Eating at this event helps others to eat better

Three chefs from local businesses will collaborate Monday evening, Sept. 30, to cook dinner for "No Menu Monday" at the Strip District's Bar Marco to benefit local promotion of nutritional health.

Dinner chefs will be Brian Hammond, executive chef and owner of Restaurant ECHO in Cranberry, and Curtis Gamble, chef de cuisine at Spoon in East Liberty. April Simpson, owner of Vanilla Pastry Studio in East Liberty, will make dessert.

Each Monday, Bar Marco opens its kitchen to nonprofits from around the city, allowing them and their chefs to raise money for local causes.

Proceeds from this Monday's dinner will be split between two of the Food Revolution Pittsburgh efforts inspired by Chef Jamie Oliver's appearance here last year: 10,000 Tables, a campaign to get 10,000 Pittsburgh-area families to pledge to eat dinner together at least once a week, and Food Revolution Clubs, which are introducing health and nutrition information in Pittsburgh Public Schools.

The cause of promoting healthy eating is close to the heart of Ms. Simpson. You might not think so, given that she spends her days baking sugar-laced treats, but she does stress healthy eating with her 15-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.

"We don't eat a lot of prepared or processed foods," Ms. Simpson said, noting her kids do eat some sweets, but they're from mom's bakery, so at least they don't contain preservatives. She shops at Whole Foods and farmers markets. And her daughter is a rower and her son a swimmer, so those occasional sweets get worked off quickly.

While Mr. Hammond and Mr. Gamble don't have kids at home, they're also on board with the goals of the organizations they'll be cooking to benefit.

Spoon will participate in part because Chef Brian Pekarcik was involved with Food Revolution's cooking club at Obama Academy last spring.

And Mr. Hammond has a nephew and a niece, and most of the chefs on his staff have kids.

"I see the importance of focusing on how food is supposed to be healthy and nourishing," Mr. Hammond said. "The family dinner table seems to have disappeared from society."

He and his staff grow much of the produce they serve at the restaurant, supplementing with produce from local farms. Current crops in Restaurant ECHO's 5,000-square-foot garden include tomatoes, butternut and acorn squash, herbs and chili peppers.

10,000 Tables is part of the larger "Let's Move Pittsburgh" collaboration inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign to curb childhood obesity. Hannah Hardy, director of programming and operations for Let's Move Pittsburgh, said the 10,000 Tables challenge is up to 3,000 enrolled families so far. The organization sends out e-mails with recipes and nutrition information. To sign up, go to

The Food Revolution Clubs bring healthy home cooking lessons and other nutritional information to Pittsburgh Public Schools (find my coverage from earlier this year at

At the moment, Food Revolution Pittsburgh is bringing 3-gallon water tanks to Pittsburgh Public School cafeterias so students can have free water at lunch. The "Fancy Water" coolers hold water steeped in fresh fruit such as lemons, oranges and strawberries. Each tank costs $20, and each school needs at least two tanks. To donate to this effort, e-mail

In the spring, Bar Marco's Bobby Fry will reprise his cooking club at Obama Academy in partnership with the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.

Future plans with Pittsburgh Public Schools include serving fresh salad dressings (see recipe) and sauces during school lunches and expanding the cooking clubs to other schools.

Chili honey vinaigrette for a crowd

  • 1/4 cup minced shallots

  • 2 tablespoons salt, plus more if needed

  • 1 cup rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

  • 2 tablespoons honey

  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil

  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil

  • Black pepper, to taste

Combine shallots, 2 tablespoons salt and the rice vinegar in mixing bowl. Stir and allow to macerate for 10 minutes.

Add garlic, Dijon, chili powder and honey. Whisk together.

Slowly drizzle in canola, whisking constantly to create emulsion. Repeat with olive oil.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes 41/2 cups vinaigrette.

-- Food Revolution and Bar Marco

Rebecca Sodergren: or on Twitter @pgfoodevents.


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