Cup Runneth Over

The Gravy Cup Provides Flavor and Fun

Photography Provided

Have you ever sat in a diner thinking about ideas and events? Nothing out of the ordinary, of course, but sometimes when our minds start racing, sparks of brilliance can form. One such spark was from a local businessman who pondered the following question: If there are competitions for chili, barbecue, pies and the like, then what about gravy? Yes, gravy, which is one of the most recognizable parts of southern cooking and is prepared in a multitude of ways.

On a trip to New Orleans, Zach Fry was on the hunt for some authentic Cajun gravy and biscuits. While on his search he wondered why no one competes with gravy like many other foods. When he got back to Louisville, he set out to create this culinary challenge.

Reaching out to friends and associates, Fry managed to put together a rather impressive event, using social media to both promote and encourage gravy chefs to join the competition. With a small admission cost, attendees got to taste dozens of gravies, some traditional and some a bit on the unusual side. Thus the Gravy Cup was born, and from the beginning it was a philanthropic endeavor with Boys & Girls Haven of Louisville as one of the first gift recipients.

The first event was a success, with roughly 500 gravy eaters and supporters in attendance. Fry and his Gravy Cup board worked to build upon a fairly solid foundation by reaching out to sponsors, securing celebrity judges such as Edward Lee, setting prize monies and making this unique event a family-friendly affair. It didn’t take long before the Gravy Cup was seeing record-breaking attendance numbers and chefs who wanted to participate year after year. That trend continues to this day.

As with many grassroots efforts, the event grew each year. The Gravy Cup has been handed over to the leaders at Boys & Girls Haven, as one of their fundraisers held for the benefit of the children they serve.

In the late 1940s a priest by the name of Father James Maloney recognized that there was a disconnect in how orphaned, abandoned and/or abused children in the area were cared for. Oftentimes they were sent to orphanages, foster homes or boarding rooms. Seeing this disconnect, Maloney worked to secure housing for many of these children, and in the process formed what was then Boys Haven with a campus on Goldsmith Lane.

As needs have grown, so have the programs that Boys & Girls Haven gives to the children in their care, including in-home foster care, residential foster care, transitional living, independence readiness and Haven family counseling. Through these programs, the highly trained specialists can assist young people through their individual trials and tribulations, and give them shelter, support, empowerment and love.

As with most nonprofit organizations, Boys & Girls Haven relies on committed and fervent volunteers who help the small staff to make the lives and futures of the children they serve a bit brighter.

One such volunteer is Eve Zartman-Ball. She has had extensive success in her professional career serving as a registered federal lobbyist in Washington, D.C. She has been a part of many movements for worthy causes such as the vision health of children. Aside from her work as a lobbyist, she has worked in the securities industry and was a part of the Wall Street scene in the early 2000s.

When her husband William was offered a position in Louisville with Hogan Lovells, the family packed up their things. Being the type of person who can’t sit still for very long, Zartman-Ball began volunteering with Boys & Girls Haven. It didn’t take long before she was taking on the role of Gravy Cup leader – something she has been doing for the past four years.

“It is phenomenal how this event has grown over the years,” she says. “Each year seems to get bigger. For instance, I think at one point we had over 50 chefs, both professional and home cooks, participating. We’ve recognized that we need to trim that number down a bit, so we hover around 35 competitors now. That seems to be a more manageable amount.”

Do the competitors have to pay for all of their products, such as plasticware or serving vessels?

“We are very fortunate that we have committed agencies in and around the Louisville area that assist us with those types of goods, such as Horton Fruit Company, Gordon Food Service who provides paper, plastic and wood products and biscuits, and our title sponsor, Purnell’s ‘Old Folks’ Country Sausage, who has been a great company to work with these past years,” Zartman-Ball says. “It amazes me each year the creativity that comes from our culinary community of gravy makers. When one thinks about gravy, especially in the south, we are going to think of sausage gravy, but there are so many more ingredients out there such as mushroom and chocolate.”


“You can’t go a year without a chef submitting a chocolate gravy,” she adds.

When asked about how the competition works, Zartman-Ball is all too happy to share.

“There are three categories that the gravies are judged from – traditional, nontraditional and veggie/vegan,” she says. “Lucky for us we have Chef Joshua Moore from Volare who serves as our head judge and often recruits other chefs and notables to serve on the judges panel. Over the years we’ve had some heavy hitters such as the Butcher Babe Loreal Gavin, and Chef Edward Lee of The LEE Initiative and ‘Top Chef.’ We usually have about nine judges who serve on the panel, but as we’ve talked about, they are sampling a lot of gravy.”

“We are actually going to do something a little different this year and offer a VIP experience where a ticket holder will have the opportunity to come to the event, have a table or seat reserved just for them in a separate VIP area where they will be treated to a cooking demonstration from Chef Moore, and be the first ones to be able to taste the competitors’ gravies before the general public,” she continues.

Zartman-Ball believes that this addition to the Gravy Cup will be wildly popular, and understandably so, as she shares that general admission attendance is usually into the hundreds, with a ticket price of $35 or $45 at the door.

“We are limiting the VIP experience to 80 people, but they will be getting first-class treatment with their $100 single or $150 couples ticket, not to mention there will be valet service too,” she says.

As one would expect, this event cannot function without a lot of hands on deck – around 85 actually. Zartman-Ball, being the shrewd coordinator that she is, has a trustworthy army of volunteers that she has relied on during her tenure with the Gravy Cup.

“I guess you can pretty much say that I had volun-told my husband that he would be helping me out during this event, but fortunately his company and its local employees serve as the main regiment of people whom I rely on to help get this event off the ground and running,” she says. “These professional men and women by and large don’t mind the grunt work, and believe you me, it is hard work but so fulfilling.”

How does one go about becoming a contestant for the coveted Gravy Cup golden skillet, won by such businesses as ZEGGZ and The Rickhouse, as well as home chef Buddy Wheeler of Tattoo Charlie’s?

“Just go to the website,, and there is a form that you will fill out so that you may be considered to participate,” Zartman-Ball says. “As much as I would love to take every chef that applies, we do have to think about the space that we have at the Mellwood Art Center and account for samplers. Should you be a contestant, we ask that you bring at least six quarts of gravy in a chafing dish. As much as you may love to use your Crock-Pot, we simply don’t have enough places to plug in everyone’s appliances.”

“It is remarkable that in the 10 years of the Gravy Cup, $125,000 has been raised to help the kids at Boys & Girls Haven,” she continues. “I think it is possible that this event could reach national proportions as it is now the unqualified largest gravy competition in the world. Other than the delicious gravy and drinks that are passed around, the event has become a family affair for many people. It is wonderful to be a part of something that brings families together for a cause that helps to bring a sense of family to children.”

The Gravy Cup will take place on February 19, 2022, at Mellwood Art Center, with VIP entrance at 9 a.m. and general admission from 10 a.m. until noon. For more info, visit

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