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- Live Music Theatre @ 92Y Tribeca
- What's Next for Dirty Mac?
- Realizing a Dream
- A Staten Island Band Strives to Make a Career out of Their Passion
- The Cyrus Movement Prepares for Musical Warfare
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Category Archives: Food
A row of wine bottles and upside down wine glasses stand solemnly on shelves behind the wooden counter, richly stained in a reddish tone. Polished hardwood floors and walls split into halves of wide, wooden panels and wallpaper decorated with vibrant paintings and framed, rectangular mirrors, encapsulate the quiet, unoccupied dining space.
It is only 11 a.m. on a Thursday. The restaurant has only just opened its doors for the day, and already, inside the kitchen, there are signs of bustling activity. Chef Maurizio and his assistants are hard at work, providing rich, flavorful catering for 200 students and their teachers from a nearby school. Italian songs drift softly in the background, drowning out the distressing sounds of clattering pots and pans.
Each of its chairs, tables, and other interior furnishings, were meticulously selected— handpicked with love— by Chef Maurizio and his family only two years ago. For the family of three, Piccolo Sogno, which in Italian means ‘little dream,” is indeed a dream come true.
“This was always a dream of ours to have a restaurant. Obviously, it’s a small place so it’s a ‘little dream,’ but eventually, we have the big dream,” said Monia, the couple’s twenty-four-year-old daughter, with a laugh. “It’s very tough in Italy to open up a restaurant, and plus, we never really had the money.” Pensively, she added, “[My father’s] been cooking all his life— always worked under someone else— never had the opportunity to have our own restaurant, and finally, we did.”
Vivacious and articulate, Monia, a brown-eyed, wavy-haired, slender brunette, is in charge of managing the restaurant’s finances, as well as waitressing, and cleaning. “Everybody does everything. When it comes to your own business, you have to know how to do everything— how to flip the pizzas, how to make something in the kitchen,” remarked Monia.
It is hard to imagine that Chef Maurizio and his family immigrated to the United States only a decade ago. Born and raised in Cunardo, a little town in northern Italy that sits by the border to Switzerland, Chef Maurizio recalls that he first developed an interest in cooking during his childhood years in his mother’s kitchen.
“I started when I was actually like 7 or 8 years old with my mom in the kitchen,” remarked Chef Maurizio. “My mom never liked to cook. Never. That’s why she was really surprised; my brother became a pastry chef – has a pastry shop in Torino, Italy— and I’m a chef.” With a smile, he added, “She, all the time, tells me you must pick it up from your grandma because I don’t like to cook. My grandma was a very, very good cook.”
Even during school breaks in his adolescent years, Chef Maurizio enjoyed learning in the kitchens, trailing after his older brother wherever he went. “Even though I was like 10 years old, [I would] go follow him in the big hotels just to stay on the side, sometimes just to break the nuts, whip the cream, or peel a potato— just to look at what the chefs were really doing,” remarked Chef Maurizio. “And then when I was old enough, I started culinary school in Stresa. It was the best culinary school in Europe a long time ago, in 1978.”
But for Chef Maurizio’s family, the little dream of Piccolo Sogno comes in a far bigger portion. Since the restaurant’s opening, providing customers with authentic and fresh tastes of home— Northern-Italian styled cuisine— has been their sole mission.
“We’re born and raised in Italy and so we know how Italians eat, and over here, they try to change the Italian food to be Americanized,” said Monia. “A lot of people think that the Italian food that’s here in America is Italian food, but if you go to Italy, it’s really a lot different; and that’s what we’re trying to bring here.”
According to Chef Maurizio, on average, the restaurant receives 150 to 200 customers a day on its busiest days of the week, Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant uses only fresh ingredients from Italy and fresh fish is delivered to the restaurant daily.
“We were excited when the people that come over here from Italy say, ‘Maurizio, I went there and ate exactly the same plates that you make me over here,’” remarked Maurizio, with a wide grin.
