Tag Archives: A Better World Cafe

My Lunch with David Bouley

Now that I have your attention, I have to confess it wasn’t actually with him so much as provided (and cooked!) by him at Bouley Test Kitchen. And it wasn’t just for me, but for a group of food journalists who had gathered for a tasting of three Italian cheeses and two prosciutti, all arranged by an Italian food consortium called Legends from Europe.

But Chef Bouley did address our group, as proud as any papa about his baby, the Test Kitchen, which is a pretty cool space where visiting chefs give demos and classes, and which can be rented for private events. It was, for example, the host site to the Bocuse d’Or training earlier this year.

Four of the Italian products being spotlighted are pretty familiar to all of us: Prosciutto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and Grana Padano. It was the fifth one that caught my attention: Montasio, which is a melting cheese that’s the sole ingredient in those wonderful Northern Italian fried cheese crisps called frico. On hand to cook them up was Mary Ann Esposito,

Cover of

Cover of Ciao Italia

host of the long-running PBS series, Ciao Italia. (More about her and a recipe for frico in a future post.)

Now, what you should know is that food media lunches are almost always fabulous – whoever is behind them strives, naturally, to put their best foot forward. But it was as if this particular lunch was created specifically with me in mind. Here’s the menu:

Slow-poached Connecticut farm egg with Prosciutto di Parma and a Parmigiano-Reggiano cloud

Fresh sardine with tomato-saffron broth, fingerling potatoes, Prosciutto di San Daniele, and Grana Padano crisp

Hot caramelized Anjou pear with Valrhona chocolate, biscuit Breton, and hot toffee sauce, plus lemon verbena and Tahitian vanilla ice cream

For a bonus they threw in melon soup with ricotta ice cream as a palate cleanser after the sardine.

Two of my favorite edibles in the world are eggs – especially soft-cooked – and fresh sardines, so it was pure bliss. These are fairly unusual choices for a group meal, even for a group of food professionals. 

Gosh, how I do love my job.

Speaking of loving your job: Congrats to Lisanne Finston, director of Elijah’s Promise in New Brunswick, who is one of ten recipients of the 2011 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leaders Award. This national award honors exceptional people who tackle challenging health and health care problems in their communities.  Elijah’s Promise is a remarkably effective soup kitchen, plus a foodservice training facility for clients of the soup kitchen (called Promise Jobs), and a community restaurant (a la Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen) named A Better World Cafe in Highland Park. 

And finally today: this one’s for Nirit, who when she read my post about Fakesgiving – which my family celebrated in October because one of my daughters was off to Sri Lanka for a wedding over Thanksgiving – asked if I would post a photo of Alice in a sari. Well, Nirit, here she is in all her glory, accompanied by her boyfriend Chris, who’s wearing a kurta.

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My Dinner at Bon Jovi’s Soul Kitchen

 

RED BANK, NJ - OCTOBER 19:  (EDITORS NOTE: Ima...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

 

I finally got the chance to eat at Soul Kitchen in Red Bank, the latest project of Jon Bon Jovi’s nonprofit Soul Foundation.  The concept behind this “community restaurant” is that there are no prices on the menu: you pay the suggested minimum donation of $10 cash for a three course dinner or, if you can’t pay you volunteer your services in exchange for the meal.

The place opened on October 19 (with the NJ-native rocker and his wife on hand), and has been packing ’em in ever since. We arrived only 15 minutes after the dinner hour began on a Thursday night, but by then there was a 45 minute wait for the 30 or so seats. We were happy to cool our heels, as were the other curious folks who had come from all over the state. And the wait proved worth it.

A team of paid chefs prepare seasonal American fare using organic ingredients from the raised beds in front of the place and products donated by the Whole Foods Market in Middletown (which also happens to be where the Bon Jovi family lives). The menu, the setting, and the service – mostly by young, energetic, squeaky clean community volunteers – are surprisingly stylish and more restaurant-like than soup kitchen-ish.

We started off with creamy butternut squash soup, beet salad with honey dressing, and Monmouth St. green salad from among 5 starters. Although main course choices include bbq salmon, cornmeal crusted catfish, and grilled chicken breast, four of the five of us couldn’t resist “Terrence Fall off the Bone Roasted Chicken with down home gravy,” mashed potatoes, and green beans.  The chicken lived up to its name, and I would characterize this dish, and everything else, as good, nutritious home cooking. Our fifth wheel who didn’t get the chicken? He was more than pleased with the massive grilled pork chop.

Each evening’s single dessert appears to be donated by a different area bakery, and we were lucky to hit the mini-cannoli from La Rosa’s in Shrewsbury. The meal also includes iced tea, bread and butter, and coffee or tea. As I said, very well thought out.

To be honest I didn’t spot one person who looked like they couldn’t pay, although the folks at Soul Kitchen report that about 15% of patrons use vouchers. But the concept works nonethless, because it’s no stretch for those of us who can pay to leave more, to pay for those who can’t. $20 seems about right to me.
Soul Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Soul Kitchen is not the first to implement the community restaurant concept in the state. Elijah’s Promise, the wonderful New Brunswick-based soup kitchen and culinary training school, opened their Better World Cafe  in Highland Park two years ago. If you know of and have been to others in NJ, feel free to share the info here.

On a different note: I’d like to give a big, fat thank you to my colleague at the Princeton Packet, Faith Bahadurian,  for spreading the news about my dinewithpat website on her excellent food blog, NJ Spice.