Cooking For A Cause At 12th Annual ‘Men Who Cook’

CAFCA | May 13, 2019 |

Fernando Solis towed his smoker to Warsaw Park Saturday, making his 45-minute-trip from East Hampton to participate in the 12th annual Men Who Cook fundraiser. While there, he barbecued brisket, pulled pork and ribs at 9:30 a.m., hours before the event’s 6 p.m. start time. “It’s awesome,” Solis said. “Just being in the Valley is cool.”

Solis was among the event’s 69 male “celebrity” cooks preparing dishes and raising money for TEAM, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of economically disadvantaged families in Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Derby, Milford, Orange, Oxford, Seymour, Shelton and Woodbridge.

Lisa Savoid, spokeswoman for the nonprofit, said Men Who Cook is TEAM’s main fundraiser. On Saturday night, Chaz, star of 99.1 PLR’s radio show “Chaz & AJ,” emceed the event, which also featured a silent auction and raffle prizes. Savoid said there were close to 100 auction items donated by local businesses and private citizens. The grand raffle prize was a free seven day, six night cruise to either the Caribbean or Mexico.

Kate Zarro, a member of TEAM’s board of directors, organized the auction. She said over 105 donors contributed to it, with some donations paired together. “Sam Adams donated 60 12-packs of beer and two of our volunteers drove to Boston to pick it up,” Savoid said with the smile. A painting of lilies was donated by Joanna Lucas, an artist from Oxford whose two children went through the Head Start program offered by TEAM.

“She got help from TEAM,” Zarro said. “It’s great to see people giving back.” John Mihalko, offensive line coach for Ansonia High School’s varsity football team, is a regular participant in Men Who Cook. He donned a black Men Who Cook baseball cap and apron, while serving his corned beef Reuben dip on Triscuits at one table. “This is amazing,” Kim Moffatt of Fairfield said after sampling the dip. “I think it’s wonderful. It’s fabulous,” she added of the fundraiser. Her friend, Carolyn Miller of Milford, accompanied Moffatt on a girls’ night out. “I tried the chocolate truffle,” Miller said. “It was outstanding.”

Outside the building, a brick oven was set up in the parking lot. Chef Michael Franco pulled a buffalo chicken pizza out of it. He made pies with Hector Velez, chef and owner of Sabores De Lena wood-fired cuisine. Velez said they were representing his employer, United Methodist Homes, based in Shelton. Over his eight years of participating in the event, Velez said they had a taco bar and prepared shrimp scampi, as well as varieties of pizza, including fig prosciutto and chicken bacon ranch.

“I enjoy it,” Franco said of cooking for the fundraiser, “and do it as if I was doing it for my mother and grandmother.” All of the men who cook say it feels good to help TEAM, Inc.’s mission. Among its programs are Head Start for children up to age four, Meals on Wheels, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Home Heating Assistance. TEAM also assists families with income taxes, employment, housing and has a diaper bank.

Lorrie Hoak, director of support services for TEAM, said people often come to the nonprofit for one type of program before receiving referrals for other help their family needs from staff members. Agne Covill, assistant director of support services, said 3,000 people received home heating assistance last winter and sign ups already started for next year. TEAM is the largest provider of Head Start’s early childhood programs in the state and was recognized as being in the top 10 percent in the nation for the excellence of the programs, according to Hoak.

“All of our programs rely on federal and state grants,” Jamie Peterson, director of early childhood prevention said, adding of Men Who Cook, “this supplements those funds. It’s a good time, but it’s a really good cause. We’re grateful and proud of those who attend and give of themselves for this event.”