Nashville chefs are fortunate to be able to work with a multitude of quality ingredients from farm-fresh produce to premium proteins provided by regional ranchers and suppliers. However, how would they do if they had to cook with the same sorts of products that average low-income families have to work with every week? That’s the question posited by the organizers of the Food Bank Throwdown presented by the Martha O'Bryan Center. The non-profit offers services to more than 50,000 residents of East Nashville, ranging from nutritional assistance, school supplies and pre-K to college counseling.
The Food Bank Throwdown challenges some of the city’s most notable chefs to prepare a dish for 200 people using the same sorts of ingredients that might be found in a typical food basket of a family in the neighborhood receiving assistance from a food pantry. A panel of judges picks the best dish, and other prizes are awarded for a People’s Choice Award and a Spirit Award for preparing the most food for the least cost.
This year’s basket contained Spam and chicken thighs as the primary proteins as well as an assortment of canned beans, vegetables, fruits and crackers. Using these ingredients, the chefs prepared an array of dishes that were both delicious and artfully plated.
Participants this year included Marcio Florez of etc. who offered up a Spam Wellington that was presented with the same sort of panache that diners at his popular Green Hills restaurant have come to expect from Florez and his mentor Deb Paquette. Trey Cioccia from The Farm House used advanced techniques like sous vide and fermented tomatoes to create a delicious version of Spam Chilequiles that the judges appeared to definitely enjoy. Kristin Beringson of Silo offered up a grits dish that was plated sparely and elegantly, while Kayne Prime’s team reached past their steakhouse roots to whip up an intelligent take on pot pie.
(Photo: Grilled Cheeserie) The Grilled Cheeserie Team
In the end, Cioccia took home the Spirit Award for feeding the assembled crowd for less than $100, possibly attributable to the fact that the chef actually grows much of his produce on his own farm. The People’s Choice went to the Grilled Cheeserie for their gooey chicken cheese melt, and the big award was given to husband and wife team of Jess Benefield and Trey Burnette of Two Ten Jack for their elaborate Korean ramen dish that featured a spicy broth and slabs of Spam.
But in the end, everyone was a winner as both funds and awareness were raised to this fun event!