Food

Eating With a Purpose: Nonprofit launches sauce line to help homeless

John and Leigh-Ann Tumino’s mission is to help feed the homeless, one dish at a time

John Tumino used to cook for a full house every night at Asti Caffe, the Tumino family’s popular restaurant on North Salina Street. Now he feeds homeless people living under bridges and overpasses in downtown Syracuse, delivering chef-prepared, home-cooked food two times a week.

Tumino and his wife, Leigh-Ann, operate In My Father’s Kitchen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reaching out to this “invisible” population and bringing hope, one meal and one person at a time. Their latest project to benefit In My Father’s Kitchen involves what you could call mindful eating at home. Tumino calls it “eating with a purpose.”

In My Father’s Kitchen introduced Taste and See pasta sauce, now on sale Fridays at its storefront office and resource center at 501 Hawley Ave. The sauce is sold in 24-ounce jars and costs $6.95. Proceeds benefit the nonprofit’s mission of connecting with and feeding the chronically homeless and refugees adjusting to a new life in Syracuse, as well as assisting the homeless in taking steps to “come inside.”

Made with all the traditional ingredients — tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil, with a hint of crushed red pepper — the sauce is a natural for Tumino. After all, it’s his grandmother’s recipe. The sauce, which Tumino concocted regularly at Asti, is now part of the comforting meals he creates for his outreach, assisted by volunteers he calls sous chefs.

“This sauce is quality food, made with love,” Tumino says. “Now it’s going for a greater good. It’s supporting our mission. When you eat it, you’re sustaining yourself and you’re helping to sustain other people. You’re eating with a purpose.”

Tumino and his wife have operated In My Father’s Kitchen since September 2011. Both are ordained ministers. Tumino says he answered a call from God to leave the restaurant business and put his culinary talents to use in another way: feeding the homeless and others in need.

One day, Tumino says, he was on the Bear Street exit ramp from Route 690 when he saw a man holding a “homeless — please help” sign. Many motorists avert their eyes, Tumino says. Yet the spirit moved him to bring the man food and let him know, “You are not invisible.”

Earlier this year, the idea for Taste and See “came to me,” Tumino says. He introduced the sauce at a launch party and fundraiser in late September. Local chefs prepared several dishes with it, including sausage, peppers and onions and a creamy blush sauce served with tortellini. Tumino says the sauce can be used on pizza, served with meatballs and eggplant Parmesan and used as an ingredient in meatloaf or in soups.

If you want, you can eat it right out of the jar, Tumino says with a smile. “That’s how good it is.”

Those who have tasted it agree. “Believe me when I say this: This is the best bottled sauce there is,” says one fan on the In My Father’s Kitchen Facebook page. “I love the large pieces of basil in the sauce. The final listed ingredient is red pepper; it gives just a little ‘hint’ of a zing. Fabulous. The flavor is not overpowering. It enhances anything you use it in.”

Tumino hopes to sell the sauce at the Central New York Regional Market, increase his list of local retail outlets and grow the brand enough so that he can hire and train some of his formerly homeless “friends” for production and sales jobs.

“The pieces are coming together,” Tumino says. “Food brings people to the table.”

Taste and See pasta sauce by In My Father’s Kitchen is sold Fridays, noon to 6 p.m., at 501 Hawley Ave., next to ArtRage Gallery. The sauce is also available at Syracuse Soapworks, 226 Hawley Ave.; Nelson Farms, Nelson; and Peterboro General Store, Morrisville. For more information, call 529-3640 or visit www.inmyfatherskitchen.org or their Facebook page.

Margaret McCormick is a freelance writer and editor in Syracuse. She blogs about food at eatfirst.typepad.com. Follow her on Twitter, connect on Facebook or email her at mmccormicksnt@gmail.com.

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