Germantown collard-green cookoff leads to cultural discussions (and a shared recipe)

Collard greens, the inexpensive and underestimated gems of the culinary world, took the lead at Grace Baptist Church in Germantown on Saturday. There, could-be chefs vied against one another in a collard greens cook-off which was the start in the series of fundraisers for Lucien Crump Art Gallery‘s non-profit art organization.

Chef Bernard Talley started the afternoon’s activities with a live cooking demonstration, showing a meat-based and vegan version of cooking collard greens. He also shared tips on kitchen safety and the benefits of pink Himalayan rock salt.

Jim Green, a financial consultant from Mt. Airy, said he was intrigued by the use of the rock salt, and impressed with the demonstration, “but no one can beat my wife’s greens.” Nancy Reeder, also from Mt. Airy, added that she thought Chef Bernard’s greens were full of flavor.

The collard chefs

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Cook-off participants included Bayard Davis, from Mt. Airy, who noted that her greens recipe was passed down from her grandmother. Her special ingredients included pork, a stick of margarine, and hot sauce.

Dr. William Dent, a retired optometrist, brought a unique flavor to greens with Victorian perch. Dr. Dent noted that the original recipe was from the Congo, but he came up with his own take on it after cooking more traditional versions of greens. According to Dr. Dent, Victorian perch is the most widely eaten fish in the world.

Mt. Airy’s Henrietta Hadley won the cookoff with her “Star Greens with Turkey and Love” recipe which her brother-in-law passed along. It is made with fresh garlic, onion, pepper, smoked turkey parts and olive oil. She let the greens simmer in a slow cooker for almost an entire night.

“They told me I cook as good as Chef Bernard, so I had to do it for them,” said Hadley of the girls from her non-profit organization Star Models Youth Development Program, an afterschool program which Chef Bernard visited.

Chef Joan Woodberry, one of the cook-off judges and owner of Baby Cakes Baked Goods, said all of the greens “had their own distinct flavor and different cut.”

“It depends on your palate,” Woodberry said. “Most people of color here in America with ancestry from the South have a distinct perspective for the flavors in their vegetables.”

A tasty springboard

Loretta C. Tate, the executive director of the Lucien Crump Gallery Art Education Resource Center, said the event was about more than just food.

It provided an opportunity to promote the beginning of a series of lectures about “African American culture based off a foundation of West African history including genealogy, language and art” and delve into “the cultural associations of African-Americans.”

“For example, if you are a person that likes vinegar with your greens, you might have some Portuguese background. If you like pork and red pepper in your greens, that comes directly from West African ancestry,” she said. “Most African-Americans are of West African descent.”

Future lectures will also include another food of African origin: grits or porridge.

Here’s a collard green recipe

According to his granddaughter Niambi Brown, cook-off competitor Dr. William Dent’s claim to fame is being the first African-American eye doctor in Philadelphia. Dr. Dent was in practice for more than 50 years, and is an avid supporter and collector of art by the late Lucien Crump.

Dr. Dent’s Victorian perch collard greens

1 lb. collard greens

Victorian perch (also known as Nile perch or African snook)

pepper (to taste)

salt (to taste)

olive oil

Japanese fish sauce (a sprinkle, to taste)

Salt and pepper your fish, and add a drizzlie of olive oil and Japanese fish sauce. Steam fish for about five to ten minutes. Put aside. Chop your collard greens and boil them for about 20 minutes. Combine the fish and greens in a slow cooker and cook on low for about four hours. Add more olive oil on top to finish.

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