“I’ve been in this country about ten years. My mind is still there.”
Enter any pizzeria and watch what everyone orders. As a countless number of round pies are devoured within a single day, watch as the square slices gather dust.
An inch thicker, with more dough, sauce and cheese, the Sicilian slice is the fat Sicilian cousin of the traditional Neapolitan slice. Unlike its colleagues, the Sicilian slice is left on the cold and lonely corner of every pizza display. No matter how much sauce and cheese a person puts on this product from Sicily, everyday is Grey for the Sicilian Slice.
This past weekend the sky was draped in remorseless Grey. Shades of red hover over one particular part of Brooklyn, NY. Many flock to obtain this strong color even if results in a Scarlett letter. The “Hester Prynn” of this scene are not scapegoats or sinners but they are pizza connoisseurs who happen to forget to take a napkin when they eat a Sicilian Slice.
Grey Skies do not have remorse. Neither does marinara sauce. Not only does marinara sauce ruin everyone’s favorite shirt, it is the staples of a Brooklyn establishment that tries to brighten the day of many residents in Bensonhurst and 86th street. L&B Spumoni Gardens is this establishment as it stabs local’s taste buds with their signature Sicilian Slice.
Both a round slice and a square slice cost $2.25 each. A Sicilian pie that includes 12 slices costs nineteen dollars. A Sicilian pie that includes twenty-four slices costs thirty- six dollars. One may order either inside or from the front, where the steam of fresh pizza creates a frenzy of hungry Brooklynites.
Pizza lovers choose L&B Spumoni Gardens to take a bite of Sicilian nostalgia and heritage. Nick, 49, has been going to the garden of marinara for nearly four decades! Although he wouldn’t give out his last name, he went into detail on his love for Spumonis. “My parents took me to Spumonis. My grandparents took me to Spumonis. I take my kids and nephews to Spumonis,” says Nick. “I plan to take my grandkids until my gut won’t let me, he laughs.” Nick is not the only one who enjoys L&B Spumoni Gardens and he won’t be the first.
Known for their famous Sicilian slices, Italian ices, and outdoor seating, L&B Spumoni Gardens has been in business for over seventy years. Only closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Years Day, Spumoni Gardens hosts lines of hungry customers who want a piece of Ludovico Barbarti’s dream.
Originally from Torella Di Lombardi, Italy, Ludovico Barbarti began his pizza career with a simple wagon. With his prized horse, Babe, Barbarti rode along Gravesend and Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, selling his products. By 1939, he decided to buy a vacate piece of land on 86th street. With the help of friends and family, Barbarti was able to build a second building in the same piece of land in the mid 1950’s. With the pizzeria established, they built a third building, which became the dinning room. L & B Spumoni Gardens is now in its fourth generation. “Grandfather Ludovico” has fed a lot of families in the Italian enclave of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. There must be something in the sauce
“There’s too much sauce and the regular slice sucks. I don’t see what’s so special about the pizza. I have been to this place a couple of times and I don’t see why it gets so much attention,” says Vlad, a college student, who just like Nick wants to remain mysterious. Its a common theme in this experience. In four days, I was only able to get five interviews. Within those five interviews all I could get were a couple of cheesy quotes. Ironically both the manager and the owner were not available for those four days. While I could not get an interview, it was evident that their business will never slow down. Within a thirty minute span, I saw ten to twenty customers. They all came from different directions. For more than seventy years, L&B Spumoni Gardens has lived through several wars and two different recessions. Often imitated but never duplicated, Spumoni Garden’s business will always be admired for their name and reputation. Unfortunately for me I even got denied by a group of teenage girls (not as creepy as it sounds). Outside of that sad fact, the pizza passed the eye test and the interview with my taste buds.
It’s Friday night in the Melrose section of the Bronx and the smooth sounds of jazz music spill out onto the sidewalk at the corner of 151st St. and Melrose Ave. No, it’s not 1920, this is what every Friday night sounds like at PeaceLove Cafe.
