What goes into a benefit dinner? So much more, it seems, than ever meets the eye. The researching of partners and surveying of venues, the sending of emails and selling of tickets… And through each of these endeavors occurs the ceaseless biting of nails. Will we have enough food? Will the venue and the menu fit the theme? As a non-profit, we always have to ask ourselves, Will we break even?
A few months of such planning for Change Food culminated last night at our benefit dinner featuring RISE, a food tech startup making flour from brewers’ spent grain. Guests strode into Rouge Tomate Chelsea at 6:30pm, where already the impeccably professional staff were weaving between conversations, vibrant cocktails abreast. Simple Vodka swirled around Love Grace’s Watermelon Cleanser Juice, making each gulp an advocate for food security and personal health. Elsewhere, Curious Elixirs’ booze-free cocktails and Love Grace Longevity Tonics kept dehydration at bay, until cocktail hour chatter wound into the adjacent dining room.
In the rustic room, vegetation spilled from flowerbeds mounted on white brick walls. As guests found their seats, delicately labeled with names and dietary preferences (omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, vegan gluten free), Change Food Founder Diane Hatz invited Rouge Tomate Founder Emmanuel Verstraeten to give a toast.
It so happened guests were toasting with Toast Ale, so U.S. Director Madi Holtzman also rose and explained what business the beer had at an upcycled event (Hint: it’s Brewed From Bread, and now available in Whole Foods’ NYC locations). The first of the night’s many brews went bottoms up.
Five courses commenced then, each paired with a different beer used to make RISE flour. Featured were Keg & Lantern’s Berliner Weisse, Strong Rope Brewery’s Pale/Bitter Ale “Trophy Cat,” KCBC’s Smoked Helles Lager “Helles Kitchen” (Man, was that smoky!) and Keg & Lantern’s Gastronomical IPA.
And suddenly — the food! Waiters danced in with sour RISE flour panise and Edenworks’ microgreens, followed by tomato gazpacho with avocado, basil and pilsner RISE flour croutons. Lamb’s liver came next beside Gotham Greens’ cabbage, crunchy brown ale RISE crackers and mustard vinaigrette. These courses might have been the best first courses ever served to humankind.
“Lose the lamb,” vegetarians and vegans both said for the Gotham Greens salad.
“Ask and you shall receive,” replied Chef Andy Bennett. And it was magnificent.
When the entrees came round, carnivores raved about the Niman Ranch pork loin atop pineapple, kale and IPA RISE spaetzel. But on the plates of the many vegetarians, pork fell victim to the coup d’etat of expertly charred broccoli. Meanwhile, roasted carrot with quinoa, radicchio, coconut and jalepeño stole the show for vegans.
Between bites, founders of RISE, Keg & Lantern Brewery, Simple Vodka, Gotham Greens, AeroFarms and Edenworks connected the dots for guests, explaining the nearby origins of donated ingredients. A rare moment for producers and consumers to collide… Dare we say it was magical?
Welcomely, dessert descended upon diners in the form of a Porter RISE flour chocolate brownie with almonds and a rotund dollop of Strawberry Vanilla Lotus Scoop ice cream. RISE flour takes on the flavors of the beer from which it’s derived, so just imagine a Porter Brownie.
And imagine, as the vegans had to, for dairy forbade them from tasting. But they were preoccupied by their own sorbet soiree, until Eat Chic Chocolates united all -vores with their organic gluten—, soy—, palm oil— and GMO-free, vegan, locally-sourced chocolates. One flavor was filled with homemade peanut butter, one with STAGG Jam. (If you’re desperate for a visual right now, our Instagram is an ode to the evening’s delights.)
With the main activity (stuffing faces) winding down, raffle winners were cheerfully drawn by Rouge Tomate Chelsea founder Emmanuel Verstraeten and announced by Diane Hatz. The lucky recipients took home small fortunes from the most generous of donors, like Steve Ritz of the Green Bronx Machine and Viraj Puri of Gotham Greens, both of whom were present.
Around 10:30pm, the last of the chocolates vanished with the guests, who swung plentiful gift bags into the crisp night air. An emptied Rouge Tomate Chelsea left us room to reflect on the night and our reasons for hosting events.
As we mentioned, Change Food is a non-profit, so the purpose of this benefit dinner was indeed to keep our gears turning. But more importantly and much like the Change Food Fest and the Video Library, our productions aim for exposure and connection. We want attendees to come ready to scoff at preposterous jargon like “upcycled” and retch when they think of beer made from bread or bread made from beer. And we want them to leave reconsidering their role in food waste, slugging Toast Ale and munching on RISE flour crackers.
We want producers to meet consumers and we want them to address mutual curiosities whilst inhaling a salad of Ugly Greens. We want them to resolve potential animosities and develop future collaborations.
We want grassroots grit to receive well-deserved recognition. We want to inspire young people to sail their studies into uncharted waters and older people to finally follow their professional passions. We want both of these demographics to connect and to care.
Whenever we host any event, we want to empower our guests to RISE up and continue to Dine with Purpose long after the tables are cleared. Thank you from the bottom of our
glasses hearts to our sensational sponsors and dynamite guests. We’ll see you at the next one!