Empty Bowls: A Rhode Island Food Bank Fundraiser

“A convergence of great art and great food for a great cause.” Such is the purpose of Empty Bowls, a fundraiser we attended for the first time this year which raises money for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Thousands of Rhode Islanders struggle to meet basic needs, and supporting this event helps put food on their table. We were happy to be a part of  this worthy cause.


A new year, a new start; we Culinary Arts members, led by Mrs. Bonin, Mr. Calisto, Mr. and Mrs. Kerr, went on our first adventure of the year, the Rhode Island Food Bank’s Empty Bowls dinner, on September 23. It was my very first time at Empty Bowls as well, and it was absolutely incredible. Warm lights, background music, people that seem to all know each other entered into my sight as I stepped foot into the huge ballroom filled with restaurant stations and delicate sample food. The mingled smell of sweetness from desserts and saltiness from soup perfused the air while laughter and amazement from the crowd constituted a special symphony.

Coming in with a starving stomach and coming out with a “food baby,” I tried almost everything that I could lay my eyes and hands on. Even till this day, I still cannot forget about the coconut rice pudding from Portfolio Café at RISD and the macaroni and cheese with smoked brisket from the Catering Gourmet. The snow-white rice pudding decorated with the red strawberry sauce took my understanding of desserts to another level. Unlike any other traditional sweets, the rice pudding had a kind of freshness to its taste, accompanied with just the right amount of sweetness from the sauce and the chewy but smooth texture. Meanwhile, despite the mundane look of the mac and cheese with brisket, its taste revolutionized my senses. The cheese on the macaroni was melted to a dense but smooth extent with a baked texture, while the saltiness and softness of the brisket complemented and completed the dish. It was the best thing I have ever had. Kevin Jiang ‘17

            On September 23rd, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank held an unforgettable, amazing fundraiser. There were rows of tables filled with delicious looking food in inviting bowls and wonderful aromas through every aisle. The Food Bank was filled with people enjoying the flavorful food and bright ambience. As I walked throughout the large area, there were beautiful ceramic bowls in all sorts of colors at either end of the room. The fundraiser’s attraction wasn’t just the food: this remarkable event was to raise money for this very impactful food bank.

            As I entered the room full of tables there were over thirty restaurants to try. After a little wandering, I reached Rick’s Roadhouse, which was serving a baby back rib with baked beans and vegetable slaw on top. The rib was warm and the beans and slaw were chilled and the combination couldn’t have been more perfect. The ribs smelled just how they had tasted, smoky and infused with tons of flavor. The meat fell right off the bone as I bit into it, and the vegetable slaw was slightly sweet with a crunch from the carrots. The beans were flavorful and smooth. After I had moved onto the desserts, I found the most beautiful cupcake tower at Gregg’s Restaurants and Pubs. There were cupcakes all around their table in a decorative pattern with color bursting from the icing. I had to split my cupcake with someone because they were just so large but nonetheless delicious. The chocolate-iced chocolate cupcake was cold but so soft with the perfect amount of moderately sweet icing.

            I had not realized how many people depended on the RI Food Bank. It was really eye opening and inspired me to get involved. At the end of the night, we each received a handmade ceramic bowl, which will serve as a reminder of the fun evening and, more importantly, the great need in our community. –Anastasia Dwyer ‘17

“Empty Bowls” is an event supporting the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. The venue was set up with various restaurants and catering companies in order for us to eat, and bowls were given away as a reminder of all the empty bowls the hungry face. There were thirty six different tables offering foods ranging from Coconut Rice Pudding to New England Clam Chowder. Each caterer/restaurant offered a small, appetizer-sized portion of their delicious food, which in the end added up to a very full stomach. In addition to the food were two bars, a water station, a coffee and tea station, and various bowl tables where you pick out a bowl.

Unfortunately, I did not get around to trying every single one of the 36 entrees. I did not try the Quinoa soup, Sweet Corn Soup, Cioppino, or the Eggplant Rollatini. Of the 32 that I did try, the Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Brisket stood out as the best. There was a significantly long line for it to begin with, and justly so, as the pasta and the cheese were phenomenal. The Brisket was very tender and well coated with a delicious sauce. I wish I could have had a whole entree of this dish. My second favorite dish was the biscuits and gravy. Of all the tables, this was the only one where a small child was working to serve the food. A mother placed the biscuits in the bowl while her daughter poured the gravy over them. This really hit home with the “home cooked” experience. There were also a few dessert tables, and my favorite of those was Whole Foods’ cake pops.

