Volunteers help crush hunger

Volunteers help crush hunger

📅August 18th, 2015, 15:49
Chef Moore with the final product.

Chef Moore with the final product.

Knoxville Convention Center Executive Chef Chris Moore is always thinking of ways to give back to the community. This past weekend, Chef Moore organized volunteers and food donations for the first-ever Tomato Crush, which produced more than 1,000 gallons of healthy tomato sauce to be distributed by Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee.

When volunteers arrived at the Knoxville Convention Center industrial kitchen on Saturday, Aug. 15, they were greeted with more than 4,477 pounds of fresh tomatoes donated by Sysco, US Foods, local farmers and volunteers; more than 800 pounds of onions; 60 pounds of garlic;  a bathtub of olive oil; and fresh basil ready to be processed into marinara sauce.

Syscos James Bosi volunteered with his daughter.

Sysco’s James Bosi volunteered with his daughter.

Chef Moore also recruited University of Tennessee Medical Center Chef Mark McKinney, Sysco Knoxville Chef Warren Davis and US Foods Chefs Ed Butler and Jonathan Wells to assist with supervising the volunteers. James Bosi, manager of business development at Sysco and a member of the Knoxville-Knox County Food Policy Council, orchestrated the large donation of the tomatoes and was instrumental in the event’s success.

Second Harvest Food Bank serves 160,000 at-risk families in East Tennessee each month, and Program Director Gail Root said this is the first time the organization had a ready-made healthy, fresh meal option to distribute to clients. The products of the Tomato Crush event are estimated to produce 64,000 meal portions for families in East Tennessee.

Low-income families often don’t have access to fresh produce and healthy options. If they buy tomato sauce at the store, the prepackaged product has sugars and calories that can contribute to diabetes, obesity and other health issues. The tomato sauce prepared at Tomato Crush used fresh, locally sourced tomatoes and was sweetened with caramelized onions with no added sugars.

After Saturday’s event, I am an expert at sauce preparation. The steps may be easy, but preparing the sauce at such a large volume could only be accomplished at the Knoxville Convention Center.

Step 1: Boil and Peel

Knoxville Convention Center Sous Chef David Jackson demonstrates how the tomatoes are soaked in hot water and the skin is removed.

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A US Foods chef transports the skinless, boiled tomatoes to the stations for volunteers.
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Step 2: Chop and Crush

We had several volunteer stations for chopping the fresh tomatoes into smaller pieces for quicker, more thorough cooking. Other volunteers manually crushed the canned tomatoes by hand.

WVLT Chef Walter Lambert stopped by to help with the event.20150815_114356

So did Sysco Chef Warren Davis.

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Second Harvest Food Bank gardener Nikolas Likourentzos brought two friends to help, Tuan Vu and Melody Catura.

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Volunteer Afeni Henderson heard about the event on the news and arrived to help crush the tomatoes.

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Second Harvest Food Bank Program Director Gail Root (right) chops tomatoes with volunteer Mark Molnar.

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Step 3: Add Ingredients

Next, the Knoxville Convention Center Food and Beverage team combine ingredients.

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Doesn’t the idea of chopping 800 pounds of onions make you want to cry?11909509_10207677429837226_783896325754673748_n

Step 4: Cook

The Knoxville Convention Center industrial kitchen is designed for preparing large quantities of food every day. With more than 1,000 gallons of sauce, the kitchen was hopping.

20150815_115009Our talented food and beverage professionals handled the heat.

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Step 5: Cool and Seal

The sauce is then cooled and vacuum-sealed in one-gallon plastic bags with the air removed. In this form, the sauce will stay fresh for several months if refrigerated, and, if frozen, will last up to a year. The frozen sauce will be distributed to families in East Tennessee through Second Harvest’s food partners.

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 Chef Moore and his team did a great job organizing this event to feed hungry families in East Tennessee. He already is thinking about next year by adding more chefs and more kitchens to feed more families.

Want to make your own healthy tomato sauce at home? Download the recipe here.