Local Bay Area Chefs Wanted for 'Healthy Corner Store Chef Challenge'

Youth volunteers with the HOPE Collaborative lead a taste test at a West Oakland corner store in the Healthy Corner Store Project.
Youth volunteers with the HOPE Collaborative lead a taste test at a West Oakland corner store in the Healthy Corner Store Project. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Collaborative)

Iron Chef it isn’t. But some Bay Area chefs are currently in their kitchens, trying to come up with a healthy wrap, bowl or sandwich that can not only tickle the taste buds, but can be easily made with limited kitchens and bought for around $5.

It’s called the Healthy Corner Store Chef Challenge, and rather than at Kitchen Stadium, it will be happening at Oakland’s Humanist Hall on October 5.

The competition is being put on by the HOPE Collaborative, (HOPE stands for Health for Oakland's People and Environment) a grassroots network of public agencies, community professionals and Oakland residents who are trying to bring healthier food options to so-called “food deserts,” or low-income neighborhoods in Oakland without easy access to healthy and nutritious food, like fresh produce.

Founded in 2007, HOPE was established by invitation by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Fitness Collaborative Initiative.

While HOPE has numerous projects in the food and environmental justice arena, one success story has been the Healthy Corner Store Project.

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When residents of West and East Oakland complained about a lack of quality food within walking distance, HOPE surveyed 80 business owners to find out where there might be interest, and identified which neighborhood stores would be a good fit for the program.

While some of the stores have already added or expanded their fresh produce section, “these local markets see the most need for a deli and prepared foods section with healthy food in their stores, but they don’t have the know-how or resources to implement that,” said Sabrina Wu, HOPE’s Project Director.

Fresh, local, organic produce is now stocked at the Three Amigos Market in East Oakland as part of the Healthy Corner Store Project.
Fresh, local, organic produce is now stocked at the Three Amigos Market in East Oakland as part of the Healthy Corner Store Project. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Collaborative)

HOPE has already worked with some local chefs to develop recipes, and they’ve worked with architects to help design expansions of the stores. They’ve connected stores with grants and funding sources, and consulted with store owners on everything from regulations that must be followed when selling fresh produce, to how to track sales and how the stores’ bottom line is affected by the changes made.

“We’ve connected each store with an organization to provide on the ground grassroots support,” said Wu, but “we are also encouraging people to support the store, because the store owners will only maintain these changes over time if people are buying the product, and ultimately, we want these stores to be able to transition to a healthier business model and better serve the community.”

The program draws from the best practices of similar healthy retail programs around the country that are in existence or have been in the past, Wu said.

For the October 5 event, the goal is to raise broader public awareness and support of the Healthy Corner Store Project, but also to “leverage the amazing foodie and restaurant community here in the Bay Area to better support food access for low income people,” said Wu, adding “We’d like to engage as many Oakland residents as possible in our work.”

Paula Beal, HOPE Healthy Corner Store Leader, has been helping out with the transition of Sunbeam Market in West Oakland.
Paula Beal, HOPE Healthy Corner Store Leader, has been helping out with the transition of Sunbeam Market in West Oakland. (Photo courtesy of HOPE Collaborative)

A broad call went out to chefs – both beginning and more experienced restaurant chefs – to create a dish that costs around $5 that is both delicious and nutritious. Furthermore, it must be able to be made in a limited kitchen, which, for example, doesn’t have a kitchen hood, since that is not something a corner store has.

    Chefs can enter in one or more of the five categories, which include:
  • sandwich, wrap or Panini
  • side or main salad
  • smoothie or juice
  • soup or stew
  • rice or noodle bowl

The HOPE Collaborative has assembled some experts in the field to serve on a judging panel, but those in attendance will also be able to taste each entry and vote on their favorite as well. While an audience favorite will be announced that night, the judges panel will be “rating them with a different lens," said Wu. Of course the nutritional profile is paramount, but the judges “will be looking at how feasible it is to replicate it in a corner store, and how culturally appropriate it may be for the population that lives there, and whether the recipe price point is reasonable within those markets. All of those things will be looked at rather than just taste.”

They figured out the space has room for about 20 chefs to compete, so all who enter may not be chosen. Those chefs who do compete may have their recipe included in a future cookbook put out by the HOPE Collaborative.

The event will be emceed by Chef Charlie Hallowell, owner of Oakland restaurants Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe Service and Penrose, and a DJ will be spinning as well.

Sponsored

Chefs can submit entries until 5 p.m. on September 30. The Chef Challenge Event is at 5 p.m. on Monday, October 5 at the Humanist Hall, 390 27th Street, Oakland. Chefs can receive a $50 stipend to buy food, and must prepare over 100 sample tastes for the crowd.

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