The contestants were tying their aprons and putting on their chef’s hats when LeGrant Taylor, captain of the 4 Wise Men cooking team, shared a few words with his female opponents: “Don’t take this personally.”
Kathy Jefferson with the DIVAS (Divinely Inspired Virtuously Anointed Sistas) had only one response: “Bring it!”
And with those fighting words, two teams were moments away from competing in the Hatcher Grove Christian Community’s healthy Iron Chef challenge on Saturday at The Chef’s Academy in Morrisville.
Before a gallery of their fellow church members, the four-person teams had an hour to prepare an appetizer, entree and dessert using five nutrient-packed foods: quinoa, Greek yogurt, walnuts, sweet potatoes and blueberries.
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Beyond the cheering and competitive antics, Saturday’s cooking contest illustrated a broader effort by some churches to focus not only on their members’ spiritual health but their physical well-being.
“Especially within the African-American community, there are the issues of diabetes and hypertension,” said the Rev. Kenneth Pugh of Hatcher Grove, a Morrisville church with about 500 predominately African-American members.
In fact, blacks are twice as likely as whites to get diabetes, 40 percent more likely to get hypertension and 1.4 times more likely to be obese.
The numbers for diabetes and obesity aren’t much better in the Hispanic community, according to statistics from the federal Office of Minority Health.
A decade ago, Wake County health officials started the Health Promotion Chronic Disease Prevention program to reach out to those minority communities.
Lydia Loyd, a registered dietitian, said the county team works with churches, community groups and businesses that don’t offer health insurance to teach healthier practices – from serving water along with sweet tea as refreshments to screening for high cholesterol and hypertension.
Last year, Loyd and her peers worked with 16 churches in Wake County. This year, the county and Be Active North Carolina, a nonprofit branch of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, teamed up with Hatcher Grove, which had take some steps on its own.
In 2009, church members started a Saturday morning walking group, which lead to a health fair, an annual 5K road race and other fitness classes. And the refreshments after service switched from doughnuts and pastries to Nutri-Grain bars and bananas.
The initiative pushed Pugh, Hatcher Grove’s pastor, who has hypertension, to be an example to his congregation.
He started playing racquetball three times a week, gave up sodas and dessert and cut back on meat. He lost 15 pounds and hopes to eventually get off his blood pressure medicine.
Church member Tabatha Archibald has seen her family of eight get more active and eat healthier, thanks to her 15-year-old daughter, Asia. Her daughter wanted to join the church’s Saturday morning walking group.
Soon, all eight family members and their six dogs were walking or running three times a week. And Archibald says now she bakes chicken instead of frying it, only serves bread on Sundays and drinks more water.
Gevetta Lawrence, a church member who helped organize Saturday’s competition, says the group wanted to focus more on nutrition and organized the cook-off.
For a little more than an hour, the men and women hustled around a kitchen, baking salmon, grilling asparagus, turning out a sweet potato salsa. The men’s team touted their recipes for having no sugar or salt.
When the judges’ declared the women’s team as the winners, Taylor, the captain of the men’s team, said he was not surprised:
“I’ve tasted these ladies’ cooking.”