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Food Glorious Food

Recently at lunch, a friend lobbed a terrible insult my way:

“You know what? You’re a food snob.”

I almost choked on my organic arugula. Sure, I can spend an entire afternoon raving over the loamy smell of the blue oyster mushrooms I got in my Savannah Food Co–op produce box. I have a soft spot for sweetbreads. And yeah, Iron Chef Bobby Flay is my number one heartthrob.

But a snob? That sounds so elitist! My bourgeois hackles were raised. Listen here, I told her, I came by my inquisitive and ever–refining palate the dirty way, in the back kitchens in the restaurants where I waited tables. I dated more than one batshit crazy chef (hello, they play with knives) just to be a guinea pig for prospective daily specials. I once attended a potluck dinner party culled completely from a Whole Foods dumpster. And I’ll have you know I grew this damn arugula myself!

It’s true, I adore good food. New taste twists (thank you, genius who put sea salt on dark chocolate), locally–sourced ingredients and creative culinary skills inspire reverence. The more love put into a dish, the more I salivate.

So, I surmised to my mistaken friend, I’m not so much of a food snob as a food slut.

I proved this last week at the CD release party of Roger Moss, held at Richard Lane’s sumptuous mid–century modern ranch–style abode, where I tried to take a bath in some of Roberto Leoci’s Raspberry Jalapeño jam at the hors d’oeuvres table. Fortunately, the local restaurateur was there to demonstrate that full body slather is wholly unnecessary, as this tangy–tart sexpot of a condiment is also perfectly delicious on a piece of cheese.

From there, my husband and I made our way over to the Second Harvest Food Bank for the annual Jewels and Jeans benefit, where my food floozy ways were in full effect. More than a dozen of Savannah’s most excellent restaurants offered up small–sized delectations to the denimed–and–diamonded crowd, and like any good foodie groupie, I lavished my attentions on every table.

I had a serious affair with the Olde Pink House’s bowl of seasoned pork bouillabaisse garnished with baby pea shoots and topped with a poached quail egg, but quickly found myself in a torrid embrace with one of Savor Savannah’s shrimp sliders. I then spent some time in the corner mooning over Rocks on the River’s amuse bouche of a plump apricot stuffed with pecans and herbed cheese wrapped in sweet tea–cured duck prosciutto. My poor spouse just managed to stop me from running off to Cancun with a cheddar jalapeño popper from Second Harvest’s own Kids Café.

Enchanted as I was, at first it seemed uncomfortably 18th century–French royal (snobbishly elite, if you will) to be enjoying this incredible fare in the shadow of stacks and stacks of canned and dry goods destined for poor families of coastal Georgia. But what may appear an ironic setting for this fundraiser is an intentional paradox.

“We used to have Jewels and Jeans at fancier locations, but we moved it to the actual food bank so that people can have the exposure to what really happens here,” explained harpist and Second Harvest board member Kristin King, who has chaired this tantalizing event for the past three years. “We want people to see how far their ticket goes.”

You wouldn’t believe how far. Through careful spending of donations and partial reimbursements from the government, the Second Harvest Food Bank distributes food via mobile pantries and to organizations in 21 counties, including churches and community centers.

Mary Jane Crouch, Second Harvest’s irrepressible executive director, broke down the numbers like a sous chef prepping for a dinner party: More than 48,000 Chatham County citizens are “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Four thousand meals are served at 43 Kids Café locations every weekday, where many children eat their only hot meal of the day. A thousand bags full of nutritious non–perishables are sent home every weekend through the Backpack Buddies program.

“The problem is, we could do triple that. There’s always more need,” sighed Crouch. “Our real goal is to work ourselves out of a job.”

In a town full of charities where almost every night on the calendar brings another worthy fundraising event, Second Harvest remains a top–notch philanthropic opportunity, with only 5 percent of its budget going to administrative costs. The rest goes to food and the gas it takes to deliver it.

“If you had to pick one area in this community that needs support, it would be helping the hungry,” affirmed Tracey Tollison of Rives Worrell, the construction firm that sponsored the event. “For one dollar Second Harvest can feed four children—that’s such a great bang for a donated dollar.”

While the Train Wrecks rocked the truck bays, I fought off a food coma to take a tour of Second Harvest’s ultra–modern industrial kitchen with Chef Floyd Jackson, who heads the culinary training program and the production of those 4000 daily meals.

In Chef Floyd I found someone as devoted to fine cuisine as he is to making sure people in need get fed from his kitchen. He uses fresh herbs instead of salt and delights that kids love the way he prepares vegetables. This wise soul embodies the very opposite of a food snob: He is a food egalitarian.

Admonished Chef Floyd as he stood in front of a garage–sized fridge filled to the top with silver trays awaiting delivery: “Never underestimate food.”

Not as long as I live, good man.