Talking Philabundance with Glenn Bergman

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Glenn Bergman is stepping down from his position as general manager of Weaver's Way Co-op to head Philabundance, starting Monday.

You might consider Glenn Bergman, 63, something of the Zelig of Philadelphia's food scene. There he was in the '80s, humping desserts for a Frog Commissary-catered party. Then grilling stuffed veal loin at La Terasse. Then running a corporate dining unit. By 2004, he was leading the fourfold growth of Mount Airy's (and later Chestnut Hill's) Weaver's Way Co-op from funky grocer to spiffy organics purveyor to urban farmer.

Next month, he'll put on a new hat - top manager of Philabundance, the city's enduring antihunger organization. He owes it, he's quick to say, a deep debt

of gratitude.

You have a graduate degree in public health. Why the food journey? Was there a chef in your background?

I didn't go to culinary school. I went to the Julia Child School of Cooking: I got her cookbook. My mother was a dress designer; my father left us when I was 1. But in her 30s or 40s, my mother started to cook a lot, and then she'd have these classes. In the house, she'd have anywhere from seven to 12 people.

How'd she learn enough to teach?

 

She went to the Chinese Institute in Manhattan and the Maritime Culinary program, they'd have training classes. I remember going to a sugar-pulling class with her once.

So you grew up with fancy food on the table?

 

Not quite. She had three kids, three boys, no husband. She used to get lots of bones. We used to have lots of marrow back then, before we knew it was going to be expensive 50 years later. We had a lot of lentils and baked fish from the Long Island Sound because my brothers would fish there.

Did that history put you in mind of saving scraps, conserving the leftovers?

 

When I was heading up catering for Steve Poses' Frog Commissary, you might have three parties going on in Center City for 300, 400, 500 people, and you've got food left over. What are you going to do with it? I remember taking it to St. John's Hospice. You know, you knock on the door at 12 o'clock at night and the brother comes to the door in his robe and takes as much food as he can, and you go on.

Any other outlets?

 

My wife was working at Pennsylvania Hospital, in labor and delivery back in the '80s. I'd call her and say, "I've got a speed rack of chocolate-dipped strawberries. They're not going to be good tomorrow. And I don't have room in the walk-in anyway." So I'd [drive ]them over there . . . and they'd take the strawberries around to the nurse stations.

Seems like a makeshift situation.

 

It was a pain. Then Pam Lawler started Philabundance with one truck. She was the only one who'd show up at midnight at the event [to pick up surplus food]. And she'd take it all. It was either that or dump it.

Did that sensitize you to the vast amount of food waste there is?

 

Even today, I start to bend back to a table when two people get up, and try to grab some untouched dish - maybe like a lamb chop, a serving bowl of Chinese food. My kids hate it. They go, "Don't do that! Don't do that!"

That's sort of in the spirit - if not the practice - of Philabundance,

isn't it?

We might get ugly fruit or leftover stuff. But the trick is to get it to the shelters in some decent form. That's why I want to expand the 14-week kitchen-training program. I want to get local chefs involved.

Besides your estimable record on the culinary front, is there anything you'd like to be remembered for?

 

My nephews in California came up with a drink called the Uncle Glenn. It's a gin and tonic with a splash of Campari and lemon rather than lime. I've tried ordering it in a bar and asked a number of bartenders, "Have you ever had a gin and tonic with Campari? I think it's called an Uncle Glenn."

So I'm trying to get it on some menus.

What a coup that would be.

My nephew says at my memorial service, they're going to have Uncle Glenns and dim-sum, that's all.

Oh, when will that be?

 

I don't know yet.