Few people would think that one of the poorest communities in the country would be the perfect location for an organic cafe, but Darada David isn’t one of them. Having grown up in the adjacent Mott Haven area, David walked along Melrose Avenue every Sunday to get to church and thought that something was missing.
” Seeing a lack of positive activities and cultural events… I wanted to create a place where people would feel good entering that also had great service,” David says.
In August 2009, her dreams were realized when PeaceLove celebrated its grand opening.
The cafe, a cozy space with colorful mosaic tables and wooden chairs, features portraits of influential African American leaders, many of them musicians. This is representative of David’s own musical background. Having gone to LaGuardia High School for music and receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Music from City College, David spent her time working on various art projects and singing in jazz clubs with the PeaceLove band, the inspiration for the name of the cafe.
The cafe’s menu features all organic fare, including items like fruit smoothies and okra chick pea soup. In line with the financial situations with most of the people in the area, nothing on the menu is more than $6. David says that the cafe is her attempt at provoking change in a neighborhood and borough where healthy food options are limited.
A recent study found that the Bronx is the unhealthiest county in the entire state. Though the city has attempted to create programs to change this, including incentive-based programs such as the Healthy Bodegas Initiative which encourages bodega owners in low income neighborhoods to sell fresh produce and low fat products. An increase in the amount of farmer’s markets in the Bronx has increased, but with many of them only open during the summer and fall, access to fresh produce for many of the borough’s residents is restricted. However, David found that a lack of strong support from local politicians and city officials makes getting proper nutritional information to residents more difficult.
David hopes that her petition to city officials to put tax dollars towards incentives for business owners to open locations in the Bronx will be approved to help stimulate the area and create economic growth.
By participating in the Bronx Culture Trolley tours, hosting open mics and poetry jams on Thursdays, and featuring live jazz music on Fridays, David is creating a buzz for PeaceLove as a cultural hot spot or a place “where Bronx socialites go” as the cafe’s slogan proudly boasts. It hosts events for influential members of the community and borough, such as February’s Bronx Social Media Week which invited Bronx bloggers and television personalities to participate on an informational panel.
PeaceLove also offers computer access and resume writing workshops for local residents who might not have access to Internet resources.
For it’s efforts and positive influence in the neighborhood, the cafe earned a Certificate of Merit from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.
David says she would love to expand the cafe to other areas in the Bronx if resources and the opportunity to do so arose.
Alvin Rogers, a saxophonist who often plays at the cafe during jazz nights, has been playing at PeaceLove since it opened.
“It’s a treasure for the Bronx,” he says. “It plays a big role in the community… I wish it were embraced more.”
More often than not, cafeteria food at most colleges do not warrant serious thinking over from students, faculty or staff. Bronx Community College’s new food service contractor Healthy Choices has made B.C.C.’s cafeteria food for thought.
Healthy Choices has chosen Au Bon Pain to cater to all those who visit the college and are looking to grab something to eat. With over 50 locations in the state of New York, it is well known and liked by most state residents. In actuality, its inclusion as the vendor left some surprised in delight.
Miguel A. Gil, a tutor at the B.C.C. writing center, recalled stating, in shock, “Oh really? I have to stop by there,” right after he was informed about Au Bon Pain’s arrival by a coworker who finished wolfing down one of its iced cinnamon roll.
Into the bargain, it has the experience of servicing educational institutions, including Auburn University, Hofstra University and Rutgers University. Those who have visited the new cafeteria have noticed, as they compare it to the old one.
“Their customer service is good so far. Their employees look friendlier to me, and they appear to have higher levels of hygiene in the area where they sell the food,” shared Jose L. Reyes, another staff member at the college who experienced both Au Bon Pain and the cafeteria’s previous vendor.
