Maybe you've seen James Beard Award-winning Chef Jose Garces on Iron Chef America. Maybe you've caught a glimpse of him wielding a knife at one of his award-winning Philadelphia restaurants. But I'm guessing you've never seen him in line at the grocery store, handing his food stamps* over to the cashier.
The AP challenged two chefs — Garces, and Bill Telepan — and Anna Last, editor of Everyday Food magazine to feed a family of four for a week on the federally provided allowance of $68.88. Telepan blew his budget, Last came in a few cents under, and Garces, 66 cents over budget. I found his strategy the most instructive for anyone disinclined to throw away money on food, but compelled to cook interesting and varied dishes. In brief, Garces says hit up the ethnic foods aisle of the grocery store.
Budget cooking "traces back to roots in ethnic cooking," he says. "If you look back in history, people had to survive, and using inexpensive products became ways to survive and using those inexpensive products became traditional dishes."
So where did Garces' money go?
Nearly $23 went to meat, including high-flavor items such as chorizo and bacon. Another $18 was spent on dry goods and flavorful foods, such as salsa, roasted peppers, chipotles in adobo sauce, paprika and maple syrup. The rest was split mostly between dairy and produce, including garlic, avocado and lemons.
And something tells me, each cent went toward something delicious!
*Technically, what has been historically known as the food stamp program is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and it uses debit cards, not actual stamps.