Some keys to success are no doubt hard work, a passion for one’s craft and a good sense of business, but for me, being able to contribute and give back to my community is one of the essential elements of success as well. I am so grateful to work in a restaurant that employs a great team of people who care about the product we provide to our customers. Le Bernardin is an upscale restaurant, with an elegant dining room, and each day we are happy that people want to come in to eat and enjoy what we provide. But New York City is bustling outside our doors and when you work everyday with high quality ingredients, you are reminded that there are those who can’t afford good food and who worry each day about what they might feed their families.
Over 10 years ago, I was introduced to City Harvest. Now serving New York City for 25 years, City Harvest is the world’s first food rescue organization, dedicated to feeding the city’s hungry men, women, and children. This year, City Harvest will collect 28 million pounds of excess food from all segments of the food industry, including restaurants, grocers, corporate cafeterias, manufacturers, and farms. This food is then delivered free of charge to nearly 600 community food programs throughout New York City using a fleet of trucks and bikes as well as volunteers on foot. Each week, City Harvest helps over 300,000 hungry New Yorkers find their next meal. At Le Bernardin, every day we collect and donate unused food such as vegetables and fruit, bread, pastry, fish and other fresh food which, City Harvest then collects daily and redistributes to shelters and agencies so it can be used to create meals
This week, we dedicate our episode to City Harvest. Spending a day with Dave, one of the City Harvest drivers, I was able to really see where the food that gets donated goes and to meet the people who benefit from it. Our first stop is at a mobile market in the Bronx neighborhood of New York City. Once a week, about 500 people get up early to stand in line to enter the market. All of the vegetables that are here for people to get are donated from farms and markets. One of the special things about this City Harvest market is that the people who need the food are able to “shop” for their produce just like any other market. Even though the food is free to them, the customers can look through the produce and choose exactly which fruits and vegetables that they want. Shopping for food is one of the pleasures of cooking a good meal and respect for an ingredient begins with choosing the product. This day, I was lucky to be able to set up an outdoor demonstration kitchen to show the market goers how to make a hearty and nutritious vegetable fried rice. It is an easy and delicious dish that can serve a large family and can utilize many different items from the market. Whether cooking on a budget at home or cooking at Le Bernardin, the same principles of balance and respect for the ingredients should be used because that is one of the key factors in providing a good meal.
On another stop, Dave and I go to a great food shop in New York called Citerella. Joe Gurrera is the owner of the markets, and he has donated to City Harvest for years. The day I stopped in, Joe was donating some really beautiful bread, organic, whole salmon and some chicken. The food he donates is very healthy and the talented cooks in the shelters around town will be able to make some delicious food for many New Yorkers.
Some of those talented cooks are the Sisters of The House of Mary of Nazareth just a couple of miles away from Citerella. Every day, the nuns cook and serve around 300 people (600 on Fridays)! Some of the people are without homes or the means to cook but most are regular people who are just struggling to make ends meet. For many of these people, even with jobs, it can be difficult to find enough money for nutritious food for themselves and their children.
Cooking nutritious, economical food at home is an important skill. This week, I will take you back to my home kitchen to show you how to make a delicious ratatouille. This recipe is a classic dish from the south of France that utilizes tomatoes, eggplants and zucchini—all vegetables that are inexpensive and easy to find. The technique and the herbs are what give the dish its distinct taste. It is also easy to make this recipe for a crowd of people or to make a big batch to save and eat over two or three days.
Spending the day with City Harvest and visiting the House of Mary of Nazareth reinforced for me the reason we take the time and effort to package and save the food we don’t use at Le Bernardin. It provides those of us who work with beautiful food everyday a lot of joy to know that not only are the people who can afford to eat at Le Bernardin getting good food, but that we can help provide good food each day to those who are less fortunate. To learn more about City Harvest, visit www.cityharvest.org