Chefs unite to fight hunger at Jam CityWritten by Jay Hathaway | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In a city rich with unique restaurants and creative chefs, it can be easy to get caught up in the spirit of competition. But some events have a way of drawing people together.
Jam City, a fundraiser started last year by local nonprofit Food for Thought, is one such event. Boasting the support of some of Toledo’s best culinary talent, the event brings together local chefs to help fight hunger in Northwest Ohio.
The concept behind Jam City is to create and serve unique variations on an American classic — the peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a staple of Food for Thought’s weekly sack lunch giveaway program. This year, the event will take place May 22 at the Secor Ballroom, 425 Jefferson Ave.
Sam Melden, Food for Thought’s Chief Thought Officer, said it is the people who donate their time and talents who make Jam City so successful.
“Last year, we went to launch with some of the best restaurants in Toledo — innovative and historic restaurants. It’s really great that we have that cast returning for the second year.”
This year’s lineup includes Registry Bistro, Balance Pan-Asian Grille, Deet’s BBQ, Swig, La Scola Italian Grill, Burger Bar 419, All Crumbs Artisan Bakery, Ye Olde Durty Bird, El Tipico, The Flying Joe, Grumpy’s, House of Eats, Mancy’s Steaks, Ottawa Tavern, Reverend’s Bar and Grill and Wixey Bakery.
HoChan Jang, executive chef and COO of Balance Pan-Asian Grille, said Jam City is an opportunity to give a boost to the community.
“I know it’s for a great cause. We’re all about local, and whatever we can do to help local businesses,” Jang said. “We don’t mind donating to help stop hunger. To me, it’s all about the cause.
“As a chef and restaurant owner, it’s a constant business. When we have these events, I think it’s a good way to bond, get together and have some fun. It brings us all together as local businesses. I love it.”
Several of his peers agreed.
“Fighting hunger just comes natural to anyone in the restaurant business and chefs,” said Moussa Salloukh, chef and co-owner of Burger Bar 419 and La Scola. “I think it’s great to give back and help people with simply having daily meals.”
Trevor Deeter, co-owner and managing partner of Deet’s BBQ in Maumee, said chefs and restaurateurs are the perfect people to help fight hunger.
“We try to do everything we can to do our part. Since we’re providing food for so many people, it’s the least we can do to give back,” Deeter said.
Last year, Jam City raised $10,000, and with a new, larger venue this year, Melden said he hopes the sold-out event will continue to fund Food for Thought’s efforts.
“All our fundraisers go toward running our organizations. We run 21 food pantries in the Toledo region, and this helps pay for food inventory, staff and drivers,” Melden said.
Of course, aside from raising money to feed Toledoans, one of the highlights of the event is the food.
Erika Rapp, co-owner and executive chef at Registry Bistro, will offer a savory dish and a sweet dish this year — a peanut pilaf with chicken, hot pickles and huckleberries, and a smoked walnut cake with drunken fruit, respectively.
Rapp said, for her, one of the appeals of Jam City is the challenge it provides.
“Being a chef, we get caught up in doing a lot of events, and we love doing them, but when there’s a theme, it becomes that much more fun,” she said.
Jang, who plans to bring a lettuce wrap with chicken breast, peanut sauce and fresh strawberry salsa, agreed.
“A lot of events, they tell you to make what you want to make, and the flexibility is nice, but as a chef, I don’t mind a little challenge,” he said. “That’s what really brings out the creativity for chefs.”
Tony Bilancini, owner of Swig in Perrysburg, said he was initially blown away by the PB&J concept.
“When we first looked at it, we were like, ‘Are you serious?’ It’s just funky as hell. When you’re a kid, you mash up a bunch of stuff, but it’s still PB&J,” he said.
Bilancini said he also relishes the opportunity to hang out with some of Toledo’s best chefs.
“To me, it’s like bringing your marbles to the yard. The big thing is, ‘What can I throw down?’”
This year, Bilancini will be “throwing down” cocoa-coffee-crusted pork tenderloin with roasted pickled grapes and peanut cashew whipped cream, topped with what he calls “hillbilly port,” a redistilled wine.
Kelly Thompson, co-owner of All Crumbs Artisan Bakery, is a newcomer to Jam City, and said she enjoys the chance to work alongside some Toledo legends.
“We’re a small bakery, and we’re going to be right next to places like Mancy’s, who have been around for years,” she said.
“It levels the playing field in a way. They have a variety of people, and by making a common concept, it becomes more about the event, and not about who can show off. I think it kind of negates the ego that can come with an event like this, where there’s a bunch of chefs in the same room.”
Melden said that one of the things he looks forward to is the surprise of what everyone brings to the table.
“I get to be as excited about this as everyone else, to show up that night and see what they come up with,” he said.
Although tickets for the event have sold out, raffle tickets are still available online for two drawings. Winners will receive a $50 gift card from each restaurant involved with Jam City. Tickets for the raffle are $10, and may be purchased from the Food for Thought website (www.feedtoledo.org). Attendance is not required to win.
Melden and the chefs agree that, in the end, it is the tangible results that Food for Thought delivers — feeding those in need — that makes this event worthwhile.
“It seems like everybody comes together when there’s a need for something,” Salloukh said. “That’s where the satisfaction is at the end of it, for us to be able to feed people, give them some nutrition and a reason to smile at the end of the day.”
“We’re trying to feed people and help people make it from month to month, but another thing that is important is we are not providing every calorie that people eat every day,” Melden added. “For us, it’s not about how much food or how often we serve it, but we’re trying to make it a conversation about the quality of food that is served, and about how people are treated when they need food assistance.”
The presenting sponsor for Jam City is Columbia Gas of Ohio. Toledo Free Press is a Jam City media sponsor.
Tags: All Crumbs Artisan Bakery, Balance Pan-Asian Grille, Burger Bar 419, chef, Columbia Gas of Ohio, COO of Balance Pan-Asian Grille, Deet's BBQ, El TIpico, Food for Thought, Fundraiser, Grumpy's, HoChan Jang, House of Eats, Jam City, La Scola, La Scola Italian Grill, Mancy's, Mancy's Steaks, Maumee, Moussa Salloukh, Ottawa Tavern, peanut butter and jelly, Registry Bistro, restaurant, Reverend’s Bar and Grill, Sam Melden, Swig, The Flying Joe, Tony Bilancini, Trevor Deeter, Wixey Bakery, Ye Olde Durty Bird