Q&A: David Thomasson, Organizer Behind the Knoxville Noodle Bowl Festival

In Q&As, Words With… by Rose Kennedyleave a COMMENT

David Thomasson is the lead organizer of the inaugural Knoxville Noodle Bowl Festival, held Sept. 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Blue Slip Winery (300 W. Depot Ave.). Admission tickets include unlimited bowls of noodles from five regional chefs and beer tastings from multiple breweries, along with live music. Thomasson is local co-leader of Chefs Collaborative Knoxville, which works with the greater culinary community to celebrate regional food and foster a more sustainable food supply. Proceeds from the event benefit Friends of Tennessee’s Babies with Special Needs.

Is there some sort of contest involved for the chefs?
No contest at all. It’s just all about community fundraising—very casual, lots of fun, and I hope very interactive for all the participants.

How did Babies With Special Needs become the designated charity?
My wife has been a social worker her entire career, always working with the lowest socioeconomic groups, the people in greatest need with the least wherewithal to meet those needs. We have watched over the years, seeing what this organization has done for children with special needs, helping fill the gaps that no other agency does. When I started Farm to Griddle Crepes, where I am chef and owner, I vowed to give them some assistance as soon as I started making enough money. Then this idea came to my head and I said, “Wow, this is it.” 

Why noodles?
Who doesn’t like a noodle bowl? We all grew up eating chicken noodle soup as kids and noodle bowls are a classic—a traditional food of the people. It’s not fine dining, but it’s good food, with endless variations, vegan to pork-belly based. Chef Dan Crowder makes a wonderful ramen bowl, and I don’t know exactly what he or any of the chefs will make, but I guarantee he will make his from scratch and they will all be just delicious. And the beer is an enhancement, a sampling of five from regional and local brewers, all of them at the top of their game.

You’re offering special family pricing?

There is a package that includes admission for two adult and two children under 16. I hope many families will embrace this culinary event right in the neighborhood and also embrace the fact that we’re raising money for an incredible charity.

Do you eat Asian noodle bowls at home?
I certainly do, my wife and I both. They are very convenient. I just made a batch yesterday; they can be busy food for busy people during the week. You can make broth during a day off; mine is always vegetarian-based and I get a lot of good veggies in it and mushrooms. From one gallon, we will have that broth all week, and there are hundreds of types of Asian noodles to cook in it. One we like is an organic wheat udon noodle that we get at Three Rivers Market; it only has to boil seven minutes and then you are sitting down to a warm noodle bowl. Another is made of beans, mostly garbanzo, and you don’t even have to boil those, just let them sit in the hot broth. They make a great gluten-free option.

Chefs Collaborative Knoxville is much more recent than the national group?
Chefs Collaborative is 20 years old, founded by a small group of chefs meeting on the big island of Hawaii. Not long after that concept was formed, Boston became the home office, and over time it’s been a New England- and West Coast-based organization, with what they call local organizations in other places. At the time I asked national to form a local in Knoxville and jumped through some hoops, we were the only local in the Southeast or the South, period. Today, in terms of active locals, there is just us and Atlanta in the Southeast, though some national members are scattered throughout these regions. CCK had our first event in 2013, so we’re still a young organization. I hope this year we can do some building on that.

How can ordinary people help you grow?
I extend an invitation to anyone to join us. The group is for all producers or consumers within the culinary community, which includes home chefs and everyone who eats! So whether you’re a chef or not, it’s for everyone. You can have a membership with the national group just by paying dues. They hold a national sustainable foods summit every year, for four days or so, they get together for a series of lectures and a lot of social time to talk about local food systems. One of the main objectives in the organization is to identify and work together to fix the weak and broken parts of our food system, which can be national or local, and some pieces can even be international. One example we’re working on now nationally is to halt the indiscriminate use of antibiotics on farm animals. You can also join the local for any of our activities, including workshops or the association meeting. You do not have to be a member, but I encourage people to become a member of the national group if they can afford it. The money goes to a lot of positive things, like someone being on the ground representing in Washington.

Why did you start Chefs Coalition Knoxville?
For my whole working career, my whole life, my passions have included the environment. I just retired as an environmental scientist. Education is also in my background. And I grew up in my mother’s restaurants and kitchens, and worked in others, and am a food gardener and of course I love to eat. This effort, this reaching out, it combines all my passions; it represents my whole life.

For more information about the event and to purchase tickets: knbf.brownpapertickets.com

Rose Kennedy came to Knoxville to work as an editorial assistant on 13-30’s Retail Appliance Management Series and never saw a reason to leave. Her “so uncool I’m cool” career among the alt weekly newspaper crowd has led to award-winning articles on Dr. Bill Bass and the Body Farm and cyber-bullying at West High School, and treasonous food columns about preferring unsweet tea and feeling ambivalent about biscuits.

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