Chefs’ Feast wasn’t always a guaranteed sellout event, said Platt College chef instructor Don Thiery.
“The first few years I was involved, we would get 186 or 260 people,” he said. “Now we have to find the largest places we can get to have it.”
Now in its 30th year, the annual evening of gourmet tasting is the largest fundraising event for Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.
Proceeds benefit Food for Kids programs. That’s why Thiery comes back each year.
Chefs’ Feast is 6-9 p.m. March 23 at National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, 1700 NE 63rd St.
“The main thing for me is the Backpack Program. It’s so vital,” he said.
At-risk children are sent home each Friday with backpacks filled with nutritious, nonperishable foods to keep them fed throughout weekends and holidays.
Without them, some students simply go hungry, Thiery said.
“One of the days I think about is when we had inclement weather and the kids couldn’t come and pick up their backpacks for the weekend,” he said. “Some of these kids live on these backpacks for the weekend.”
Thiery has become an annual chairman of Chefs’ Feast, an honor he shares with Aunt Pittypat’s Catering co-owner chef Christine Dowd and US Foods executive chef Robert Johnson.
“I think it’s so important the food bank is here,” Thiery said.
From humble beginnings, started out of the back of a truck, the organization grew from giving out 280,000 pounds of food in its first year to distributing that much every couple of days, Thiery said. That kind of massive impact on an area can truly change lives.
“We can come in there and bust our tails for a day or two and the food bank reaps the benefits all year long,” he said.
This year’s Chefs’ Feast includes dishes from 25 local restaurants, caterers and chefs with a focus on Oklahoma-inspired foods.
In addition to the coordinators, participating restaurants include chef Kathryn Mathis’ trio Back Door Barbecue, Big Truck Tacos and Pizzeria Gusto; Guthrie favorite Gages Steakhouse; and A Good Egg Dining Group entries Republic Gastropub and The Drake Seafood and Oysterette.
It’s called a feast, but Thiery said first-time guests should be prepared for a marathon of small bites. Size is not an indicator of flavor, though. To paraphrase Shakespeare, though they be little, the dishes are fierce.
Thiery’s group, including students from Platt College, is preparing a trio of tiny flavor bombs.
“We are going to do a Vegas Strip, almost like an Egyptian street food,” he said. “We’ll also do a vegetable dish — a lot of vegetarians go to these, so we try to give them options.”
For dessert, he’s planning something like a mango-strawberry swirl, which might have a kick of alcohol in it.
The Oklahoma inspiration is the reason he uses the Vegas Strip, which is a cut of beef developed at Oklahoma State University by cutting a long, thin strip steak out of the beef shoulder.
Cooking for so many people — Chefs’ Feast feeds 900 guests, including volunteers — requires a lot of work, Thiery said.
“I try to tell all the chefs, especially the first-timers, to be as self-contained as you can be,” he said. “You can’t expect to use the oven or the proofer once you get there.”
It’s a three-week process from application to event, Johnson said.
“Speaking from the chef’s side, at three weeks out, you submit the menu to the food bank,” he said. “Then we have to turn in our meat order to Chef’s Requested Foods,” which donates protein to each participant.
When chefs get the meat a week and a half before the event, they start doing prep work so everything can come together the day of.
“Twenty-four hours out, it’s all on,” Johnson said. “And a lot of these places have operations going on at the same time. They’re doing restaurant duties while trying to get the food ready.”
Chefs’ Feast adds a lot of stress and effort to an already maxed-out workload, which is what makes the chefs’ willing involvement even more impressive.
“The donation of their time and effort is huge,” Johnson said.
He first attended Chefs’ Feast as a guest thanks to his work with US Foods, which donates a lot of unused product to the food bank.
“We’ve had a really good relationship with them for a really, really long time,” he said. “I got invited to go, and it was an amazing event. So I approached the leadership and said, ‘How can I get in and be one of the chefs for the event?’ Since then, I’ve been a big supporter.”
Like Thiery, Johnson said the Backpack Program drives his interest. His wife works for Edmond Public Schools and sees its impact.
But there’s another reason he keeps coming back.
“I look forward to the looks on people’s faces as they’re eating the food; the joy in their faces,” he said. “And at the end of the night, when they say, ‘We raised this amount of money today,’ and everybody cheers, that’s what it’s about for me.”
Started in 1980, Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma feeds more than 126,000 hungry residents weekly through a network of more than 1,300 schools and charitable food programs throughout central and western Oklahoma.
The nonprofit organization puts a special focus on feeding hungry children with its Food for Kids programs, including the School Pantry program giving chronically hungry middle and high school students food for after school and weekends; the Backpack Program; Kids Cafe and Snack Sites providing food, mentoring and activities to at-risk kids; and the Summer Feeding program giving meals to Oklahomans 18 years old and under during summer months when free and reduced-price meals aren’t available at school.
Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma is always in need of donations of food, funds and volunteers.
6-9 p.m. March 23
National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd St.
Print headline: Happy meal, One night at Chefs’ Feast helps keep hungry Oklahoma children fed all year.