Ypsi Food Fight enlists local "food system champions" for charity cooking competition

Growing Hope's work usually focuses on farming education, but the Ypsilanti-based nonprofit's upcoming fundraiser will spotlight those who prepare and sell food – and put them in friendly competition.


At the Ypsi Food Fight, May 18 from 5-8 p.m., local restaurateurs will cook and compete for the approval of local guest judges and audience members. A portion of the proceeds will support the expansion of storage space in Growing Hope's incubator kitchen at the Robert C. Barnes Sr. MarketPlace Hall, 16 S. Washington St. in Ypsilanti, where the Food Fight will take place.


Growing Hope executive director Cynthia VanRenterghem says Growing Hope "had a great response" to opening its incubator kitchen in autumn 2018 and has since licensed eight makers to use the space, with three or four more in the pipeline for the licensing process.


"We made space at the Food Fight for a mini-trade show of makers who are currently using the kitchen, and guests can sample what they make," she says.


The evening will start with tastings and a cocktail hour from 5-6 p.m, with wine, beer, and mixed drinks provided by Cultivate Coffee and Taphouse. Attendees will be able to make notes about their favorite dishes on a scorecard during this period.


At 6 p.m., the panel of judges will come out of seclusion to do a blind taste test of dishes prepared by six local restaurants. Taqueria La Marqueza will compete directly against Maiz Mexican Cantina for best taco, while Corner Brewery will go up against Ollie Food and Spirits in the category for vegetarian wrap. The Wurst Bar and Red Rock Downtown Barbecue will compete to see who has the tastiest sliders.


The judges are Darrel Smith, celebrity chef born and raised in Ypsilanti; Melvin Parson, founder and executive director of We the People Opportunity Center; Bridget Healy, director of community impact for United Way of Washtenaw County; Alena Zachery-Ross, superintendent of Ypsilanti Community Schools; and Ypsilanti Community High School culinary student Tahjaneé Robertson. Attendees can also buy $1 tickets to cast votes for an audience choice award.


Between rounds of judging, Growing Hope will honor a local food maker, somebody from the Ypsilanti Farmers Market, and a community partner, VanRenterghem says. The event will conclude with socializing from 7-8 p.m.


"We haven't done something like this before," VanRenterghem says. "We want to highlight some food system champions on Saturday night, but we also just wanted to do something fun and make it a little different."


Tickets, which are $75 online in advance or $100 at the door, entitle guests to one alcoholic drink and unlimited food tasting. More information and tickets are available here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photos courtesy of Growing Hope.

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