CulinArt was the college’s food service contractor for the previous 18 years until the end of this past February. Because Healthy Choices was the new food service contractor, employees who worked the old cafeteria did not have to be reappointed since they were not B.C.C. employees but rather CulinArt employees. On that account, they were not, and, on March 1st, they protested a few feet away from the cafeteria for reappointment.
The protest was not successful, for they had no grounds. Muhammad Jalloh, a writer for B.C.C.’s newspaper, The Communicator, reported that, “… calls for bids for operating the cafeteria went out at the beginning of the Fall 2010 semester, but that CulinArt … made it known that it was not interested in placing a bid, which, if won, would have made it possible for it to renew its contract to continue offering food catering services to the college community.”
Still, the former employees will not be missed a lot. Over their years at the cafeteria, many accumulated the reputation as hostile towards customers. Carmen Ovalle, who was one CulinArt’s employees and worked as a cashier at the cafeteria for 15 years, was one of the few exceptions.
Echoing Reyes’s sentiment, Au Bon Pain’s employees display a far greater pleasant manner. To boot, the menu is more favorable as well.
Au Bon Pain has offered the college community most of what could be found at any of its larger franchise locations, including the popular variety of soups and baked goods.
The cafeteria’s area is compact as of right now, as construction to expand the cafeteria to an even larger size than CulinArt’s.
Overall, the Au Bon Pain has given all those on campus with growling stomachs something to think over.
With the aroma of sweet tomato sauce, fresh Parmesan cheese and garden grown parsley filling the air, and the soothing tones of Umberto Tozzi and Andrea Bocelli playing from the speakers above, Puglia distinguishes itself from other Italian restaurants in New York City by making customers feel as if they are dining in Puglia, Italy.
This establishment of 92 years is located in the midst of Little Italy on Hester Street. The owner Benjamin Mancuso and his two sons Anthony and Michael decided to share the authenticity of Puglia with the residents of Staten Island by opening Puglia of Hester Street in September 2009.
According to Pugliaofhesterstnyc.com, Gregorio Garofalo came to America from Puglia, Italy in 1919 in hopes of achieving the American Dream. In that same year, Garofalo took his passion for cooking and talent of creating delectable homemade wine and opened Puglia, making his dream a reality.
After his death in 1972, his restaurant remained in the family. His daughter Mary, her husband Anthony Mancuso, and her brother Joe Garofalo each assisted in running Puglia.
“Puglia of Hester Street has a very warm and welcoming feeling,” said co-owner Michael Mancuso. “Because the restaurant has been passed down, we are a well known family. When people see recognizable faces mixed with Italian traditions, they feel at home.”
In a study done by businessweek.com, 60% of all new restaurants either fail or change owner within their first year of business. Puglia of Hester Street has overcome this statistic by offering customers fresh Italian food made with quality products.
According to Mancuso, Puglia is known for serving peasant food. Capuzello, sheep’s head, and tripe, the lining of the stomach of a young ox, are old style dishes difficult to find.
Not only does Puglia cater to the older generation by offering these rare dishes, but to all generations. Fettuccine Alfredo ($11.50), Linguini with Clams ($14.50), and Eggplant Rollatini ($15.00) are classic Italian dishes.
Puglia of Hester Street also offers a various selection of original brick oven pizza pies. The Heart Stopper ($19.95), which is loaded with roasted peppers, prosciutto, salami, pepperoni, and of course fresh mozzarella, is bound to stop any pizza lover’s heart, or at least make it skip a beat. Puglia’s Famous Rigatoni Vodka Pizza ($15.95) is covered with creamy vodka sauce as the mixture of tomato and marinara sauce is simmered to perfection. On top of this creamy texture is rigatoni pasta and fresh mozzarella so soft, it melts in ones mouth.
Puglia helps customers find their true Italian roots by offering a wide variety of food choices, allowing customers indulge themselves in an assortment of sauces, pastas, pies, and fish. This wide selection has certainly paid off, as Puglia serves between 1,000 t0 1,500 customers a week.
