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Competitive cooks feed the town

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, May 26, 2007, at 1:34 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008, at 5:15 p.m.

Memorial Day weekend has always been a big time in Greensburg, and the May 4 tornado won't change that.

Neither will the people attending the town's annual rodeo and high school reunion go hungry, thanks to some barbecue aficionados from around the state and region.

About 20 people involved in barbecue cooking competitions were expected to arrive in Greensburg Friday night and this morning. They plan 3,000 meals.

Leading the effort is Ken Johnson of Topeka, who was driving back from a barbecue competition in Missouri with his wife when news of the tornado came over the radio.

"My wife said 'There's got to be something we can do for them,' " Johnson said. "All of a sudden I thought, let's go cook for them."

Johnson suggested the idea on a Web site visited by fellow cookers and it quickly gathered momentum. Cargill donated 1,000 pounds of beef, and cooks from Kansas, Colorado and Oklahoma volunteered to prepare it on four large smokers being brought to the town. Another 80 pounds of pork loin will also be prepared.

"We'll work in shifts, some cooking, some slicing and dicing," said Keri Cathey, a cookoff competitor from Broken Arrow, Okla., who's coming to Greensburg. She'll camp near the smokers.

Asked how the often competitive and secretive cooks will decide whose recipe to use, Catchy said, "You know, I don't know how they're going to work that out."

The barbecuers are just some of the many groups, individuals and private companies that have helped feed Greensburg residents and the aid workers helping them. Schwan's Foods is expected to hand out ice cream today, and Blue Bunny has promised to do the same soon.

"It (help) is coming from places all over the United States," said Dee Smith of the Salvation Army.

Johnson hopes a good dinner helps lift the spirits of Greensburg residents, with whom he feels a strong link. He survived the 1966 tornado that hit Topeka.

"I can remember coming up from the basement and not finding anything," he said.

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