Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to create gourmet culinary creations from fresh produce and foods destined for the landfill. The catch? There will only be a couple days of notice regarding what ingredients will be available. What for? The first-ever Dumpster Dinner and Dance, a fundraiser held on May 21 at Studios at Overland Crossing for Denver-based We Don’t Waste, the nonprofit that saved the food.
Nine Denver chefs accepted the challenge and laid down a tasty feast at individual food stations for the approximately 250 attendees, who could choose the VIP Dumpster Dinner “Get Spoiled” experience that included dinner and cocktails from 5 to 7 p.m. and a dance from 7 to 10 p.m. or just the Dumpster Dance portion of the event. The only foods the chefs knew they would be provided and could incorporate were Tender Belly pork and Prosper Farm beef provided by these Colorado producers.
Makers of spirits, craft beers, wine and mixers were on hand to serve and discuss their beverages, and an aerial bartender assisted with mixing cocktails. AMZY was the opening act for Rob Drabkin and his band, and the evening also kept humming with a contortionist, fire spinners and live broadcasts by “The Modern Eater” and “The Modern Drinker,” the Colorado radio shows that helped present the event.
The unique idea for the fundraiser resulted from the shows’ Greg Hollenback interviewing Arlan Preblud, founder and executive director of We Don’t Waste, indicating interest in doing something with the organization and following up six weeks later with a concept.
To plug into the meaning of the event, it’s important to understand the cause. Founded in 2009, We Don’t Waste collects unused food from venues like the Colorado Convention Center, Pepsi Center, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Coors Field, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, caterers, restaurants and distributors and delivers it to 80 communitybased nonprofits in Denver and along the Front Range at no cost to the donor or the recipient agency. Not only does the organization aim to eliminate waste, it strives to increase food security, which means helping people have access to enough healthy food to be well and active.
Preblud developed a compassion for those in need through his experiences as a practicing attorney for more than 40 years and volunteer for local nonprofits such as Urban Peak, Outward Bound West and Fresh Start. He notes that one in seven people in Colorado struggle with hunger and 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted.
We Don’t Waste had already provided 20 million servings of nutritious food by October 2016, which is three times more than the prior year. Preblud attributes the recent growth to more people becoming aware of the organization, especially distributors.
Major food purveyors like Sysco, Mile Hi Foods and Boulder Brands sometimes end up with products that have expiration dates that are too short for retailers to purchase, as they often want a shelf life of at least five to seven days. “These types of items are very expensive for the agencies we serve to purchase,” says Preblud.
Not only are people benefitting from the food, the donations gathered and delivered by We Don’t Waste are reducing the participating nonprofits’ budgets typically by 18 to 20 percent and augmenting what they are already doing with their food programs, he says. Five of the six staff members for We Don’t Waste are regularly on the road picking up and delivering food with the organization’s three refrigerated trucks. Since the organization does not have a warehouse, “what is picked up today must be delivered today,” Preblud explains.
How does the food from venues get collected? Typically it involves a committed group of volunteers. For example, after every Bronco game, 18 to 25 volunteers typically collect 4,000 to 5,000 servings of food from 141 suites.
Since 2009, We Don’t Waste has distributed more than 32 million servings of nutritious and delicious food to underserved populations and kept 4.3 million tons of food from landfills in conjunction with donor partners. To fund its operational costs, We Don’t Waste relies on direct monetary donations, grant funding and fundraising events such as Dumpster Dinner and Dance and the annual Fill a Plate for Hunger presented by Union Station at Denver Botanic Gardens in September.
The Plan & Venue
One of the primary goals of the Dumpster Dinner and Dance was to engage millennials through entertainment and learning. Nikki Olst, Epicurean Groups’ stadium executive chef at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (home of the Denver Broncos), reached out to other young chefs in the city to participate in the Dumpster Dinner. Meanwhile, Hollenback connected with his contacts to find beverage providers.
With the food and beverage taken care of, the other key piece was a venue. Opened in 2012, Studios at Overland Crossing has a distinct industrial feel that reflects the building’s 1881 history and worked well for the Dumpster Dinner and Dance. Direct access to RTD light rail’s Evans Station is an added bonus for the south Denver gathering space.
The event utilized the Studios at Overland Crossing’s 4,000 square feet of space, devoting half to the food and beverage stations and a butchering demonstration and the other half to high cocktail tables, milling about and entertainment. Outside, lounge seating and fire pits that were brought in provided an ideal place for sitting outside on a beautiful evening. Little décor was needed other than signage for the event partners and lighting that was already at the venue and brought in by the bands.
The organizers hope to offer the event again with a few tweaks like increasing advertising and communication efforts and looking at the price point to make sure that people feel like they are getting value for what they spend for tickets. “These types of events take a while to develop,” Preblud observes.
We Don’t Waste is keeping food in bellies instead of trash cans and finding inventive ways to promote the cause through innovative events.
Dumpster Dinner Eats and Drinks
Taylor Creedon – Tap 14
John Depierrio – Mijo
Jesper Jonsson – Auguste Escoffier
Jeremy Kittleson – Root Down + Linger
Thaun La – Uncorked Kitchen
Emma Nemechek – Sodexo
Nikki Olst – Epicurean Group
Preston Phillips – Grind Kitchen
Kevin Savoy – Carbon Beverage Cafe & Habit Doughnuts
Bear Creek Distillery
Declaration Brewing Company
Infinite Monkey Theorem
Laws Whiskey House
Llanllyr SOURCE Premium Water & Mixers
Waters Edge Winery