In Las Vegas, a local couple and a huge network of chefs are taking the concept of “paying it forward” to a new level through a program called 24Meals. The idea first came to Corporate Executive Chef for V&E Restaurant Group Matt Fresinksi as he was cleaning out his pantry. Instead of getting rid of the food he found, Matt and his wife bought some to-go boxes and cooked 24 meals to distribute to people he knew were struggling during the global pandemic. Their son handwrote inspirational messages on every to-go box lid and voila - a family project was born.
The Fresinksi family wanted to take it even further by involving the community and created the Chefs Challenge - a way for chefs across Las Vegas to come together and take care of those struggling. #Anvoafoodnerd, professional food and restaurant photographer, chef, podcaster, world traveler and all around culinary lover Chef Louiie Victa has now participated twice in the challenge. She loved the idea of creating something out of a mystery box and dove right in to help support the mission.
Chef Louiie used her new Anova Precision® Oven and original Anova One (#tbt) to batch cook rice, sous vide about 12 lbs of squash, and perfectly cook some wild boar - all to support others in her community. Below, we get to talk to Chef Louiie to learn more about the project and how she is using her Anova products to give back.
Q: Louiie, I am THRILLED to be speaking with you today. Could you tell us a little bit more about 24Meals?
A: I’d love to! Las Vegas is a city full of chefs and culinary creatives, and in the early days of the shutdown, most of us were unemployed. And that feeling of not being able to cook is just terrible for any chef / food lover. So what 24 Meals did was put together mystery boxes of donated food as a challenge for local chefs. I mean, it’s really such a win-win situation for all parties and most chefs that have done the challenge really enjoyed it. They deliver everything to your home: the mystery box, the meal prep boxes, as well as a couple of markers that you can use to scribble an inspirational message on the lid of the box, as well as one gifted pantry item from the chef who’s done it before you. And after you’re done cooking, they pick up the meals to distribute too. And then you get to nominate other people and donate one pantry item as a means of paying it forward.
24 Meals gets their food donated to them by local grocery stores and charities and consists primarily of overstock food. Once this food passes a certain sell by date, it really just goes to the trash and gets disposed of. As consumers, we don’t get to see this part of the food retail process on a daily basis. I mean, it really would make your stomach churn when you see the amount of edible food that can still be consumed just end up in the garbage, but this is a real practice. So I have a lot of respect for organizations (such as 24Meals) that step in and address the issue of food waste while making sure that it’s appropriated to people who are really hard hit by the COVID crisis.
It’s really amazing to see such beautiful dishes come from these very talented chefs on the 24 Meals social media page. Everyone that has done a challenge has done such a great job and has used it as a means to express their creativity, skill, and showcase their talents during these uncertain times. I can totally see that everyone puts so much effort in making these meals really special. There’s a big difference when you cook food with love as opposed to cooking just to feed a large group.
Q: I love that you have participated in this challenge twice now. Could you tell us about what you cooked the second time using the Anova Precision® Oven and your original Anova One?
A: Of course! This time around, I got a mystery box containing fall squash, carrots, celery and wild boar. I was also gifted a blackberry-chipotle chocolate sauce by Chef Matt Fresinski, one of the founders of 24 Meals. I’ve never cooked wild boar before, but judging from the meat itself, it looked like a really lean cut. And this is where I decided to put my old and reliable Anova One to good use. I actually started the day before plate up with my boar meat, and sous vide this for 24 hours to get it excellently tender.
I was already planning on using the Anova Precision® Oven to handle the big batch cooks because I knew from my recipe creation experience that it would handle this type of job beautifully. It really did 90% of the work the day I plated my 24 meals. I was able to batch cook rice, sous vide about 12 lbs of squash, and brown the boar all in excellent time. I love the fact that I could trust it to do its job as I multi-tasked and worked on other elements of the meal. I ended up making a squash curry over rice and a wild boar roulade with chocolate-blackberry-chipotle glaze. It was a very hearty and heavy mea and it was great to be able to use both products to create so many meals!
Q: Why did you choose to use your Anova Precision® Oven and Anova One for this challenge?
A: I was blessed with the incredible opportunity to create and adapt recipes for Anova, so it got me thinking, “Why not use this technology to help me help others?” I really wanted to use the Precision Oven as a means of paying it forward so to speak. It really feels good to be able to positively contribute to my community, and hearing great feedback from people you don’t know is just incredibly heartwarming.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share with the community?
A: Presently, a lot of chefs have already gone back to work, and are unable to take on the 24Meals Challenge but there are still individuals out there that need help. I’ve heard stories about individuals that split and ration their frozen dinners just to get by. It’s heartbreaking to hear that because I believe that food is a right that should be accessible to all members of the community. One way to get involved is to get nominated by a chef who’s already done the challenge.
Apart from this, the organization needs any sort of help such as food or monetary donations, as well as people who just want to volunteer their time. You don’t have to be nominated to do a challenge, just contact the organization and they would be more than happy to set you up with a mystery box. It’s as easy as that, and a really rewarding experience. If asked if I would do this again, I totally would. After all, “the best way to multiply one’s happiness is to share it with others”.Learn more about the challenge and how you can get involved by visiting 24Meals.