Unfortunately, those unsavory offerings are the image many have of provisions from a food bank, but the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has decided to shake things up with a line called Extra Helpings.
To ensure their tastiness, chef Kurt Fleischfresser from The Coach House helped tweak the recipes.
Since the 1980s, Rodney Bivens, executive director and CEO of the RFB, had looked at ways to create proprietary offerings to complement items distributed by the food bank. In mid-2011, he began working with Cedar Hill Seasonings in Edmond.
The food bank bought rice, beans and pasta in bulk, and then Cedar Hill provided the seasonings to create packaged meals at a cost of about 38 cents per serving. Each package has four servings and a shelf life of two to three years.
The initial four selections are veggie macaroni, red beans and rice, Southwest chili and baked pasta. After a few tastings by food bank staff and its board, the items were all right, but something was missing.
That’s when Bivens called in Fleischfresser, a friend to the food bank for more than two decades.
“We didn’t need gourmet because we needed to keep the cost down,” Bivens said. “But we wanted to make sure it tasted good and people wanted to eat it.”
Fleischfresser got to work, visited Cedar Hill, and modified the recipes.
“The basics were good, but for something like this that’s simple to use, and for people to really use it, there have to be some flavors they recognize and it’s got to have a little finesse,” he said. “I just enhanced some of those flavors without adding fillers or salt.”
One of the main targets for Extra Helpings is school food pantries. Even if a youth is no Julia Child, he or she can simply put it on the stove, add water, and have a hot meal in about 20 minutes.
The first truckload arrived at the food bank in February and the demand gradually has been increasing from its partner agencies.
“It started slow, but it’s really picked up now,” Bivens said.