - to the church hall, and joined 12 other members for Men Can Cook, a new and succulent fund-raiser for the parish.

"Well, I can't take credit for the idea, because I got it from another parish," he said, "But I thought it would be a fun way to raise funds and get people together."

Each of the 13 men from the parish donated the food, and prepared distinctive cuisines for a table of 12, including decorations, china servings, tablecloths and, in many cases, ethnic dress.

According to Fr. Gramza, the premise for the idea is that most men have at least one signature dish they prepare, and would welcome the challenge to show off their culinary talents. It was a good thing for the priest that he prepared a trial menu a couple of days before the event.

"I made these chicken wings, and they really turned out like charcoal briquettes," he said, laughing, "It gave new meaning to the term 'burnt offerings.'"

At $20 per plate, the dinner's 156 tickets sold out in just two weeks. Coordinator Bill Mutchler was surprised at the popularity and the willingness of the chefs to prepare somewhat exotic fare.

"There is a buzz going around here about who is going to be the next 'Iron Chef,'" he said.

Played to the hilt

Dressed in Lederhosen, chef Dave Swencki prepared a traditional German dinner featuring his signature dish, Rindfleisch Rouladen, Spatzel mit Kase, Rotkohl, apple strudel and Black Forest cheese cake.

The beef rouladen is an undisclosed combination of a couple of recipes about which Swencki's lips are sealed; the only tidbit of information he will offer is that his dinner beats the best German restaurant in Milwaukee.

"My wife and I went out one night and after eating the dinner, we said, 'This is OK, but mine is so much better,' and then I knew that I had a winner," he said. "I generally make this a couple of times a year - generally once during Oktoberfest and maybe again in the spring."

Admittedly, confession is good for the soul, and Swencki couldn't let the night go by without giving credit for the mouthwatering desserts to his wife, Laurel, also in traditional German dress.

"Well, I am not alone," she joked. "I think about 75 percent of the men here did have some help with the desserts by their wives."

The details and planning for the dinner amazed Laurel, who said that the parish has really banned together during the past few months, something that no one thought would happen after five southside Racine parishes merged into St. Richard. She gives credit to Fr. Gramza.

"He came up with a Sweetest Day spaghetti dinner with raffle baskets, and the big raffle was a private dinner for six that Fr. Ron cooked and served by himself," she said. "Then he came up with Men Can Cook, had immediate interest from the men, and they planned everything to the smallest detail."

Appetizers a hit

Noisy but popular were chef Bob Ortwein's appetizers. The Yah Yah Milwaukee Caviar needed a few instructions prior to biting into the crispy potato rounds, topped with a sour cream mixture and caviar.

"You pop this potato round in your mouth and chase it down with a drink of our special 'Irish Lourdes Water' (vodka)," he said, winking, "And then you shout 'Yah Yah Milwaukee.'"

Former St. Richard member Libby Castro enjoyed the outburst while eating the caviar.

"Ooh, this is very good, and I like the 'Lourdes' water, too," she said, laughing. "I hope this becomes an annual thing because this is awesome."

Just a bit nervous, chef Jim Cremer paced the dining area. Dressed in traditional black and white, he made certain everything was right for his formal six-course meal. The shrimp cocktail was perfect, the seasoned encrusted pork roast was tantalizing, but there was one thing that bothered him and one guest that made him nervous.

"My 95-year-old mom, Dorothy Cremer, is going to be my guest," he said. "I am using her famous German potato salad recipe and I have never made it before; she is known all over for this and I hope I got it right."

Sitting at the corner of the table, Dorothy offered little empathy.

"I hope he gets it right," she said matter-of-factly.

As chief assistant, 8-year-old Jacob Fell carried a note pad and walked from chair to chair, reporting to his dad, chef Bill Fell.
"My dad is making chicken cordon bleu and he is a really great cook," he said. "I am here to help him and to serve all the people."

In addition to the cordon bleu, Fell prepared cream of broccoli soup, wild rice, corn, and grasshopper pie. While each parent cooks in the home, Jacob said he couldn't decide who is the better culinary talent.

"Well, I like my dad's chicken cordon bleu the best and I like my mom's peanut butter and jelly the best," he said.

Assisting chef Judley Wyant with an unusual feast of caribou stroganoff with fresh green beans, Vladimir Mocan, 22, cooked Moldovan chicken soup with homemade noodles.

"Vladimir lives with us; he was my daughter's student when she was in the Peace Corps. He is from Moldova and now he attends UW - Parkside," Wyant said. "He is a great kid and a good sport to do this."

The caribou came from hunting buddy, Don Bufton, who shot the animal in Quebec and offered the meat to Wyant because, he said, "He is a better cook than I am."

"Well, I don't know about that," Wyant said. "I can only cook about five things; I just volunteered to do this because Fr. Ron is such a great guy."

As new parishioner Sandra Villarreal sliced into a crispy potato pancake, she seemed impressed with chefs Timothy Dyksinski and Adam Olearczyk's efforts to create a traditional Polish dinner.

"This is very good, and they did a wonderful job decorating for the event," she said. "I hope they do this every year; it's a good way for me to meet new people

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