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Identity & Community

Food Pantry Challenges Chefs to Cook With Simplicity

Delicious recipes don’t have to be complex.

That’s what Northside Common Ministries is teaching its patrons with its third annual Food Pantry Brunch Challenge.

Ten local chefs were challenged to make a brunch item using only basic canned goods and other food typically distributed at the Community Food Pantry and Soup Kitchen. 

The event at the New Hazlett Theater in Northside on Saturday at 11 a.m. is a fundraiser. For $25, attendees can enjoy the chefs’ creations and live music.

All proceeds will go toward purchasing food to keep the pantry stocked, said Northside Common Ministries director Jay Poliziani, who notes the event will also serve as an “information raiser.”

“We just want people to be aware of the limits of food pantries and how they struggle throughout the year to make sure there’s adequate food for folks,” Poliziani said. “And also the limitations of the food that’s available in the pantries to individuals.”

The Northside pantry, which provides assistance to more than 1,000 families during the winter months, is always in need of additional products, Poliziani said. Previous fundraising efforts have prepared the food bank for the spring, but Saturday’s event will keep the shelves stocked for the summer.

Poliziani expects this year’s Brunch Challenge to generate “several thousand dollars.”

The challenge, according to Strictly Business Catering owner and chef participant Clinton Bleil, is to “try to keep it simple.” In preparation for the event, he came up with an appetizer that costs only 17 cents to make.

“I ended up trying to make something as inexpensive as possible,” Bleil said.

Lisa Ferguson, co-owner and chef at catering company Fabled Table, said she thinks the challenge is to create meals from items that patrons already have in their pantries.

“I know a lot of the times when we’re putting a recipe together, we want to make sure it’s something where people don’t feel they have to run out and get something special for that recipe,” Ferguson said.

Poliziani anticipates 250 people to attend the event, a number that has grown each year. Pittsburgh bellydance band Ishtar and the Ortner-Marcinizyn duo, a jazz group, will perform.

For Bleil, the challenge can’t come soon enough.

“I’m excited. My brain is still moving,” Bleil said. “I’m trying to see if I can come up with some creative displays.”