Yesterday was chef Ryan Pollnow’s first day participating in the San Francisco Food Bank’s Hunger Challenge 2013. After picking up his weekly allotment of produce at the Bank and shopping for extra items on his five-day budget of $22.50, he headed back to central kitchen to spend the rest of his day off planning and prepping meals.
Ryan’s days off are typically food-centric, but in a very different way – they’re an opportunity to get out and experience what’s happening with food all over the city. Most mornings he’ll amble over to the cafe across the street for a cappuccino, then head to a different neighborhood for lunch. Later in the day, he might meet friends for cocktails and snacks, or go out to dinner. On one recent day off, him and three friends ventured to the outskirts of Noe Valley to enjoy some delicious Sardinian cuisine at La Ciccia. They ordered one of every starter, one of every pasta, two of the menu’s specials, and two bottles of wine. The meal was amazing, and cost about $75 per person – nearly four times his weekly budget for The Challenge.
Today, Day 2, Ryan skipped breakfast as usual. Before sitting down to plan the night’s menu, he prepared himself a lunch of white rice, charred tomatoes, a tortilla, a sliced pear, a fried egg, and some Romaine dressed in lemon, which he enjoyed with his daily cup of black coffee.
Later that afternoon, as the rest of the staff sat down to a pre-service meal prepared by the kitchen, Ryan grabbed a bowl of beef stew he’d made the day before. Normally he would have cooked such a dish with stock, but as he didn’t have enough money to buy any, he used water instead.
Leading up to The Challenge, Ryan – and most of the people at the restaurant he told about it – assumed he’d be famished all five days. That’s not necessarily the case. True, the meals he’s eating this week are smaller and simpler, but with his planning skills and the produce provided by the Food Bank they’re still filling and nutritious.
So far, the biggest difference between the lifestyle Ryan is accustomed to and the one illustrated by The Challenge is the amount of time and thought required for each and every meal, and the sacrifice of convenience, spontaneity, and indulgence.