I got to try a variety of dishes that I have never had the opportunity to try before. It was really nice being served a small size because it offered the chance to try things that I really didn’t think I would like to begin with. The result was that I really developed a liking for chicken curry, and I didn’t waste any foods in the process. “Empty Bowls” is an excellent event that I hope to partake in the future. Matias Wawro ‘17

Up by the way of Pawtucket Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Food Bank, through Empty Bowls, raises money and feeds the poor. The Culinary Club of Portsmouth Abbey had the lucky opportunity to partake in the fundraising portion of the foundation that included a limitless buffet of soups and soup-affiliated dishes. Although fungus is my least favorite of all the animal kingdoms, I must admit that the mushroom soup must claim the title of my favorite dish. In retrospect, it’s the mushroom’s appearance and texture that triggers my gag reflex, not necessarily the taste. In a soup, I can’t get caught up on the fact that a mushroom looks like half of a dissected brain that has been sitting in Mr. Sahms biology classroom or that its texture is far more reminiscent of Rumpelstiltskin’s soggy old toe nail than to something edible. Thankfully, this soup showed me the entirely unique flavor of a mushroom without having to show me a mushroom. When you think about it, a mushroom really tastes like nothing else. This mushroom soup was really transcendental in a way, in that breaking from its material appearance and texture by isolating the flavor and dissolving it into hot water, I tasted the purity of the indistinguishable and indiscernible flavor of a mushroom. David Ingraham ‘17

The Culinary Club members exclaimed at the amount of food lined up in front of us the moment we stepped in. Amazing local restaurants gathered together at the second annual Empty Bowls event, awaiting our assessment, thanks to the support from the RI Community Food Bank.

I glimpsed at the Tasting Map, and “Lobster” quickly captured my attention. I grabbed my friend and we strode toward Luigi’s. The line was long, but the dish was well worth the wait. Two men stood behind the stand, one ladled the lobster bisque, another added in the risotto, and the last fried and added the scallop on top. It was phenomenal: shredded veggies mixed with squishy rice, dipped in a warm pool of moderately sweet milky cream, which melted the moment it touched my tongue. There was no need for chewing, yet chewing provided more substance to it and offered more fulfillment. The lightly fried scallop was quite the cherry on top, almost perfectly round; its appetizing smell first conquered me before finding its way down my stomach. The lobster must have been chopped up into the risotto rice. The fact that I could not taste them did not at all deter me from loving this bowl of ambrosia.

My pursuit for seafood continued with Gazpacho from 1149 Restaurant, which included Garlicky Shrimp and Crème Fraiche. To be clear, I had no previous idea as to what Gazpacho was, but the curiosity served me well. The coldness of the soup struck me as a surprise (later I learned that Gazpacho is supposed to be cool). A small amount of soup was contained in a transparent cup, with scallions and cilantro floating on top. The cells on my palate hopped into the air as the shrimp created contact with my tongue, slightly sour, complemented with a refreshingly moderate tomato taste. Allowing the taste to slowly sink in would be ideal, but nevertheless, I finished it in seconds.

Garde De La Mer continued to stun me with its Sweet Corn Soup. Not just any sweet corn soup; this particular one contained Smoked Mussels and Ricotta. Cheese in soup was the most notable touch, and it absolutely won me over. The cheese, believe it or not, tasted like mint! In the regular bowl of soup, such a surprising element struck me as confusing, invigorating and full of fun! Not the type of cuisine I’m used to. Accompanied by the cruelly defrosted mussel, ricotta’s sweet aftertaste still lingers in my mind.

I was most pleased with the seafood selection, but my evening exploration further included Sopa de Fideos(Tallulah’s Taqueria), Cioppino (Blue Fin Grille), Pozole (Statesman Tavern), Salmorejo (Oberlin) and many others. If you haven’t the remotest idea what those are, like me before, I highly recommend trying them, or even better, participating in this charity event next year. Only the first culinary trip of the year, and I am already counting down days till the next event! Amber Liao ‘17

For its first trip of the year, the Culinary Arts Club went to Empty Bowls, a benefit for the Rhode Island Community Food Bank. Thirty-six restaurants brought a diverse group of soups and desserts, which we sampled as we moved through the rows of booths. One of my favorites was the Penne Pink Vodka from Macera’s Italian Restaurant in Cranston. I was immediately intrigued by its pink color, revealed in the tall, clear cups in which it was served. As I tried it, I found the penne was cooked perfectly al-dente with a creamy sauce featuring just enough sharpness to convince me to come back for seconds. Another favorite was the Biscuits and Gravy from Elmwood Diner; it was decidedly different from the traditional Southern biscuits with a peppery sausage gravy, but it was delicious nonetheless. The biscuit was a small circle with a smooth, rounded top, which had been placed on top of a white gravy. The pepperiness of the biscuit meshed perfectly with the gravy, which was reminiscent of a New England Clam Chowder. The dish was a memorable and tasty twist on the classic biscuits and gravy and definitely made me want to visit Elmwood Diner. Overall, Empty Bowls was a great trip, and I left with a beautiful pottery bowl and many new favorite foods. Hannah Banderob ’17

