Monday, March 14, 2011
Third Chefs For Farmers event at Highland Park Cafeteria is a success of sorts
If success is the freedom to throw food away, then this was quite the hit.
DALLAS Sunday was the third "Chefs For Farmers" dinner, an event organized by chef Matt McCallister and his event-planning partner Iris McCallister to raise money for a charity and emphasize the use of locally-raised goods.
Like the first at Eden's Organics farm in Balch Springs, and the second at Times Ten Cellar in Fort Worth, this took place at an unconventional venue: Highland Park Cafeteria at Casa Linda Plaza. It sold out quickly, and drew nearly 250 people who filed through the restaurant's cafeteria line where chefs from more than a dozen restaurants, including Charlie Palmer, The Second Floor, The Grape, and Maple & Motor, served cheffy-chef versions of cafeteria food.
McCallister did a broccoli cheddar soup, John Tesar did mac & cheese and fried chicken, Restaurant Ava did wild boar sloppy Joes, Smoke did a clever Salisbury steak with gravy, Parigi did Tater Tots with pork belly, The Grape did cabbage rolls, and so on. CraveDFW founder Steve Doyle was emcee, and they had "celebrity judges" such as restaurateur Gene Street. Wine was poured by sommelier D'Lynn Proctor; the glasses were a motley collection purchased at thrift stores.
Diners were called up in groups of 50. The food looked good and people seemed to like it.
I didn't eat. I was too stunned by the rampant waste. Given the nature of the crowd -- one that seemed heavy on foodies -- I was flabbergasted to see how much food got thrown away, and how little respect it seemed to show for the work the chefs did, and the very nature of the event itself, with its emphasis on farmers and reverence for food.
With few exceptions, people stuffed their trays with two, three plates of food they knew they would not finish. They nibbled on their entrees, then pushed them aside so that they could get two, three desserts, which they then failed to finish. I didn't see a single plate "licked clean."
I know some people took their leftovers to go. (In styrofoam containers, so farm-friendly.) I get that the very nature of cafeterias encourages people to take more than they can eat, and that most attendees paid their $85 plus fees and therefore felt entitled to "get their money's worth." But should getting your money's worth include the freedom to throw food away?
Surveying the parade of over-stuffed trays that exited the cafeteria line, Nanci and Terri Taylor, who publish Edible Dallas Fort Worth, chatted with Parigi chef/owner Janice Provost about portion control.
"One Tater Tot, we're only giving out one Tater Tot!" Provost said, half-joking.
Outside of the restaurant, Highland Park Cafeteria owner Jeff Snoyer stood at the door, apologetically informing his Sunday night regulars that the restaurant was closed because there was a special event inside.
"I think there's something that happens when people are confronted with abundance," he said. "But this is a good event, what they're doing is wonderful."
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