The sixth annual event returns to the New Hazlett Theater on Saturday, January 20.
By: Tyler Dague
Come Saturday morning, the stoves will be blazing, the skillets screaming, the blenders whirring – the clock ticks down to the final two minutes – as chefs frantically begin to plate their dishes.
While it’s not exactly “Chopped,” the sixth annual Food Pantry Brunch Challenge culls from the same playbook. Ten local chefs from different restaurants and culinary perspectives prepare dishes with ingredients limited to those typically found in a food pantry or soup kitchen.
The Food Pantry Brunch Challenge at the New Hazlett Theater in Allegheny Center, will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 20. Presented by the Northside Common Ministries, the event raises funds for the Northside Community Food Pantry and seeks to connect people of all different ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. This year’s theme is “Salsa Music,” and the challenge will feature local Latin-fusion band Gavas Beat along with salsa dancers to help heat up the winter festivities.
“The goal is to really build the connection between the neighborhoods and understanding of the folks who are in need,” said Jay Poliziani, director of Northside Common Ministries. “It’s more of a ‘friend-raiser’ than a fundraiser.”
The Northside Community Food Pantry is the largest food pantry between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, serving more than 850 households each month with only one full-time staffer and a rotation of 10 to 20 volunteers. The Brunch Challenge is the food pantry’s largest and most successful fundraiser to date and has grown steadily since 2012. According to the staff at the New Hazlett Theater, last year’s event, which occurred during significantly bad winter weather, had an attendance of 275 people.
“Out of all the events we have here, regardless of the weather, there’s a really great showing,” said Bill Rodgers, director of programming at the New Hazlett Theater.
The stage will be set with a diverse range of talent from numerous restaurants across Pittsburgh including The Franklin Inn Mexican restaurant in Franklin Park, Thai Me Up (South Side Flats), Quik-It Chicken (California-Kirkbride) and Keyla Cooks, a Brazilian catering service. Chateau’s Bidwell Training Center also will return with student chefs showcasing their skills.
“It’s about a six-month process here and there,” Poliziani said. “Recruiting the chefs gets easier each year because they really enjoy coming back to the event and getting recognition for their restaurants.”
In addition to the wide variety of culinary disciplines, the event also will aim to highlight and promote diversity and immigrant inclusion. A number of community groups will be on site, including Somali Bantu Community Association of Pittsburgh, the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh and Casa San José, a Latin community center in Beechview.
“It’s an incredibly diverse crowd. It’s one of the many reasons why we think the New Hazlett’s here – to provide a place and resources to have things like this happen,” Rodgers said.
Poliziani noted recent federal policy efforts have created difficulties for certain disadvantaged groups that Northside Common Ministries frequently serves, which prompted him to highlight the positive strides immigrant and refugee organizations have been making in Pittsburgh. Through events like the Brunch Challenge, he hopes to continue sparking awareness and generosity throughout the community.
“It definitely impacts the Northside as a whole,” Poliziani said. “We find each year more of the neighbors connect with what we’re doing, specifically the food pantry. There’s a great presence of folks in the neighborhood who are financially stable but have a passion and a commitment to helping others have their basic needs met.”
For more information or to register for the event visit the New Hazlett Theater’s event page.