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October 5, 2018

There are a lot of reasons why I enjoy participating with The Food Pantries for the Capital District in its Annual Harvest Evening Celebration.

Primarily, it’s to help raise awareness for the organization and the good work it does in our community to combat food insecurity. However, I also love to see what the chefs prepare. There are prizes for best use of a food pantry item, best taste, and simplest to prepare. Because ideally, these chef created dishes can inspire the clients of the food pantries to transform nutritious ingredients into something delicious.

Last night, the judges learned that it’s not always that simple. Some food pantry visitors don’t have the necessary cookware. Others have to do all their cooking in a microwave.

As it turned out, one of my favorites was one of the simplest.

Allie B’s Cozy Kitchen won the prize for simplest to prepare for her black eyed peas with smoked meat. What can I tell you, I’m a bean lover. And while I do have a black eyed pea preparation, this one is a good bit easier. My plan is to make it sometime later this fall or early this winter, and when I do, I’ll share the recipe.

Over the course of the judging we were served eight different dishes, and each featured a food pantry staple. Those included black eyed peas, canned corn, fresh carrots, fresh apples, fresh pears, penne pasta, macaroni, and ground turkey.

For the best use of a food pantry item, I wanted to see a dish that elevated its food pantry staple, ideally in some kind of clever way. Clearly people loved the African inspired turkey meatball dish from chefs Sainabou Jatta and Carmen Santos of Whole Foods in Albany. It won as the crowd favorite, but it was not mine.

Different tastes is one of those things that makes the world go around.

I did like how chef Jennifer Hewes from The Point took fresh pears and roasted them to make this fall fruit the centerpiece of a seasonal salad. However my favorite dish of the night was from chef Dan Hurlbut of Honest Weight Food Co-op.

Here’s a confession. The judging was blind. But when we were served a cup of smoked carrot and parsnip bisque with a dollop of jalapeño cream, I thought for certain this was made by Joan and Kyle of Field Notes. In my mind’s eye, I could see them wanting to work with fresh ingredients. Kyle loves to smoke things, and I could picture him working a grill full of carrots to deepen their flavor. Joan loves to make flavored creams, and the jalapeños hit just the right note of spice, and the flavor of the soup was perfectly accentuated by the accompaniment. Plus, the presentation looked identical to a similar but different soup I had at Lansing Farm on a recent Saturday night.

Except I was totally wrong. This was from chef Dan, and it was excellent.

Those carrots were absolutely transformed. The texture was silky and smooth, and it was clear that a lot of love and time went into the dish. What I couldn’t tell at the time, just from the taste, was that there was brown rice blended into the soup as well.

Bravo to Dan who knocked it out of the park.

Ultimately, the panel of judges, which also included Steve Barnes, Dominick Purnomo, William Harris, Ashley Dingeman, and Susan W from Yelp awarded Mazzone Hospitality/Prime Business Dining with best overall taste. They made a marinated pork loin, with a zesty red cabbage slaw, which was garnished with diced fresh apples. Chefs Eric Tisaj and Christina Zullo clearly had the most composed dish of the night. But for me, at this event, I’m always looking to see the food pantry item take center stage.

It was great to see The Harvest Evening Celebration continue to grow. I had fun chatting with old friends and making some new ones.

And now I’ve got to prepare myself to judge the Schenectady Wing Walk on Saturday and Troy’s ChowderFest on Sunday. Hopefully you didn’t wait until the last minute for Wing Walk tickets, because they are sold out. But you can always head up to Saratoga Springs for Ashley’s fifth annual International Flavorfeast, which looks amazing too.

Whatever you do, have a great long weekend!

One Comment leave one →
  1. rts2346 permalink
    October 5, 2018 11:24 am

    Thank you so much for the Yelp tickets to this wonderful event – Kathy and I had a great time, and are happy we got to support our local food pantries. As you know, she has been volunteering for a number of years at a local soup kitchen and knows first hand how the value of the work done by the food pantries. Very nice to meet and talk with the participating chefs, and to sample their creative takes on some of the staples from the food pantries. I loved the carrot/parsnip soup, too – but the meatballs were my favorite. Finally, nice to meet some fellow Yelp members and – finally – you! Looking forward to the next Yel event! r.

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