Last Sunday, the Culinary Arts Club went to the Empty Bowls fundraiser. Thirty six restaurants were represented, and they brought with them an amazing variety of food. We sampled everything from seared scallops over risotto (from Luigi’s) to cauliflower chowder with bacon-infused scones (from RI Food Bank’s community kitchen). My personal favorite was the coconut rice pudding, from the Portfolio Cafe at RISD. It was a sweet pudding with a smooth texture. There was a strawberry syrup on it, which complemented the flavor of the coconut. And aesthetically, the pink of the syrup provided a nice contrast to the white of the coconut as well. I couldn’t help but treat myself to a second bowl!

At the end of the night, we all chose a ceramic bowl to take home with us. These bowls had been donated by artists from the local community. Some had even been made by students from Portsmouth Abbey! It was especially inspiring to see how different community members contributed to the cause in so many different ways: from the artists, to the restaurants, to those who simply showed up and supported the event. All in all, we enjoyed a lovely meal for a lovely cause, and were able to bring back our “empty bowls,” as a reminder of the experience. Johanna Appleton ’17

I have been so lucky to have never needed to go to a soup kitchen. However, the Empty Bowls charity event supporting the Rhode Island Community Food Bank was a wonderful way to learn about such a great organization. In the Rhodes-by-the-Pawtuxet main room, thirty-six local restaurants set up stands with any kind of food that could be served in a bowl, soup kitchen style. Several restaurants stood out from the many. The lobster bisque with a seared scallop from Luigi’s was my favorite by far; the bisque was creamy and smooth, and smelled seafood-y without being fishy. The scallop was perfectly cooked, never venturing into the rubbery texture that can so quickly arise. One restaurant, Catering Gourmet, made a mac n cheese with a pulled brisket. My expectations for this were not high; I’ve definitely had my fair share of mac n cheese, and it’s usually pretty de rigueur. However, I was so surprised. The pasta and cheese were light but creamy, and even the brisket melted and pulled apart easily. Even with the competing flavors, it was never too salty and was balanced. Not all of the restaurants were my favorite, however. Though it might just be my own weakness, I thought the pozole from Statesman Tavern was way too spicy to taste any of the other flavors.

The night ended on a sweet note, however, with the coconut rice pudding with strawberries from Portfolio Café at RISD. It was smooth, creamy and coconut-y without ever overwhelming the fresh sliced strawberries and strawberry syrup on top. The people behind the table definitely recognized me by the end of the night. Sydell Bonin ‘18

Going into my first Culinary Arts event, I had no idea what to expect. I had taken a look at some of the fantastic events that the club participated in, but this Empty Bowls event was a complete mystery. At first I though it was going to be literally us walking around with bowls while trying soups from different restaurants. When I got there I was blown away by the selection that was offered. I guess you can call it beginner’s luck, because I really felt like this first event was going to be hard to top. More than just amazing soup, there was a wide variety of exquisite plates with delicious flavor and variety packed into a small bowl, my favorite one being Luigi’s seared sea scallop over risotto with roasted butternut lobster bisque. The richness of the lobster bisque with the solid body of the risotto and the special texture of the scallop made for a very unique and luxurious plate. For me it was the gold standard when it comes to serving a tasty high-end plate that was still fitting of the “empty bowls” theme of the event. The Macaroni and Cheese with Smoked Brisket was also a plate I really enjoyed; I thought the gouda paired really well with the smokiness of the brisket. However, there was little about the dish that demanded a bowl, making it stray from the theme of the event a little. Nevertheless, the event was a great way to start off the year with the Culinary Arts Club, and I look forward to much more to come. Raimundo Riojas ‘17

Of course, I had to get sick just before my very first Abbey Culinary Arts trip. It would happen to me. Of course, I still insisted on going—no pesky 24-hour cold was going to keep me from trying new and exciting food! The moment I stepped off the Raven bus, it dawned on me that I would not have to dine at Stillman that night (no offense to our lovely dining hall staff). As soon as we hopped off, the excitement kicked in. That is, until I realized I could not taste anything at all. Well, barely anything. My stupid cold prevented that. However, I decided my temporary illness would not impair my experience in the least. So off I went, arm in arm with my friend Amber, darting from one station to the next.