“I come to Puglia of Hester Street at least twice a month with family and friends. Their friendly service, weekly seafood specials, and great food at reasonable prices always makes Puglia my top pick,” said Staten Island resident Danny O’Shaughnessy.
Weekly entertainment is also a way Puglia is able to attract customers. Jorge Buccio, who you may recognize from Adam Sandler’s film, “Big Daddy” performs Italian hits such as “O Sole Mio,” adding a romantic atmosphere for customers sharing a meal with their loved ones. Another entertainer is Debra Ente, also known as Debbie Broadway. Ente assists Jorge with duets but when on her own, she performs upbeat songs ranging from the “Tarantella,” an energetic Italian dance, to more modern songs such as “All the Single Ladies” by Beyonce.
“Puglia of Hester Street has remained successful since its opening and that is thanks to the traditions and values passed down from my great grandfather,” said Mancuso proudly.
Strolling the streets of Spanish Jackson Heights, the scents of native Spanish foods wafted over to me at various corners of the neighborhood. Awnings of Mexican cuisine and Colombian bakeries greeted me at different junctures, competing to satisfy a craving I couldn’t quite name.
It was when I saw the third person on my excursion eating something cheesy on a stick and wrapped in aluminum foil that I not only wondered aloud what they were eating, but actually exclaimed, “That’s it, I want what they’re having.”
There began my quest, when I went back down a street where one woman I spotted with the food had just come from. But it led me to the same awnings and none of them offered anything of the kind. Suddenly, I turned my back to these storefronts and noticed the street vendors facing them, selling my so called mystery food: corn on the cob. A women who kindly declined pictures of herself allowed me to showcase her mouthwatering corn. I bought one for $2, digging my teeth into the kernels. It was grilled to perfection with just enough darkened spots, the evenly soft and chewy texture covered in crumbly parmesan cheese.
Next to this makeshift vending station set on a shopping cart was another woman selling hot tamales and steaming hot rice pudding. I didn’t buy either of these but they sold easily and quickly enough right before my eyes as I briefly waited for my corn. Having never eaten hot tamales they’re now on my back-burner. I can’t wait to return and feast on those tamales with more than my eyes, because sometimes, what you’re craving isn’t indoors at a sit down, but out and about and hot off the streets.
As you walk up a sidewalk partially covered with small nicks and cracks you are overjoyed to finally get to your destination. Granted, just before opening the door there is a small, yet, inconvenient stair you have to pass before you come in. However, once you open that door and that sweet, warm, amazing aroma of chocolate hits your senses it is as if walking into the gates of heaven.
Stepping into a new world, away from the chill of a 47 degree windy day that leaves you wishing you could lose all ability to feel, the warmth inside Chocolate Place, located at 839 Morris Park Ave. in the Bronx, is a welcome to all the senses.
The glass casings served well to show off in wonderful detail the many varieties, molds, and styles of the chocolates that were waiting to be bought. Each one different from the other with its own unique and distinctive look yelling to the customer “pick me, pick me.”
White walls also showcasing various chocolates on their shelves.
A look around and you would see Betty Boop purses of red and black hanging next to the Godiva, glass casings displaying jewelry and teddy bears keeping company with the candy.
Also keeping company with the candy was 57 year old Angela DaBenigno, the owner of the small shop.
“Because I love chocolate” she said when asked on why she opened Chocolate Place.
As roller-coasters are to Six Flags Chocolate Place is for your mouth. A look around and you can easily spot the many varieties the store has to offer.
“I have probably over 1000 molds and chocolates. Wow, we sell at least 60 varieties. We have truffles, we have pretzels, we have barks, we have turtles, and we have clusters” said DaBenigno.
When asked about the amount of costumers she serves everyday she has never kept count but said it was more or less 60 to 100 people a day to 360 to 600 people a week.
Those numbers help speak to the fact many Americans are in love with chocolate.
