Summer cookouts are regular events around Lawrence, but a summer cook-OFF only happens once a year. The 3rd annual River City Cook-Off, a benefit for the Friends of the Kaw, is a chef competition that takes place this Sunday, June 24, at Abe and Jake’s Landing, 8 E. Sixth St.
Friends of the Kaw is a non-governmental advocacy group that aims to help control pollution and act as the “eyes, ears and voice” for the Kansas River, while also making the river more accessible for recreational purposes to all Kansans.
“We want people to know that the Kansas River is the source of drinking water for 600,000 Kansans, so we want people to know why we need to protect and preserve it,” said Laura Calwell, Kansas Riverkeeper and executive director of Friends of the Kaw.
Event attendees will be able to learn about the river and Friends of the Kaw while munching on food concocted by some of the city’s best chefs. Angel Alvarez from Tortas Jalisco and MexQuisito, Garth Atchison from Wheatfields Bakery & Café, Ken Baker from Pachamama’s, Hilary Brown from Local Burger, and Brad Walters from Basil Leaf Café each will prepare two dishes, one with meat and one vegetarian, to vie for the title of River City Cook-Off Champion.
Attendees will mingle try the dishes, while listening to a DJ, then they will vote on which chef’s dish they liked the best. The chef with the most votes claims the title.
Also this year, Calwell will select her personal favorite dish, and that chef will win the Riverkeeper Selection.
“We want the chefs to be creative; they don’t have to do anything from their menu if they don’t want to,” Calwell said. “They’re serving samples, but, trust me, you’ll get full.”
Alvarez, who is the chef at both Tortas Jalisco and MexQuisito, is participating in the cook-off for the second time, having been a part of the inaugural event two years ago. He plans to make his restaurants’ popular tacos de papas (potato tacos) and chicken and mole pombazos.
“It’s a good cause. I’m happy to go to the event, because I want everybody to try our food,” he said. “It would be nice to be recognized as the best; I’ll keep my fingers crossed.”
Calwell says that the funds raised from this event are crucial to Friends of the Kaw, because they support advocacy efforts that grants do not cover, such as patrolling the river for pollution and reaching out to local communities to encourage them to install access ramps to the river.
To date, Friends of the Kaw has helped put in 10 access ramps in places such as Wamego, Eudora, Junction City, Topeka, DeSoto and Lawrence.
“We’re not going to rest until we get one every 10 miles. Right now, between Wamego and Topeka, it is 40 miles between access ramps,” she said.
Calwell says that the organization’s efforts to construct access ramps even have been recognized by the federal government.
“We are being considered as a National Water Trail by the Department of the Interior of the U.S. government. That would be wonderful for the Kansas River,” she said.
That is not small potatoes, no matter how they are cooked.