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Food Stops Hunger

October 9, 2015

This is not a political issue. It’s a humanitarian one. There are people in our community who don’t have enough food to eat. How they got into that situation is important, but it’s not the most pressing question.

There are human beings going hungry in a nation that throws away an inconceivable quantity of edible food. Regardless of how wealthy the community, there is food insecurity everywhere. The question is, are you going to help fix the immediate problem, or not?

Sure, there are federal programs, but these aren’t always enough to make it through the month. That is why the Food Pantries for the Capital District is so important. It helps to distribute supplemental food from the food bank to communities around the region.

As a food writer, it’s especially important for me to help do what I can to support these programs. I constantly remind myself what a luxury it is to complain about the foam on my cappuccino when there are people who can’t even afford a cup of coffee. So, I volunteered to judge the Food Pantries’ annual Harvest Festival, and worked out a deal where Yelp could be a sponsor of the program too.

If you weren’t able to make it, here’s how the judging went down.

The Food Pantries assembled an esteemed judging panel that included chef Yono Purnomo, the president of the Chaine des Rotisseurs’ Albany chapter William Harris, and Yelp Elite Steve N. I joined this group in evaluating the offerings of five different places who were trying to make the best dish using one of the staple ingredients from The Food Pantries.

Scoring was done on a five point scale across three categories: use of a Food Pantries item, taste of the dish, and ease of preparation. The hope was that some of these chef inspired dishes could be made by Food Pantries clients at home.

I’m not going to share all the details, but I will give you a few of the highlights.

Did you know that the Honest Weight Food Co-op has an executive chef? She’s Michele Youngs, and she’s awesome. It didn’t hurt that she was working with Joan Dembinski, who is also awesome.

Somehow I lost the recipe sheet for the dish that Michelle made, but it was a Thai inspired turkey meatball. Man was that delicious. It was in a coconut milk broth, that was assertively spiced, and deeply flavorful. Her ingredient from the Food Pantry was ground turkey, which was front and center in this dish as the meatball itself. So she got full points from me on taste and use of a food pantry item. The complexity of this recipe, I felt was a bit too much for busy parents to make at home without taking some shortcuts. So, there were some points marked off for that. But overall, this was my favorite dish of the night.

It was good to meet Lou Agostinello, the executive chef at Athos in Guilderland. He’s been lighting up the charts on the Tablehopping Blog in the nominations for the Capital Region’s rising star chefs. His dish was Mexican quinoa kidney bean wraps, which he made using the Food Pantry staple of canned beans.

One of the main elements of the dish was a clever bean and sweet potato mash. But it was really the greek feta and the squeeze of lemon that perked up the flavor of his wrap. Wraps aren’t really my thing, and this one had a lot of elements that might make it challenging to make at home. But I commend chef Lou for his novel use of canned beans.

Chef Nigel Peter had the home court advantage. The event was at Revolution Hall and Nigel is the chef of Brown’s Brewing Company. The deconstructed pot pie was a smart dish. It used frozen corn, which went well in the stew with turkey, gravy, and other vegetables. However, the corn wasn’t the star of the dish. That may have been the puff pastry crouton that crowned each bowl. His offering was fun to eat, especially with the contrast of textures, and I commend the effort.

Last year, I found myself going back to chef Jennifer Hewes’ table for her sweet potato and marshmallow shooter. This year she put together a ground turkey chili. It was a good effort and assertively seasoned. Her chili also felt like something a parent could easily whip up at home. It just didn’t light me up as much as the turkey meatballs from the HWFC.

My friends from Whole Foods Albany were there too. And they tied for easiest dish to make, by taking frozen hash browns, and smashing them into potato pancakes. It was simple, but next year I’m hoping they can come up with a more clever way to highlight the grocery’s kitchen and its ability to put out healthful and delicious food.

It was a great night. I met some very interesting people. I got to hang out with Yelp Elites. And the Food Pantries hooked me up with my very first growler as a thank you gift for judging. My plan is to crack into it this weekend, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

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