According to Criss White, a web writer for TinyPrints.com the average American consumes 10-12 pounds of chocolate a year. She goes on to write that “Several medical studies show that eating chocolate in moderation can actually prolong your life by reducing risk of blood clots and fighting bad cholesterol.”
Anita Murtha, a 56 year old woman who lives in Manhattan is a huge chocolate lover herself. She has loved chocolate ever since she can remember.
One of the best memories she has concerning chocolate had to do with an old friend who worked in a candy factory. Whenever the friend had a problem with one of the candies the friend would buy them cheaper and bring them to her.
Now that she is older she is trying to watch how much chocolate she consumes. However, when she does eat chocolate she prefers dark chocolate because she says “I like it and it’s good for you.”
However, people can become addicted to this Mayan food.
According to the Gothamist chocoholism actually exists. A study at Yale University found that when women saw photos of chocolate milkshakes “similar patterns of neural activation are implicated in addictive-like eating behavior and substance dependence.”
When asked about the effect of the recession on her business DaBenigno stated that although there might have been a slight impact it was not enough to influence the store in a negative way because “the things we sell here are not so expensive that you can’t indulge in a small piece of chocolate, two pieces of chocolate. So sometimes when people feel a little bit down they will indulge in something small so in that respect I don’t think we were so affected.”
The prices of the chocolate sold at this location go from a$.75 truffle to as high as $155. That large amount comes from the fact that the store is a seller of Godiva Chocolate.
The green apple dipped in caramel and then covered in chocolate ($5.75) gives that sweet taste with a sour punch. Contrast that with the sweetness of strawberries covered in chocolate (1.00/each).
The Chocolate Bunny ($1.00), with rainbow sprinkles on its ears, was pure chocolate on the inside. The sweetness of the chocolate makes your mouth feel as if it is a pool and the bunny is doing the butterfly and backstroke trying to showoff to Willy Wonka and it succeeded with 10’s across the board.
DaBenigno said that it was a bit of a struggle to open the shop but at the end it was well worth it: “I like working with chocolate and I really love the expression of the people when they leave they’re truly happy and they love the taste of the chocolate and they like what we make and they’re very accommodating.”
A last minute call from a friend had me taking off early from work, and rushing to the subway. After a 40 minute ride on the 7 train, and an additional 18 minutes on the 6 train, I found myself wandering around city hall, trying to find 220 Vesey Street. It took me a good 20 minutes of speed walking to end up where I wanted to be.
On April 7, Brookfield Office Properties, management of the World Financial Center, presented the kickoff event for the 2011 Eat: World Financial Center. 18 vendors, mostly located near the financial district, came to support the opening of the Greenmarket located inside of the Winter Garden Plaza. The event was held between 11am-2pm.
Vendors such as Au Bon Pain, Devon and Blakely, The Grill Room, Southwest NY, Yushi, Financier Patisserie offered some of their restaurant’s famous bites for less than the original price. Most dishes ranged from $1 to $5.
The stands were feet apart from each other and for some stands; lines wrapped around pillars that required ushers to guide the lines. Many who came were all suited up, a few were in casual clothing such as myself, and it made me feel like I was at a high end event. Despite everyone’s diverse styles, we all shared an unified goal within the 3 hours—FOOD!
Half way through pigging out, I almost forgot the most important aspect of the event— the Greenmarket.
The Greenmarket or #18 on the paper map provided, was supposedly the highlight of the event, was nowhere to be found. A tiny stand with display of eggs, cheese, and wines was in spot #18. Apparently, the market was located elsewhere in the building for a “more enjoyable shopping experience,” claimed one of the volunteers.
It didn’t seem like anyone cared much about the market. Many just came for the food and forgot what the event was for. An old couple who walked all the way from Chinatown said they came for the “event,” but in hindsight, it was obvious that they were here for the food. The old man commented, “My daughter said there was going to be food and so I came.”
Another attendee commented, “I was expecting a whole market to be displayed when I walked in (but) then I found myself indulging in these desserts.” A group huddled together overheard and nodded their heads in agreement.
