Ron Lovell promises Santa Maria culinary students a soup event they won’t forget.
“I don’t think any of them has ever seen what it looks like to feed 800 to 900 people in a single day,” Mr. Lovell told the News-Press in a kitchen/classroom at Allan Hancock College.
That’s the turnout expected for the 18th annual Santa Maria Empty Bowls benefit for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
Gourmet soups from 20 restaurants, hotels and others, including Allan Hancock College students, will be served Wednesday at the Santa Maria Fairpark, 937 S. Thornburg St., Santa Maria. Seatings will be at noon and 1 p.m. (The 11 a.m. seating is sold out.)
Admission is a $25 donation, which includes a meal of gourmet soup and bread and a hand-crafted ceramic bowl.
The soups will be served by Santa Maria leaders such as Mayor Alice Patino, Fire Chief Leonard Champion and City Council members Etta Waterfield and Gloria Soto. Other community leaders, media personalities, restaurant owners and chefs also will dish up soup.
Allan Hancock College culinary students will operate the kitchen. Besides preparing their own soup, the students will warm up the soups created by all the other providers, said Mr. Lovell, the event’s soup coordinator. He’s also the program coordinator of the culinary arts and hospitality management program at Allan Hancock College.
“All 23 of our students are going to attend that day and are going to work six-hour shifts. It’s great practical experience for them,” Mr. Lovell said.
For the community, the event has the feeling of being in a big family, the assistant professor said. He said people attending get to see their friends and meet new people at the event’s large tables and discuss soups.
“For a lot of retired people, this is one of their favorite social events,” Mr. Lovell said.
The Foodbank calls Empty Bowls its only annual fundraiser in Santa Maria.
Mr. Lovell noted last year’s benefit raised about $48,000 and that he hopes to earn $50,000 or more this year for a cause he calls critical for his North County community.
“So many of our families here support the agricultural industry, and it’s very seasonal,” Mr. Lovell said. “There may be periods where they go a few weeks without having employment, but they still live in the area. They still have to feed their children and pay rent.”
Throughout Santa Barbara County, the Foodbank provided food to 190,000 people in Santa Barbara County during fiscal year 2019. Seventy-eight percent of them live in North County, according to a Foodbank news release.
Any soups left over from Empty Bowls will be donated to Freedom Warming Centers in Santa Barbara County, Mr. Lovell said.
Besides helping others, the Empty Bowls is an opportunity to taste creative takes on soup.
“Jaffa Café creates a vegan red lentil soup that is always popular,” Mr. Lovell said.
He noted Splash Café in Pismo Beach and Lidos Concessions, a Santa Maria food truck, make clam chowder.
Foodbank partner services manager Jamie Diggs is creating his chili. Other participants in Empty Bowls vary from Jack’s in Old Orcutt (corn chowder) to Santa Maria restaurants such as Vintner’s Bar & Grill at the Radisson (beef fajita) and Zoe’s Hawaiian BBQ (chicken torilla).
The event will also feature Joy By the Spoonful, a food delivery service in Santa Maria and Orutt; the Santa Maria Country Club; VTC Enterprises and others.
“And Moxie Café (in Santa Maria) is making their tri-tip chili, which is always very, very popular,” Mr. Lovell said. “They slow-roast their tri-tip on a rotisserie instead of coals so it stays a lot moister. They slow-cook to make their chili and all the flavors blend together,” he said.
Allan Hancock College culinary students are being creative this year with albondigas soup, which is a Mexican meatball dish, and Moroccan stew.
Instructor Becky Corey told the News-Press that her students are making a more healthy version of albondigas soup by using turkey instead of the traditional beef or pork.
“It has all kinds of vegetables: different kinds of zucchini, onions, potatoes, lots of fresh herbs, cilantro and carrots,” she said.
Mrs. Corey said her students will make a vegan version of Moroccan stew.
“It think it’s going to be a new experience for people to have a vegan stew and enjoy it,” she said. “It’s filling and really flavorable.”
She explained the stew will have many different kinds of lentils and peppers, gonzaga beans and kidney beans, and red and sweet potatoes.
“We also put some soy protein in there to make it a little more hearty,” Mrs. Corey said.
The soup also features ginger, garlic, cinnamon, nutmeg and a popular Mideastern spice called garam masala, according to Mrs. Corey and Mr. Lovell.
Two culinary arts students told the News-Press this will be their first time making albondigas soup and Moroccan stew.
Alana Gorsi said she recalled tasting albondigas soup many years ago and found it delicious. She added she hasn’t tasted Moroccan stew.
“I like trying different flavors in foods and expanding my horizons on flavors,” said Miss Gorsi, whose favorite soup is Baha enchilada.
Ashley Dewald, whose favorite soup is clam chowder, expressed excitement over participating in Empty Bowls. “I’m super excited to help out the community and get some experience in a more fast-paced environment rather than a controlled one.”
Their instructor, who is involved for the first time with soup production at Empty Bowls, has attended the benefit for years with her husband, Dave Corey, and their kids. (Mr. and Mrs. Corey own Core Wine Co. in Orcutt.)
“I think there are always the crowd’s favorites. Who can make the best chili and who can make the best white chicken chili?” Mrs. Corey said. “There are always the kinds you expect to see, like the clam chowder.”
Mr. Lovell sees the big picture when it comes to the event’s seemingly endless gallons of soups.
“I focus on trying to get the hot soup to as many people as possible so they have a good experience and come back next year.”