As Miss Dish entered the Oregon Food Bank warehouse this past Monday morning, a line of chefs was sweating over camp stoves set up on long tables. This is not what these cooks, sprung from the well-appointed kitchens of Serratto, Southpark, Pazzo and the like, are accustomed to. But everything about the third annual Black Box Competition is meant to keep these chefs flush with the vitality of being out of one's element (Miss Dish refuses to use the term "outside the box" here, even though some might find it "cute" or "appropriate," because she believes using this phrase makes clear that fresh thought or action is not actually part of the phrase user's life. So don't expect it, OK?).
This both jocular and jockish event pairs a local chef with a food box whose contents match that of the 530,955 emergency packages the Food Bank handed out last year. The chefs get the boxes Friday afternoon and are asked to come up with a recipe over the weekend using the ingredients. Monday morning, they descend upon the warehouse to cook it all up.
A goal of the event is to create a set of recipes that food bank users can get with their ingredients that will help them use the food to cook nourishing and tasty meals. One of the event organizers, chief Southpark knife-wielder Paul Ornstein, says that eventually they'd like to put a cookbook together with all the recipes collected over the years.
Judges are asked to grade the meals not only by how they look and taste, but by the all-important kid factor (this is a more-than-nebulous quotient--just when Miss Dish pegged a cabbage-based dish as the least rugrat-friendly of the bunch, one of the pre-preteen judges declared it the most tasty) and the ease of preparation. Ingenuity was the main ingredient here. Who knew that peanut butter could transform a dish from bland to va-va-vavoom, or that black-bean fritters were so simple to throw together?
One winner was crowned out of the 11 participants. While Miss Dish resists the inclination in the feel-good nation of food bank work to declare everyone a champion, she must admit that there weren't any slouches in the group. The alluringly apple-cheeked Sean Jorgensen bagged first place with his tangy ginger chicken-noodle soup and sultry chicken skewers with peanut sauce. Jorgensen, who's been a pan man at the Esplanade restaurant for two and a half years, told Miss Dish that he threw together the recipes in 20 minutes after spreading out the contents of his box on a table and picking out which things he could use. Ah, the glory of a can of cream-of-mushroom soup and a dream. Jorgensen will prepare his winning dish for a food bank fundraising luncheon next week.