On the fifth floor of a warehouse in North Point Breeze, diners stepped from a freight elevator into a night of numbers: Six hours. Nine chefs. Nine courses. 160 seats.
It was fitting, then, that they’d come out to support 412 Food Rescue, the numerically named nonprofit that works to prevent food waste throughout greater Pittsburgh. The organization’s second annual fundraiser — held Sunday night in LUXE Creative’s 21,000-square-foot loft — showcased nine James Beard chefs from across the country, each of whom crafted a course from rescued food. Under the top-notch direction of Spoon’s Jamilka Borges, the chefs and a volunteer crew of servers orchestrated a marathon “Sunday Supper,” offering cauliflower and charcoal tempura squash; lamb and Ligurian sea bass; and allium and apple pie over a soundtrack of live music and clinking cocktail glasses.
“It’s about creating community and keeping a conversation going,” says Borges of the chefs’ collaborative effort. “They look at food the same way I do — they’re engaged in their communities, they work with different nonprofits, and they care about food waste. The reality is that chefs and eaters are part of the issue of waste, and waste leads to hunger. That’s a problem we can solve if we work together and build awareness.”
Since its 2015 launch, 412 Food Rescue has aimed to do just that. Led by CEO Leah Lizarondo, the nonprofit redirects food that’s fresh — but unsellable — to Pittsburghers who are food insecure. The goal, according to the organization, is to “prevent perfectly good food from entering the waste stream.”
It’s an ambitious task. Globally, up to 40 percent of all food is wasted. The United States alone wastes $218 billion worth of food each year; meanwhile, 1 in 7 Americans don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Beyond the moral implications of rampant waste and preventable hunger in the world’s most powerful country, uneaten food also poisons the planet, accounting for up to 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
To ensure that good food goes to good use, 412 Food Rescue partners with a network of nonprofits, volunteers, and food donors to get donated food onto the plates of those in need. Its Ugly CSA program brings fresh (but cosmetically challenged) produce to a sold-out club of eager consumers. Its Hidden Harvest program plucks fruits and vegetables from public and privately owned trees and gardens, while cooking classes and original product lines both educate and feed the public at large.
But the organization is perhaps best known for FoodRescueX, its mobile app that connects food donors to volunteers in real-time — think Uber for food rescue. More than 5,000 people have downloaded the app, helping 412 Food Rescue save 2.25 million pounds of food — the equivalent of nearly 2 million meals. And by setting aside a few of those meals for Sunday’s fundraiser, the organization hopes to feed Pittsburgh while elevating rescued food among the city’s restaurants and bars.
If the work of Borges and her fellow chefs was any indication, that’s a good thing for us all. The all-star lineup she assembled with Justin Severino (of Cure and Morcilla) spanned the country, with award-winning chefs from Michigan, Arkansas, D.C., Florida and Maine stepping up to the microphone between each course to explain the night’s dishes: allium and walleye soup; squash panzanella salad; cauliflower with capers; deep-fried beets in pork fat mayo (a concoction that generated audible enthusiasm from the crowd); smoked bluefish; pork tenderloin; sea bass; lamb with mint and roasted vegetables; and finally, apple pie. The feast ended at nearly 11 p.m. — six hours after the opening VIP kickoff.
Few diners complained, and for good reason: Nothing Borges and company served tasted “rescued,” especially when paired with cocktails from Spencer Warren and Carrie Clayton — the duo behind Subversive Cocktails, the holiday-themed pop-up bar Miracle, and the forthcoming bar Mister Rogers.
The success of so many like-minded chefs and bartenders is promising, says Borges. “Most people, when they think about food waste, want to help. People don’t wake up and think, ‘I’m going to be wasteful today.’ That’s why I think we can solve this — and the more chefs, bartenders and diners we can engage, the better. 412 Food Rescue pays a really important role in that.”
A portion of the fundraiser’s proceeds will help hurricane victims in Borges’ native Puerto Rico. Click here to learn more.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated this event took place in Homewood. It did not. It took place in North Point Breeze. We’ve updated the story for accuracy.