I can see why. While walking there, there were no other signs, except for a banner at the crossing bridge above the west side highway that could have easily gone unnoticed, notifying that the event was on April 7.
The information booth located at the entrance of the door, focused more on spreading the words about foursquare rather than the event. The representative said, “The market is down the hall. Have you checked in on foursquare yet?”
The market was nothing extraordinary. It just looked like a smaller version of Whole Foods offering fruits, vegetables, jams, and flowers. It was quite disappointing. The fruit stand lady explained that this was just a small part of it and that it will start to offer more once the weather gets warmer. The stands will also be taking place outside the WFC, and will be held every Thursday from 11am-7pm until December.
Jason Gordon from Brookfield, responded, “Spring is the perfect time to kick off the event. The event has been held for more than 3 years. We support farmers everywhere, from tri state areas to come out and introduce to the public their hard work. We’re fortunate to have some of the restaurants support us in the event.”
In every passing year, the event becomes more known to New Yorkers. Jordan, a financial analyst at a near-by company brought his co-worker Elisa to the event during their lunch break. Jordan said, “I was here last year but it wasn’t this crowded. I told Elisa to come since she never heard of it. I was surprised to see this many people showing up,” he chuckled and continued “maybe it’s a bad idea. Now, I have to fight for the last chicken.” (Referenced to Southwest NY’s mesquite-smoked chicken wings)
Elisa added, “I’m glad he informed me or else I would have missed out all these great food.”
Shehu Fitzgerald has never been an average chef. He skateboards, snowboards, paints, does ice sculpting, and has traveled to such places as Britain, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. When he is not doing those things, he is a laid-back, funny guy, who likes to play video games and be a big kid with his 2-year old daughter, Che Elizabeth, and wife, Vee. On top of having already mastered a wide range of cuisines and dishes, it is no wonder why he was picked to appear on the sixth season of Food Network’s competition show “Chopped,” airing on May 3rd at 10pm.
“My mother, my love of food and my deep hatred of paperwork and office jobs,” were some of the reasons Fitzgerald gave as to why he pursued a culinary career. Raised in Staten Island, the 36-year-old has loved cooking since he was 5 years old with the help of his mother, Saundra, who is an esoteric cook and baker.
Graduating from Johnson & Wales University‘s Culinary Arts Program in 1994, he has worked at almost every type of restaurant, including his first job as a prep cook at R.H. Tugs, a cook at T.G.I. Fridays, a “Chef de Partie Poissonier” (chef of the fish section) at Les Célébrités Restaurant at the Essex House Hotel and his current job at 2 West Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton. He has also been fortunate enough to work under the instruction of Holly Peterson Mondavi at the Culinary Institute of America, cook for Princess Ann of England and become a Sous Chef at a beachfront restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand.
Fitzgerald, whose first name means “teacher” in the Nigerian Arabic dialect, began his first web series “Culinary Genius” in 2009 and has recorded 12 episodes since then. As his name suggests, the episodes of “Culinary Genius” are meant to teach viewers about different aspects of the culinary world, from simple things like separating an egg and vanilla-flavored sugar to the more fancy Hollandaise sauce and Gnocchi.
Recorded in their Staten Island home by his wife, Vee, the appeal of the series is that it speaks to a wide demographic of viewers, from Hip-Hop heads to laypeople on a budget to high-class chefs. Watching him cook looks like fun. Vee Fitzgerald agreed, “Shehu is so talented; his passion for food is infectious and he celebrates food every day. Life with him is never boring!”
Watching how delicate he is in preparing them is just as fascinating as eating them. Even better, his dishes are hardly ever disappointing.
His spiced duck breast with French green lentils and baby turnips in an apple cider reduction sauce is a good example. The tart-sweetness and slightly syrupy feel of the apple cider sauce provides juiciness and a nice balance to the spices used in the duck and vegetables.
