Chef's Recipes: Tina Struble
Updated: Oct 25, 2018
Chef Tina Struble and the Pantry Supper Club
The Livingston Food Resource Center provides a “Pantry Supper Club” to eligible seniors over 60 years old. Each week, five frozen dinners are delivered to the homes of eligible participants in the Livingston area.
Struble prepares all the dinners at the LFRC using mostly local and seasonal ingredients. The meals are formulated to meet the nutritional needs of seniors, many with diabetes and high blood pressure.
Struble, who has been a Montana resident since early 2000, is the meal planner and cook for all of the meals. She formerly owned a popular vegetarian restaurant in Livingston, The Night Spot Café, which held the distinction of being the only exclusively-vegetarian restaurant in the state at the time.
“I will have people who remember the Café from 10 years ago who still bring it up to me," she says. "I had hopes that it would start a trend, that people would enjoy the alternative enough that they would strive to create something else, but it hasn’t really happened.”
Instead, Struble now works with the LFRC to bring healthy, nutritious meals to the members of the LFRC Pantry Supper Club. Over many years, she has traveled from Montana to work developing recipes for some of the most cutting-edge vegetarian restaurants in the country, from Brooklyn to Seattle. Now she is settled near her family back in Livingston and working to help keep seniors healthy.
“I love developing new food. I’m primarily an artist by nature and so the creative need drives me for sure,” she says. “From what I’ve witnessed, the attitude about feeding underserved populations that are impoverished is they get given the bottom of the barrel. But at LFRC, we’re really for giving people organic, whole food as much as possible from local farms. They have very, very good quality meat.”
Struble says the commitment to providing top-quality ingredients makes it less challenging to create dishes which contain animal protein. In a shift from her earlier work in vegetarian cuisine, she says she enjoys creating dishes that include a variety of local game and proteins and, “If I convince people they could have a meal, one vegetarian meal in a week, that’s a big achievement.”
“I’m just sort of pushing the envelope a little bit, not to the point where you alienate people,” she says about her creative three-course supper club meals. “You have to gain people’s trust. …Like raising children when you’re trying to feed them and trying to get them to eat healthy, you don’t shove something down their throat or force it on them, they’ve got to be kind of cajoled into it a bit a at a time with baby steps.”
Struble and the staff at the LFRC serve about 40 clients per week with the meals and currently have a waiting list to be on the program. She prepares about 200 three-course meals weekly and is helped by volunteers to assemble the dishes to be frozen and stored until being delivered to participants.
LFRC does a variety of outreach programs to gauge the success of their programs.
“We get a lot of positive feedback,” Struble says. “In a couple of a couple of instances we’ve had people tell us that their doctors have, after a year being in the program, their doctors want to know what they’re eating because they’re numbers are all great and their health is improving.”
Struble admits she is unafraid to expose the diners to old favorites with a new twist.
“I try to give them as many comfort things that they’re used to from their past as I can,” she says, “And then I’ll modify those things to be healthy. I just made a tuna casserole. The base, the white sauce is made with coconut milk. I do all kinds of things, like biscuits and gravy with a gravy made out of white beans.”
So far, her recipes are proven winners with the supper club participants.
“When I started doing the program there were 15 people in it and it quickly kinda jumped up a month or so to 30,” she says. Struble has been cooking for the program for over a year and says she looks forward to continuing her work making unique, healthy, and nutritionally-balanced meals from the wide variety of local produce and meat the LFRC has available.
Check out Tina's recipes for Coconut Lentil Curry, Roasted Butternut Squash and Chicken Chow Mein in the latest issue of Montana Press Monthly. Learn more about the Livingston Food Resource Center here: http://livingstonfrc.org/