Empty Bowls mainly featured different kinds of soups from thirty six local restaurants. I know. Talk about sensory overload. Everything from the people we met, to the music being played, to the setup felt so welcoming and familiar. The fact that we were supporting a wonderful cause didn’t hurt, either. I kicked the evening off with a Shrimp, Chicken and Pork Jambalaya from Fireworks Catering. The fact that it was spicy may have jolted my sinuses, so my taste buds were back in business. For the next two hours, I was pleasantly surprised by countless foods I doubted I would ever like. Let’s just say that not liking seafood and living in New England don’t really go together… Naturally, I couldn’t leave that night without trying some sort of seafood, so Blue Fin Grille’s Cioppino had to do. The bright orangey-red tones of the soup were a tad alarming at first, but as soon as the spices tickled my throat, I was absolutely in love.

Speaking of “in love,” everybody knows that everyone likes Mac n Cheese. That’s just a given. If you don’t like Mac n Cheese, you’re lying to yourself. Now, Mac n Cheese with Smoked Brisket, on the other hand, is literally Paradise in your mouth. I cannot even begin to explain how delighted I was to find such a beautiful surprise in that mesh of yellow and brown. The Catering Gourmet just knows what’s up.

To top it all off, I ended the evening with a Double-Fudge Cupcake from Gregg’s Restaurant. If we’re being perfectly honest here, I may have shed a tear. That cupcake was too good for this world.

I remember turning to Amber as we were leaving and saying, “Well, adulting has been fun. We should do this again sometime,” and off we strode into the night, our bellies full and our minds content, knowing we had missed the first half of study hall. Maya Wilson ‘17

My third year of Culinary Arts Club experience had an amazing start: we went to Rhodes- on-the-Pawtuxet for Empty Bowls 2016, hosted by the Rhode Island Food Bank. Different than any other events we have been to, Empty Bowls was both a fundraiser and a Rhode Island restaurant expo.

Out of the dishes from thirty six different restaurant stations (I got too full and could not try them all), my favorite was easily the Smoked Tomato Gazpacho with Garlicky Shrimp and Crème Fraiche from the 1149 Restaurant in Warwick. I learned two terms from its name: Gazpacho is a cold soup made of raw vegetables, a classic Spanish dish; Crème Fraiche is a sour cream with high fat content. These two culinary decisions complemented the Shrimp so well that it refreshed the mouth with every bite. I ate this shrimp when I first entered the room, and I was not able to find anything tastier than it. I will definitely have dinner at 1149 restaurant when I visit Warwick.

Every participant of the Empty Bowls gets a handmade bowl. After lingering around the bowl table for a long time, I picked a little blue bowl because it says “Empty Bowls 2016” on the bottom. It is now sitting on my shelf, and it makes me remember this evening. Nothing could possibly be better than enjoying good food for a good cause. Christine Gu ‘17

As I walked into the entrance, the first thing that attracted me was the beautiful pottery of different colors and various sizes, which was a smart way to attract people with their gorgeous designs. The first thing I tried was a beef with rice from Fireworks Catering. It wasn’t necessarily a soup, but it was really soft and had some sauce on it, which made it a good appetizer. Another thing I tried was a lobster soup from Chapel Grille Restaurant. (The clam chowder soup table had many people around it, but I felt like I get enough from the Abbey.) The lobster soup was reddish yellow; though it looked pretty red, it wasn’t spicy at all, with a mild taste.

My favorite dishes were Mac and Cheese and the cupcakes. Mac and Cheese from The Catering Gourmet was really soft, and it was a great combination with the meat sauce. I tried a huge but delicious cupcake from Gregg’s Restaurants and Pubs with pink icing. It was really soft like a sponge, and the icing was so sweet that I wanted to get one more. The least favorite thing that I tried were cookies from Seven Stars Bakery: chocolate cookies, butter cookies and some other types of cookies, too. Probably I was expecting too much, but there was nothing different from what I usually eat.

Having small bowls with different kind of foods gave me a new perspective to taste various foods. I was more positive about what I usually didn’t like to eat and enjoyed the opportunity to try new dishes. When I learned that the purpose of the Empty Bowls was to raise money for a struggling community in Rhode Island, I felt like it was a great idea to let people who enjoy and love food to help those who are struggling. Because the purpose of this event was more meaningful, our club members and I appreciated more being part of this event. Jennifer Park ‘17