According to Food Network, the channel “is committed to exploring new and different ways to approach food – through pop culture, competition, adventure, and travel…”. Fitzgerald’s experience fits well with the network’s goals. With its distribution to more than 96 million U.S. households and more than seven million Web site users a month, Fitzgerald will receive plenty of attention, especially for his web series, which has reached over 3,000 viewers.
Shehu and Vee Fitzgerald together own wineLIFE, a wine shop located on 386 Van Duzer in Staten Island that opened in 2010, in addition to a catering business incorporated in 2003. Vee Fitzgerald, who is a wine consultant and president of the New York City chapter of Women for WineSense, spoke about how she combines her expertise in wine and her husband’s expertise in food.
“We have a monthly instore event called Meet the Chef where he creates foods to offer customers in the store that are paired with featured wines. We have also done catered food and wine pairing events for private clients and he has cooked for my Women for WineSense group on several occasions.”
Fitzgerald has also provided encouragement and support to aspiring chefs. His words of advice for them: “Stay focused, travel and keep your eyes on the prize.” Those same words seemed to have worked for him. “I’m just having some fun trying to spread the word of my love and my passion.” Asked what his goals as a chef are, he jokingly replied, “To rule the world.” With all of his accomplishments, he might very well be on his way there.
Sometimes who you eat with at a restaurant can make or break the experience, but even loving your company won’t help Amber.
Despite its misleading height of three floors, Amber is a relatively small asian restaurant on the second floor of its Gramercy location. The third floor is mostly unused, except for private parties, and gives the restaurant lofty high ceilings. The first is primarily “a bar area for young people,” in the area according to Wi Pam, the assistant manager. It’s long electric blue bar is modern looking and complimented by the neon orange of the stairs that clashes nicely with the brick facade hiding behind a curtain.
The space fits roughly 50 hungry people pressed together during the busy lunch hours in a closely spaced tables. It has two long leather couches on either of the exposed brick walls, but those stuck in the aisle’s wooden chairs will be surprised at how comfortably you sink in to them. The tables are an elegant dark mahogany that in the candle lit dinner atmosphere is almost romantic; I say almost because the Katy Perry blaring on the sound system is anything but.
Before you place an order the wait staff is patient, practically invisible. The same is true for when you get thirsty or need a fork if you’re not trained in the art of chopsticks. They begin to test your patience after a while but the giant Buddha surrounded by a small pond of fish by the kitchen remind you to keep your inner peace.
Once the food arrives, faster than the slow service might initially indicate, you realize the reason for the diner like prices. The portions are immense, but the food is disappointingly simple in flavor. Buddhist delight ($9.00), a combination of squash, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus and noodles were so drenched in soy sauce that the smell and taste was uniform. The texture of the vegetables also varied from hard huge chunks of the broccoli and cauliflower to smushy squash in your mouth, something I was unprepared for. The side of sticky white rice it came with reminded me of a cheap Chinatown restaurant and did not effectively compliment the dish in any way, even to soak up some of the soy sauce.
The pineapple fried rice ($9.00) was a little better, but that’s not saying much. It comes in an empty pineapple shell, which is nice, but just like the Buddhist delight, the combination of pineapple, cashews, an array of vegetables and shrimp did not combine well to bring out any of the flavor. The pineapple for example had a sharp sweetness that didn’t allow anything else in the bite to be tasted. If you tried each individual element with just the rice however, it fared better in the taste buds.
“I want to just eat the cashews alone, I’d be disloyal to them if I combined them with the shrimp,” said Jessica Rozario, who left a third of her food untouched.
Needless to say, we decided not to take remainder of her meal home. It was nice to sit there though. If you eat there on a weekday night only a few people downstairs silently drink their cocktails, the second floor plays poppy music giving it a lounge feel and no one, especially not the wait staff, bothers you. Just makes sure not to get your hair stuck on the gum stuck on the wall. If you want good Asian cuisine you would probably have better luck eating at any of the other 18 restaurants in the area.