CASSANDRA GAINES, Tourism Executive and Founder: THE NATIONAL SOUL FOOD COOK-OFF
Interview length: 17 minutes
Who:Cassandra Gaines is a recognized and celebrated tourism executive in the state of Oklahoma. Presently, she holds the positions of Muskogee Civic Center Director; Muskogee Multi-Cultural Tourism Coordinator; and Manager of The Roxy Theater, a historic and beloved Muskogee landmark. Cassandra has been actively involved in tourism in the Northeastern Oklahoma region since 1982. She is a pioneer in the tourism industry’s rapidly growing niche market of Heritage Tourism. Cassandra is well known for the Oklahoma Historical Black Town Tour sponsored by the City of Muskogee, and speaking to groups throughout the United States on Heritage Tourism. She continues to study African American History and promote African American Tourism in the region and nationally Cassandra has been featured in media including The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; and Essence magazine. Her love of cooking, food, and its relevance to heritage led to her being interviewed by The Today Show’s Al Roker for The Food Channel.
In 2008, Cassandra founded The National Soul Food-Cook
Off, a local, regional and national competition to showcase
the best soul food chefs in communities nationwide and provide
a unique family, cultural heritage and entertainment venue. The
Cook-Off features good food, fun and an educational component
regarding the history of soul food cooking and cooking tips from
top chefs. Already generating tremendous interest and excitement,
the Cook-Off is quickly becoming an institution. Cities welcoming
the landmark event this year include Little Rock, Arkansas; Tulsa
Oklahoma; Oklahoma City; Jackson, Mississippi; and Beaumont Texas.
In each city, the event has featured some of the finest local
chefs, until now unheralded, and a sell-out crowd of families
and community members young and old.
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Sponsors of The National Soul Food Cook-Off are varied and growing in number. The founding sponsor is Paula Marshall, CEO of Oklahoma-based The Bama Companies, Inc. (best known for Bama Pies.) Paula’s company motto is “People helping people be successful!” and her commitment to the Cook-Off is indicative of this philosophy. The popular chain Runts Barbecue, with five stores throughout the state of Oklahoma is also a sponsor of the Cook-Off. Most recently, Cassandra has welcomed JTE Spirits as a sponsor. JTE, headed by Sheena and Paul Jones, is the maker of Pour Moi, a fine cognac blended in France especially for women.
Why: A high-spirited and innovative thinker, Cassandra’s vision for The National Soul Food Cook-Off is to establish an enduring event that preserves rich African American traditions and celebrates the cultural heritage of soul food. She revels in the universal art of bringing people together to enjoy good food. A renaissance woman with tremendous energy, Cassandra Gaines is also an advocate for women’s health care, particularly the prevention of breast cancer, a disease she has joyously defeated.
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