ASHEVILLE- Food Connection executive director Flori Pate said food should be fun, no matter what. The nonprofit’s newest fundraiser, Chef Dance Off for Food Connection, is nothing if not fun.
“Food distribution should not be solemn or sad; it should be a celebration of all the good food in our community,” Pate said.
Food Connection’s mission is one that solves two problems at once: in normal times, the nonprofit rescues perfectly fresh leftover food from events and restaurant service periods and delivers it to people who need it. That helps assuage hunger and also keeps food out of the landfill.
During COVID, the majority of what Food Connection served to its clients came from restaurant partners instead. At local eateries like Pack’s Tavern and Wicked Weed, chefs cooked meals to order with the help of grants and the private donations Food Connection received.
“We had to change our business model when events shut down and restaurants closed,” said Pate, who added that Food Connection has purchase more than $60,000 chef meals so far.
“Now, as things are opening up, food rescue is picking up too,” she said. “But the chef meal response has been so successful and people have so loved the fresh-packed meals, the hope is to continue both models.”
That takes money, which is where the Chef Dance Off for Food Connection comes in.
The spatula dance sensation
Through April 28, you can see local chefs and restaurant staff do their dance things to local musician Ryan RnB Barber’s song “AVL Funk,” all to raise cash for the cause. The participants are all Food Connection restaurant partners.
It costs $10 to vote for your favorite dancing culinary professional. Voting is, of course, unlimited, with all funds going to Food Connection to help continue the mission to feed the community and cut food waste.
You can watch Pack’s Tavern staff breakdance in the street. You can dance along with chef Melissa McKnight as she gets down on the steps of the Omni Grove Park Inn. You’ll see chef Clarence Robinson of Cooking With Comedy complement some serious moves with a couple of spatulas. In all, there are eight videos to see.
Robinson’s dance is particularly joyful, and the chef said laughter is a big part of what motivates him.
“That’s why I created Cooking with Comedy,” he said. “I wanted to keep laughter and personality and being able to be creative and also provide quality food.”
Though Robinson has a food truck in the works and more projects on the horizon, he said he intends to continue his work with Food Connection into future.
“I don’t ever want to seem like I’m too busy to give back,” he said. “I’ve built a relationship with them that I plan on keeping.”
During the pandemic, working with Food Connection gave him the drive he wanted to maintain even while culinary work was scarce, he said.
“Food Connection came in and gave me that boost, a motivation and push and gave me the opportunity to be able to feed other folks in the community who didn’t have the chance otherwise to have my food.”
Robinson also had a message for potential voters: “Let everyone know they can vote for me, but don’t try the spatula dance at home,” he said. “You might hurt yourself.”
Curbing food waste
Though the dance off is chiefly a fundraiser for Food Connection, it’s also in part a celebration of the City of Asheville’s proclamation of April as “Food Waste Reduction Month.”
A city announcement of the proclamation said an estimated 57,500 tons of food waste is generated in Buncombe County annually, which accounts for approximately a quarter of commercial and residential landfill waste.
“Across the whole food supply chain, America tosses more than 400 pounds of food per person per year for a total cost of $218 billion,” the release said.
Curbing that waste is an important part of Food Connection’s mission, Pate said.
“We estimate that, to date, we have kept 150 metric tons of fresh food out of the Buncombe County landfill,” Pate said. “And that’s gone to provide 100,000 meals of rescued food.”
Learn more about the Asheville food waste reduction effort on the city’s main website.
To see the chefs dance, vote for your favorite and donate to Food Connection, visit food-connection.org and scroll down to watch the fun.
Mackensy Lunsford has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years, and has been a staff writer for the Asheville Citizen Times since 2012. Lunsford is a former professional line cook and one-time restaurant owner.
Reach me: [email protected].