Portsmouth’s streets are lined with restaurants filled with diners eager to enjoy delectable dishes from our talented chefs, especially during the holidays when sharing a meal with family and friends is part of celebrating the season.
But those who create this vibrant food scene know that not everyone in our community can put food on their table. Local chefs are taking the lead to eliminate food insecurity as partners with area nonprofits.
The Portsmouth nonprofit Gather works with chefs and food distributors to provide nutritious food to those experiencing hunger on the Seacoast. Their Cooking 4 Community (C4C) program uses the kitchen at Great Bay Community College (GBCC) to transform donated and rescued food into delicious meals under the guidance of Culinary Director Tania Marino.
With “the generosity from chefs like David Vargas at Vida Cantina and companies like Tuckaway Tavern, Favorite Foods and Nina Parrott’s The Fifth Flavor catering,” says Marino, Gather can “diminish food waste and provide over 5,000 fully prepared meals per month to the community, including students at GBCC and local seniors.” Gather Cafe provides lowcost food options to students so they can concentrate on their studies and not worry about finding money for a meal. And seniors can enjoy three-course, sit-down meals for that wonderful restaurant experience.
Chef David Vargas says, “At Vida, instead of ‘farm-to-table’ we say ‘community to table.’ It’s about more than just the food; it’s about equity and social justice. People come together at the table and I want to provide that experience for the whole New England community.” Further, says Vargas, “My whole mindset around food has changed to how it can support the community. The community has supported me, and now I use my platform to give back.”
To help future chefs continue this vital work, Vargas is developing an accredited culinary program at GBCC that incorporates his “community to table” philosophy. Students learn about food insecurity along with their restaurant training. Vargas hires younger line cooks now as part of his mission to build a more empathetic food system. “We’re not just putting out good food here at Vida; we’re building good humans, too.”
Julie Cutting-Kelly, chef/owner of Portsmouth’s Cure restaurant, is a member of the Restaurant Week committee and the Northeast Credit Union’s (NECU’s) Mission Advancement Council. She facilitates NECU donations to Gather for every Restaurant Week meal purchased. She donates all excess food from Cure’s Restaurant Week menu and her seasonal menus to Gather.
“This has become a tradition after every menu change and a process I share with other chefs to spread the word. Gather will take food donations in any form (even cooked) as long as it has been held to health code standards,” said Cutting-Kelly.
In Kittery, Footprints Food Pantry Executive Director Megan Shapiro-Ross has strong partnerships with restaurants and food shops to support their community. For the holidays, John Flintosh of Carl’s Meat Market and his team partner with Footprints to roast chickens for individuals who don’t have access to an oven or who can’t cook for themselves.
At Lil’s Cafe in Kittery, Deb McCluskey and her son and business partner Michael McCluskey donate year-round to local nonprofits helping to feed food-insecure people throughout the seacoast.
“All our daily leftovers at Lil’s and The Islander Café are donated to Footprints Food Pantry and Seacoast Fridge in Kittery or Operation Blessing in Portsmouth,” explains McCluskey. For the holidays, the cafes work with Footprints to provide rolls and desserts for holiday gift baskets.
Seacoast Fridge asks individuals and restaurants to drop off perishable and pantry goods to feed the community and encourages residents to launch communal fridges in their neighborhoods to ensure everyone has a seat at the community table.
Learn more about these local organizations and how you can help.
Footprints Food Pantry www.footprintsfoodpantry.org
Seacoast Fridge www.facebook.com/seacoastfridge