BALTIMORE — “Whose cuisine will reign supreme?” Thirty-two area chefs will vie to answer that question over the next few months in the Mason Dixon Master Chef Tournament, a unique addition to the area’s summer entertainment lineup.

“Good friendly competition is very important whether in small-town USA, where you’re competing for the cherry pie recipe of the year at the annual homecoming parade, or you have a multi-city, multi-chef competition like this one. It pushes us to do better,” said chef, Damon Hersh, an emcee and judge for the tournament.

Drawing on the mounting popularity of television cooking shows such as Bravo’s “Top Chef” and Food Network’s “Iron Chef America,” the 16-week cook-off launched May 10, offering a welcome alternative to the usual Mother’s Day fare.

Karen Folkart, chief operations officer of the event, said while those network shows make for good viewing, experiencing the competition firsthand—along with a four-course dinner—is better.

“It’s great to watch those shows on TV, but you can’t talk to the chefs, see what they’re doing and smell the food,” she told the AFRO.

“Not since Lucy and Ricky Ricardo did dinner and a show have we done something like this,” said Hersh. “It’s fun and it’s different.”

And it’s also a way of giving back, he added. Ten percent of the tournament’s ticket sales will go to Moveable Feast, a local nonprofit founded two decades ago to feed HIV/AIDS patients who were shut in.

“Twenty years ago nobody was doing that because there was such a stigma attached to it (the disease),” said Hersh, who is the executive chef of the organization.

Since then, the group’s mission has grown, distributing 500,000 meals a year to “people in crisis”—95 percent African American—including those with acute renal failure, breast cancer and end-state diabetes; ex-felons in the midst of rehabilitation and the homeless.

For the chefs involved, the competition offers not only the potential of bragging rights but also the chance to see what their peers are doing.

“I’m absolutely excited,” said David Thomas, a chef of 18 years and executive chef at Coburns Tavern & Grill, who will compete on June 15.

Thomas – the soon-to-be owner of the Negro League Café, which is slated for opening next year – said he’s sure his brand of Southern cuisine, which “offer familiar flavors with high-end presentation” will be a crowd-pleaser.

Folkart said the other 31 chefs are just as talented and are worthy of the anticipated attention the competition will bring.

“The original idea was to highlight the Baltimore area as a culinary destination,” she said.

“For many years, Baltimore was relegated to the sibling role to D.C. role and Philadelphia but that is changing,” Hersh said. “Maryland is putting some people out there for people to take notice of.”

For information on location, times, tickets and participating chefs, log onto


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO