Sunday, May 18, 2014

5 Quick Questions With Margot McNeeley of Project Green Fork

Just imagine all the things you and your high school friends fought for in the Environmental Club suddenly coming true in real, adult life. That's what Project Green Fork does! Instead of banning styrofoam cups from the cafeteria like you used to dream about, they help green-up your favorite restaurants. PGF Executive Director Margot McNeeley will tell you more about that in our Q & A below. 

We want to tell you about a very exciting event coming up! We are so thrilled to cook dinner for you at the 2014 Project Green Fork Spring Supper on Sunday, June 1st at Southward Fare & Libations (in the Regalia shopping center in East Memphis) along with the amazing chefs from Sweetgrass, Tsunami, Edible Memphis, and Buon Cibo. The proceeds will benefit one of our favorite local environmental groups, Project Green Fork. The dinner will be served family-style outside of Southward in the courtyard. There will be some really great food. Let me tell you, the menu came together so nicely. I don't want to spoil the surprise…let's just say it'll be a meal to remember! 

There will be plenty to eat for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, so to all you vegetarian friends, this is your chance to go to an amazing dinner and eat more than the plate garnish. You also have the satisfaction of supporting an organization that's making Memphis a cleaner and greener place. You can feel good -- and feel full!

1. TCV: For our readers who may be unfamiliar with Project Green Fork’s mission, describe it and tell us why it’s a job that's so near to your heart.

MM: As a big fan of Memphis's locally owned and operated restaurants, I got tired of seeing all the trash that was generated from a restaurant meal, and I felt guilty to be contributing to that trash. And it made me curious about why restaurants weren't recycling. When I found out that the City of Memphis doesn't recycle for businesses, I decided to do something about it. 

Project Green Fork (PGF) was founded in 2008 with the goal of helping Mid-South restaurants reduce environmental impacts with a strong focus on strengthening homegrown restaurants. To date, our 59 certified restaurants have kept all of this out of the landfill: 1,815,880 gallons of plastic, glass and aluminum; 1,634,792 pounds of cardboard and paper; and 222,857 gallons of food waste.

2. TCV: You must have some good stories from previous Spring Suppers, Project Green Fork’s largest fundraiser. Are there any fun stories you can share with us?

MM: Our first Spring Supper was in 2009 and held at Tsunami. As a small nonprofit, our budget was, and really still is, super small and was even smaller back in 2009. Trying to save money, I asked a group of very good friends to help out and serve the courses as Chef Ben Smith prepared them. While serving the third course, sweet potato and lemongrass soup, one of these good-willed friends spilled the entire bowl down our PGF attorney's back. Of course, he was a good sport about itbut that friend never waited tables again. We decided having professional servers during Spring Supper is a good and necessary investment. 

3. TCV: We are excited to be cooking with some of Memphis’s finest chefs: Ben Smith of Tsunami, Ryan Trimm of Sweet Grass/Next Door and Southward, Melissa Petersen of Edible Memphis, and Katie Belenchia of Buon Cibo in Hernando, MS. How did you decide on the Spring Supper team, and what do each of these folks bring to the table? 

MM: I always try to include at least one PGF certified restaurant that hasn't participated in Spring Supper before, and we always aim for a new theme. We also like including people who may not cook in a restaurant but are involved in the Memphis food scene and know how to cook really well. A big part of this supper is using as much locally grown food as possible, so it’s also important to put together a group of chefs who work with local farmers on a regular basis. 

When I started thinking about hosting a pescatarian and vegetarian supper, the list of possible participants organically evolved. Chef and PGF Board member Ryan Trimm was gracious enough to offer the outdoor space at Southward for the event and being a big fan of his cooking, I knew whatever he decided to contribute to the meal was going to be amazing. Melissa Petersen, another PGF Board member, offered to help Ryan in the kitchen. Melissa has cooked for PGF Spring Suppers before and is not only a great cook but also a huge help organizing all the moving pieces happening in the kitchen.  I knew she needed to be involved again.

Chef extraordinaire, Ben Smith of Tsunami, was who we all thought of first to ask for the fish portion of the meal and the masters of creating and cooking vegetarian, Justin and Amy, were our first choices for the vegetarian part. Melissa has been telling me about the amazing desserts created by Katie Belenchia of Buon Cibo for some time now, so we asked her to create a special dessert for the supper.  

4. TCV: For those who are interested, what can people do to get involved in Project Green Fork?

MM:We rarely get funding from grants and not much in the area of donations. How we survive and continue to do the work we do is through our fundraisers. If you like the work we do and you like to eat really great and creatively prepared food with a group of cool people, buy a ticket to our 6th Annual Spring Supper: 

5. TCV: It’s a Tuesday night, nothing special, and it’s just you and Gary, what are y'all cooking?

MM: My husband and I love trying new recipes from our favorite vegan and vegetarian cookbooks: The Southern Vegetarian, Let Them Eat Vegan! and Isa Does It. My new favorite vegetarian food find, is Magic Vegan Bacon Grease (thanks, Bianca!). We've been cooking with this for the past couple weeks and can't get enough of it.  The other night we used it in making mushroom-nut burgers over greens with avocado. Always avocado, wherever and whenever possible.  It's for sure my "stuck-on-a-desert-island-with-only-one-food-item.” That and coconut, in any form. 

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