MTSU soul food competition offers a fun, delicious way to spend an evening

Photos by BingNan Li / Contributing Writer

Story by Sergio Pacheco / Contributing Writer

A soul food competition was held Tuesday night in MTSU’s Tom Jackson building from 6-9 p.m. The competition was open to MTSU students, student organizations and employees. In order to compete, each contestant had to bring either one soul food item or a meal, which consisted of an entrée and two sides. Only two students decided to enter in this year’s competition.

Jerica Smith, a Louisiana native and MTSU senior, made some sweet and spicy mustard greens and cornbread, to which she added blueberries as her own special touch. Smith said she has never competed in a food competition before, but she’s learned to cook from some of the best. Her mother and grandmothers showed her how to make soul food.

“My food is cooked with love. So, when you eat it, you can taste the love and style of the food. I take my time with whatever I decide to cook,” said Smith.

Her competitor, Samantha Tillman, is a junior at MTSU and has also never competed in a cooking competition. She made banana pudding, which consists of pudding, vanilla, bananas and cookies. Tillman also brought some homemade macaroni and cheese.

“I’ve been cooking with my dad since I was about four or five, but I pretty much got the recipes from my mom,” said Tillman.

Laterica Jones, MTSU senior and an audience spectator, said her top three favorite soul food items are fish, candied yams and greens. When asked about who she thought would win the competition, she said Smith because of her delicious cornbread.

The manager of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs, Daniel Green, said a traditional soul food dinner consists of  “greens, cornbread, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes, chitlins and dumplings. Also, you need to have some kind of dessert like apple pie or chess pie.”

When asked about his favorite soul food items he said, “I love peach cobbler for dessert, fried chicken, greens and cornbread.” Green also predicted that Smith’s cooking would take home the trophy.

BréYhana Johnson, a junior and one of the soul food competition judges, said sweet potatoes, greens, corn, pinto beans, cabbage and fried chicken are the most popular items when it comes to soul food.

“I would say the dishes are connected to our soul. (Soul food) comes from part of our ancestry, like what we were eating when we were back in the motherland. All those things are connected to our culture and have a strong connection to our roots,” said Johnson.

When asked if she knew about restaurants that serve traditional soul food around Murfreesboro, she recommended two places: Kleer Vu and The Fish House.

Amani Simmons, sophomore and soul food judge, said she expected more people to attend and more dishes to try, but that the food she tried was pretty good. She said she has never judged a food event before, but she is willing to give it another.

The competitors were judged on creativity/originality, taste, presentation, cooperation between members, culinary skills and hygiene. Points were based on a one, being the lowest, to five, being the highest, scale. The winner of this year’s soul food competition was Samantha Tillman.

“I kind of felt like I was going to win, because I did have some very good macaroni. I didn’t really know what the turnout was going to be, but I’m very excited that I won,” said Tillman.  She said she might try to compete in the next soul food competition or maybe in the chili competition. 

If you weren’t able to make it to this year’s competition, you certainly missed out on some delicious food and a fun time. Be sure to watch out for the next cooking competition on campus to try your hand at trying to make an award winning dish!

To contact Lifestyles Editor Tayhlor Stephenson, email

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