Yale Bulletin and Calendar

February 18, 2000Volume 28, Number 21

Kemel Dawkins, associate vice president for facilities (wearing an apron and chef's hat), shares his prize-winning Irish whiskey cake with judges and guests at "Look Who's Cookin' Now!" Some of Dawkins' friends have told him his specialty is better than the famous Downey's Irish whiskey cake.

Yale 'bakers' show off their talents at benefit event

Judges at a recent men's bake sale to benefit Habitat for Humanity's Women's Build III concluded what friends and family members of Kemel Dawkins have known for a long time: He makes a darn good Irish whiskey cake.

Dawkins, associate vice president for facilities, took the Luck o' the Irish Prize in the "Look Who's Cookin' Now!" Men's Auxiliary Bake Sale, which featured the kitchen creations of 88 men from the New Haven community. In addition to Dawkins, five other Yale staff members donated baked goods to the benefit, held on Feb. 10 at the New Haven Lawn Club.

Lovers of Irish whiskey cake -- and of Dawkins' specialty in particular -- will be pleased to know that, unlike the restaurant where the Yale administrator first discovered his own fondness for the cake, he's willing to give his recipe to anyone who wants it.

Dawkins used to frequent Downey's restaurant in his native Philadelphia just for its Irish whiskey cake. Downey's' cake became so popular, in fact, that the Irish restaurant eventually began to market it nationwide. Restaurant patrons had often tried, but always failed, to get Downey's to divulge its secret recipe. Because of its popularity, a city newspaper ran a story about Downey's' cake, and offered a recipe it believed might be similar to the restaurant's. That is the recipe that Dawkins uses today.

Dawkins has been making his Irish whiskey cake for about 10 years, and he's become famous for it in his own social circles. He claims that its mouth-watering taste is due, in part, to the fact that the cake calls for real Irish whiskey in its glaze.

In fact, after he bakes the cake and spreads its glaze, Dawkins says it is crucial to let the cake "breathe" for about a day. "If you skipped this part, and served the cake too soon, you'd have to appoint a designated driver," explains Dawkins.

For Dawkins, this recent bake sale prize is his first, but he's never had any doubts about the deliciousness of his cake. "I've had people come up and tell me that it's even better than Downey's'," he says. "That's a real compliment."

Dawkins made two Irish whiskey cakes for the Habitat for Humanity bake sale: one for the judges and other guests at the event to sample, and one that could be sold in a silent auction. His cake raised $100 for Habitat for Humanity's Women's Build III, a crew of female volunteers -- including Yale students -- who renovate homes for low-income New Haven families. The Women's Build, which was established in 1995, will begin renovation on its third home next month in the Newhallville section of the city.

Other Yale "bakers" who took part in "Look Who's Cookin' Now!" are Bruce Alexander, vice president and director of the Office of New Haven and State Affairs; Michael Morand, assistant vice president of education and government affairs in the Office of New Haven and State Affairs; J. Lloyd Suttle, associate provost; Craig Crews, assistant professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology; and Irwin Birnbaum, chief operating officer at the School of Medicine and lecturer in epidemiology and public health. Through their participation, these Yale staff members raised about $500 for Women's Build III; the silent auction of baked goods raised about $19,000 in total.

"The bake sale was a wonderful event, and we all got to sample some spectacular goods," says Dawkins, citing in particular Alexander's triple-chocolate brownies.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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