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Hunts Point holds first annual Slam Bake cooking competition

Steamed cabbage served by Jesse McDonald, chair of Mothers on the Move, and Geraldine Draughon, her assistant.
Steamed cabbage served by Jesse McDonald, chair of Mothers on the Move, and Geraldine Draughon, her assistant.
Madina Toure/Examiner.com

The first annual Hunts Point Slam Bake was held on Wednesday evening to celebrate and highlight the diversity of food in the South Bronx neighborhood.

The Hunts Point Slam Bake, held at the Banknote Building on 1231 Lafayette Ave., is a cooking competition in which chefs, restaurants, schools and community organizations offered attendees samples of their food. Cooking Channel personality and Bronx taste maker Baron Ambrosia hosted the competition.

Hunts Point’s public wholesale markets, organized labor and the peninsula’s community-based organizations sponsored the event. Competitors included the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Charter School, Mothers on the Move, the Point Community Development Corporation, the Flor Delicia restaurant, Sustainable South Bronx, Hyde Leadership Charter School, the BLK ProjeK and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Samples included a variety of foods, including chicken breast with gravy, stew spare ribs, Japchai, a traditional Korean dish made with potato starch noodle, potato salad, Southern stuffing and steamed cabbage.

Food is the best way to get different sectors of the Hunts Point community to come together, said Paul Lipson, president of Barretto Bay Strategies, who is part of the team that created the competition.

“Food is life here,” Lipson said. “It is job. It is industry. It is wealth creation here. It’s everything. You have to have something in common to have a convening. It’s very rare to have management, labor and community in a room together. It’s never happened.”

After the public tasting, attendees filled out a ballot stating their preferences for the categories of "best presentation," "people's choice," "most imaginative" and "best overall execution." Two hundred eighty people filled out the ballots, Lipson said.

The "best overall execution" award went to Kelston Bascom, owner and caterer for Bascom Catering and Events. Flor Delicia, a family restaurant in Hunts Point, won the "People's Choice" award. Ricardo Lopez, program manager of an energy efficiency program at Sustainable South Bronx, won the "best presentation" award, while students at the John V. Lindsay Wildcat Charter School won the "most imaginative" award.

Competitors agreed that the competition was more about showcasing what Hunts Point and the Bronx in general have to offer and bringing members of the Hunts Point community together.

“I think the competition is more about the community getting to know each other and through food, it’s the best way,” said Mildred Guzman, 30, Flor Delicia's manager.

For Lopez, a program manager at Sustainable South Bronx, the competition was an opportunity to show that the Bronx has just as much to offer as any other borough.

“It brings all a lot of focus to the Bronx, which it really needs,” Lopez said. “It brings a lot of focus to local restaurants which people don’t really know about.”

Others saw the competition as an occasion to highlight other ethnic food that is available in the neighborhood.

“I want to introduce our Korean food to the community and it’s going to help my business,” said Don You, owner of Market Hero, the only Korean restaurant in Hunts Point.

The competition also featured a young crowd. Students in Hyde Leadership Charter School's health club were making their Hyde and Go Seek — a mixture of avocados, beans, tomatoes, jalapeños, pepper, corn and salt — at the competition. The competition gave the students an opportunity to showcase their recipes, said Eva Rubinoff, the health club's advisor and a school counselor at Hyde.

"To have the general public being able to try our food is something that is not only a great experience for them but is something that we have been working on and perfecting every week in our club," Rubinoff said.

Elisabeth Djahoue, 12, a seventh grader at Hyde, said that it was a good feeling to experience people enjoying the food that she and her peers were making.

"I think it was really fun seeing different faces that I recognize ... seeing them liking our food and commenting," Djahoue said. "I was really happy because we worked on it, made sure everything was fine and now it's done and actually serve everyone to eat it."

The event concluded with a public meeting to discuss Hunts Point’s submission to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Rebuild by Design program, an initiative that seeks to address the structural and environmental challenges brought on by Hurricane Sandy.