By KEVIN NANCE
FoodChain is a bustling, boots-on-the-ground sort of place. On a recent Monday morning in the sustainable-food non-profit’s sprawling headquarters at Sixth and Jefferson, workers in jeans and t-shirts prep vegetables and roast chickens in the kitchen, preparing for the thousands of free meals to be served onsite or delivered to the needy in daycare centers, recovery programs and trailer parks around town that week. Boxes of fresh produce are stacked everywhere. In the aquaponics farm in the back, shrimp and tilapia are being raised in a huge saltwater tank, with the brackish, nutrient-rich water recycled to help grow collard greens. In the hydroponics area just opposite, other vegetables, herbs and greens thrive in rows under bright lights. It’s all serious, nose-to-the-grindstone stuff, seemingly as far from the rarefied world of fine dining as your own kitchen.
But once a year (excluding the pandemic-dictated gap years), FoodChain gets a little bit fancy. With FEAST, its annual fundraiser featuring celebrity and local chefs preparing brand-new, locally sourced small-plate creations for a philanthropic crowd at Fasig-Tipton, the organization gets to put its hair up and its best foot forward.
“We may be dressing it up a bit at Fasig, having live music and so on, but it’s a way for us to celebrate our boots-on-the-ground staff,” says director of operations Leandra Forman, her dark hair spilling out from under a no-nonsense knit cap. “We pride ourselves that our meals are restaurant quality, and have just as much love and attention and thought put into their creation as at local restaurants. And of course we’ll be there supporting the chefs.”
FEAST was the brainchild of the prominent Kentucky chef and FoodChain board member Ouita Michel, who got the idea while participating in a Chef Boot Camp sponsored by the James Beard Foundation several years ago. Michel recruited top chefs Joy Crump, Abra Berens, Amy Brandwein and Jamilka Borges to join the event — they will all be participating again this year — and added a diverse range of local women chefs.
“I wanted to be able to connect young women in our local restaurant industry to these women we were bringing in from out of state,” says Michel, who acts as the primary organizer and hostess for the event. “It’s a great networking opportunity for everybody and a fun way to support the amazing work of FoodChain.”
Some of the most creative dishes on the menu include Berens’s asparagus Escabeche with egg and smoked Kentucky catfish; Borges’s Kentucky shrimp roll with ramp mayo and crispy country ham on a yeast roll; Sara Bradley’s Everything Gougere with smoked Kentucky carp, “whooped” cream cheese, capers, dill and Western Kentucky caviar; and Crump’s Berry Farms Beef Bread Pudding with ground beef, Urbanstead Street cheddar cheese, and shiitake mushroom beef jus.
This year’s lineup of Lexington talent includes:
- Tanya Whitehouse of the UK Food Connection (slow-cooked Kentucky rabbit in a muddle of spring vegetables);
- Sam Fore of Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites (spiced sweet chili spare ribs);
- Anetra Polk of Woke Junk Food Vegan (Mini Vegan BLT with Sunrise Bakery focaccia, king trumpet bacon and FoodChain lemon basil mayo);
- Stephania Sharkey of Luna (Harissa Kentucky chicken skewer with tzatsiki and zhough);
- Martine Holzman of Martine’s Pastries (lemon basil butter cake with a sharp lemon glaze;
- Angelia Drake of From the Heart Catering (crispy Foodchain-raised tilapia croquettes on a bed of FoodChain greens);
- Jane Thompson of Dupree Catering + Events (Kentucky lamb & mushroom hand pie with red harissa, cucumber and herb relish);
- Toa Green, Michelle Kovach and Sam Sabad of Crank and Boom Ice Cream (a Jolly Lolly, donut rings made of strawberry basil ice cream, blueberry lime mascarpone ice cream or gooey butter cake, all dipped in chocolate).
Smithtown Seafood’s Chef Agnes Marrero, is planning an artisanal corn-and-coconut arepa, or corn cake, served on a plantain leaf and topped with local goat fricassee, plantain chips and micro cilantro. In our interview, Marrero described the dish as her own tribute to the traditional cuisine of her native Puerto Rico, especially that served at El Burén de Lula, a famous Afro-Puerto Rican restaurant on the island’s northeastern coast.
“It’s a festive dish,” she explains, “not something we eat every day in Puerto Rico. When you are with family and there’s goat fricassee in the pot, it’s usually a Catholic baptism or a wedding in the family. We do goat to celebrate something.”
Forman says, “Our team has grown exponentially over the past few years, providing nearly 700,000 scratch-made, free-to-the-consumer meals while massively growing our local food system impact.”
In April 2020, FoodChain launched Nourish Lexington with VisitLEX and Keeneland to meet the immediate needs of the community at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks in large part to the relationships built during that year’s FEAST. Since March 2020, Nourish Lexington has distributed more than 650,000 meals to the community, investing more than $1 million into the local food economy.
FEAST 2023 is scheduled for May 24 at Fasig-Tipton. The event showcases culinary delights from the kitchens of leading U.S. chefs and leverages a star-studded lineup to battle food insecurity. Proceeds from the $150 ticketed event typically make up between 10 and 20 percent of FoodChain’s annual budget.
This article appears on page 10 of the May 2023 issue of Ace. To subscribe to our digital edition, click here.