Soup kitchen cook faces ‘Iron Chef’ challenge three times a day – Lower East Side – New York

The Bowery Mission Kitchen
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LOWER EAST SIDE – Ping Lo had 30 minutes to whip up a dish to feed 200 starving people – using only ricotta cheese, spinach and a handful of kitchen staples.

Lo quickly added onion, red pepper and eggs and made a meal that consisted of both spinach casserole and spinach soufflé.

It won rave reviews.

“It was absolutely delicious,” Lo said. “I didn’t think anyone else was going to eat it.”

Lo isn’t the star of a cooking reality show, though she faces similar challenges every day. Instead, she runs the kitchen at The Bowery Mission, a homeless shelter, soup kitchen and men’s rehabilitation center that has operated on the Lower East Side since 1879.

The shelter prepares 800 meals a day – 10,000 on Thanksgiving Day – using an unpredictable array of ingredients donated from high-end grocery stores and restaurants, film sets and farms. Lo never knows until the last minute what she’s going to have to cook with.

“You’re on the fly. You’re always on the move. You’re always on your toes,” said Lo, 37, who has worked at the mission for two years and previously worked at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina at Chelsea Market. .

“You have to be flexible.”

As food is dropped off throughout the day, Lo’s menu changes from hour to hour depending on which items need to be used immediately and which will stay fresh for later.

Once someone tried to give an ostrich without feathers. It proved too much even for Lo’s creativity and had to be passed on.

She keeps plenty of garlic and onion on hand and she usually uses kosher salt, which she likes for its texture.

“We do our best to serve well-balanced meals every day,” said Matthew Krivich, who oversees the center’s day-to-day operations at 227 Bowery.

The kitchen must also provide a variety of options for each meal depending on customer allergies, diets and religious dietary restrictions.

“We never send anyone back without food, without clothes and without shelter,” Krivitch said.

A recent increase in food donations has helped The Bowery Mission improve the quality of its three daily meals, said James Winans, the nonprofit’s director of development.

“Since Whole Foods arrived on the Bowery, we’ve been doing daily pickups when there’s food that needs to come off their shelves due to their own business rules, but that’s perfectly fine,” he said. declared.

Organic produce also comes from Hain Celestial, a food supplier, and a partnership the mission has with farms in Pennsylvania, Winans said.

The Bowery Mission also has its own rooftop farm, growing a portion of organic herbs and vegetables.

But the best donations come from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which drops off fresh seafood about once a month after it is seized at fish markets for breaking rules, including including being below the legal size, said Trevor Mathura, 52, kitchen supervisor at The Mission Boery.

“I am delighted to give them [those who eat at the mission] that special treat that we don’t have on a daily basis,” Mathura said of the seafood, which often includes lobster and shrimp.

Aside from special deliveries, staple mission recipes include macaroni and cheese with roasted vegetables or a side of spicy cabbage with cumin seeds, Lo said.

With the number of guests changing with the weather – blizzards are always busy – Lo’s meals need to be flexible in terms of size. Meat donations are rare, so cooks often prepare dishes like chili with lots of vegetables to stretch the ingredients as much as possible.

“Even though I’m working on the meal, I’m preparing the menu,” she said.

A Classic Bowery Mission Recipe: Braised Cabbage with Cumin Seeds

by Chief Ping Lo

7 cups thinly sliced ​​cabbage

1 cup minced onion

2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 large pinch of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon minced garlic

4-5 teaspoons of olive oil

4-5 teaspoons tamari or light soy sauce

1/2 cup vegetable broth or water

Salt and pepper to taste

Add olive oil to a large heavy saucepan. When the oil is hot, add the red pepper flakes, garlic and whole cumin seeds.

Toast the spices in the pan until aromatic, but be careful not to burn them.

Add minced onion and stir over medium heat.

Add cabbage and stir frequently until cabbage begins to wilt, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Then add 1/2 cup of vegetable broth or water and tamari or soy sauce.

Stir over medium heat, then cover until cabbage is tender and caramelized.

Remove from heat and add pepper and salt to taste.