Seventh annual Grill For Good fundraiser heats up downtown Kent

Kent resident Josh Wilkinson and his three-year-old daughter, Sophia, enjoy food and ice cream at the seventh annual Grill For Good fundraiser in the Hometown Bank Plaza on Saturday, June 11, 2016.

Jenna Kuczkowski

The thick smell of smoke and roasting meats clouded the air on Saturday at the Hometown Bank Plaza in downtown Kent during the seventh annual Grill For Good fundraiser.

Sponsored by the Kent Junior Chamber of Commerce, the event is hosted every year to raise money for Family & Community Services, a social service agency based in Ravenna.

“All these people volunteer here; they supply all their food and time to help raise money for Family & Community Services,” said Chris Gui, a Kent Junior Chamber of Congress member who has organized the fundraiser for the last two years.

This year, 15 businesses, organizations and groups of individuals participated in the food tasting competition.

Each group offered two to three dishes, and were judged by the mayor of Kent, Jerry Fiala; ‘Another Food Critic’ freelance writer Tristan Navera; and the Akron Food Critic.

“We have a few business participating, but the rest are service organizations or just people who like to cook,” Gui said.

Participants in this year’s competition included two categories: professionals and nonprofessionals.

Little City Grill, Ray’s Place and Grazers—all Kent-based eateries—took part in the professional category, while the remaining 12 other groups, including the Kent Rotary Club, DS Architecture and Hometown Bank, participated in the nonprofessional category.

Last year, Kent resident Brian Sessions won first place in the professional category while representing Ray’s Place with a cuban sandwich made with ham and pickles. This year, Sessions cooked up chicken thighs and lamb gyros.

“I use a black and tan brine overnight on the chicken and it makes them plump up a little,” Sessions said.

Sessions and his wife Marilyn brought the project idea of a food competition fundraiser to the Kent Junior Chamber of Commerce seven years ago.

The inspiration to start Grill For Good came from the Sessions’ love of traveling to various festivals and fundraising contests all over the nation.

Also competing in the professional group were Stacy Lasher and Carl Bauer, managers of Grazers, the “create your own meal” restaurant. A relatively new restaurant, Grazers has been open nearly a year.

This year was the eatery’s first time participating and competing in the Grill For Good fundraiser. A  choice of either chicken over brown rice topped with chipotle sauce or the restaurant’s specialty vegan chili was offered to patrons.

The chili was entered into the food tasting competition to be judged.

“(The chili is) mine and my mom’s recipe; she came up with the initial recipe and then I just took the meat out and tweaked it more,” Bauer said. “It’s real simple and people love it; It’s got just enough heat to it where people know it’s chili, but it’s not too much.”

Competing in the non-professional category for almost every year since the festival began, Kent resident Gary Knuth won last year’s competition with his grilled figs.

“I figured I couldn’t compete with all these other meat dishes and I wanted to come up with something different and unique,” Knuth said, “ and figs just rose to the top.”

This year, Knuth stuck with fruit and grilled up peaches. To accompany it, he added vanilla bean and bourbon caramel.

“I sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on it with butter and grill it and then top it with vanilla cream and a bourbon caramel sauce,” Knuth said.

The winners of each category were announced mid-afternoon:

Grazers came in first place for the professional category. In the non-professional category, Gary Knuth placed first; the Kent Rotary Club received second for their apple cherry smoked ribs; and third place went to the Elks Club for their beef smoked brisket.

Throughout the fundraiser, Sobos, a Wooster-based classic rock group, and That 80s Band were brought in as entertainment. The Music Festival kicked off following the fundraiser.

“We … worked it out with the bars to have more ‘80s-themed bands after the festival (and fundraiser), starting at 7 p.m.,” Gui said, so people can move on to the bars and still have that same kind of theme going on.

The festival continued with ‘80s music at local bars in downtown Kent until 2 a.m.

Contact Jenna Kuczkowski at [email protected]