You can’t be a Chef without a Community

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Food and the community go together like peanut butter and jelly, like rice and beans, like chicken and dumplings (which was on the menu last night).  And at the first Guest Chef Event at Downtown Pasta, that sense of community was alive and kicking.

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The winning recipe, submitted by Patti Creghan-Ciuffetelli of Unionville, PA was a sweet and savory combination of  blueberries and gorgonzola that photographed beautifully and tasted even better.  It reminded me that we are right on the heels of summer and all of it’s fresh fruit and culinary beauty.  It is an understatement to say that Patti worked some serious magic at Downtown Pasta last night.  When we selected the winning recipe, we looked for something that stood out from the others, something that was fresh and vibrant with exceptional flavors.  Little did we know that the chef was going to mirror those specifications precisely.

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Patti works passionately in Southern Chester County with both the Chester County Intermediate Unit as a vocation specialist and with Chester County Futures as a 9th grade coordinator at Oxford High School.  Most of the students within the Futures program are first generation college students and with the assistance of Patti, students like Omar Gonzalez pursue an academic career outside of high school.  It was magnificent (and unplanned!) to see Omar, a recent culinary school graduate and chef at Downtown Pasta, work side by side with Patti prepping her winning appetizer.

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“Food makes people happy and brings family and friends together,” said Patti.  And let me tell you, her happiness filled the entire restaurant last night.  She worked the room throughout service, saying hello to her supporters and serving those whom she was meeting for the first time.  It was the true definition of bringing the community together through food.

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And while the community enjoyed the signature Lazy Susan appetizer spreads in the dining room, I had the pleasure of quietly observing the back of the house and the community that exists there.  It never fails to amaze me how rhythmic and harmonious a professional kitchen can run.  I have found that most great chefs have an inherent ability to precisely orchestrate dinner service to achieve said rhythm.  The calculated timeliness and perfectionism that keeps people coming back is mesmerizing when you are a spectator.  I have not found, however, that most successful chefs are supportive of having a guest (or several) in the kitchen with the potential to interrupt that rhythm and perfection. And yet, there was not a second of frustration, a single eye roll, or even skip in the culinary music.  Not to mention, the noticeable and encouraging smiles, and plentitude of “Woo-hoo’s”, and “Go get em-s”.  Hats off to the entire staff for welcoming Patti with open arms and unending support.  I really can’t express how impressive that was to witness.

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Congratulations to Guest Chef Patti and to the entire staff at Downtown Pasta. You are, without a doubt, doing it right.

If you missed out on all of the fun last night, you can make Patti’s Blue and Blue Bruschetta (named for her love of blueberries and her love for Penn State) at home!  And make sure you stop by Downtown Pasta to let them know what you think!  Have an idea for an event of Bring It Home profile?  Let me know!  Email me at BakeVintage@gmail.com or send me a note on Facebook or Tweet Me!

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Blue and Blue Bruschetta

Serves 10

40 ½ inch thick baguette bread about 1 loaf
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 ounces Crumbled Gorgonzola Cheese
1/3 cup Chopped Pecans
¼ cup Chopped Green Onions
1/3 cup Dried Blueberries
¼ cup Honey

Preparation: Preheat the oven at 400 degrees F
Place the sliced baguettes on a baking sheet. Brush with the Extra Virgin Olive Oil and bake about 9 minutes until the bread is lightly toasted.
Toss the cheese, pecans, green onions and blueberries and spread evenly on the 40 baguettes pieces.
Bake an additional 3 minutes until cheese is melted.
Remove immediately from baking sheet and place on serving platter and drizzle honey over the warm cheese.

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Bring It Home – The Secret to a Successful Oxford Restaurant May Not Be the Food

Wait, WHAT?

Of course you need great food to have a successful eatery, but is it the number one priority?  Matthew Schlott, general manager of the Nottingham Inn LLC says no.  Matthew has been responsible for the operations and the development of the two local Herr’s restaurants and hotel for over 2 years and he clearly knows what he’s doing.  With 40 years of restaurant experience, of course he is able to create a beautifully crafted plate of food, but success doesn’t ride solely on your taste buds, in his opinion.

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“The Herr family’s mission is to be a blessing to the community”, says Schlott.  And the secret to their success is just that.  “We make it a point that service and to be of service is our highest priority.” For Matthew and his staff, connecting with every person that walks through the door is the most important part of every meal.  That connection starts with their first visit and grows with every visit.  Their loyalty program has over 4000 participants and it’s continuing to grow.  The program awards 1 point for every $1 spent (with occasional promotional extras like double points on Mondays and Tuesdays) and a $10 discount for every 200 points redeemed.

During a busy Friday breakfast service, these girls are all smiles

During a busy Friday breakfast service, these girls are all smiles

The Herr family has been an Oxford fixture for years.  When I stepped out of my car to head into the restaurant I could smell the fresh chips coming from the factory just steps away (they give free tours Monday-Friday).  However, the family name goes much further than those delicious chips (which I highly recommend you put ON your sandwich).  The family’s ever-present community support can be seen both at the kitchen and at countless community events like Bike Night and the annual holiday light display, and they also contribute financially to over 1000 charitable organizations.

While the community connection always remains top priority, don’t be fooled, the food is a delicious and refined version of the comfort food that warms your bones.  As for Matthew’s favorite dish on the menu, “They’re like my kids!  I can’t pick a favorite!” he said with a smile.  He did admit to his love for the slow-cook and braising process.  The Short Rib Ragu is served with Kennett mushrooms over stone ground grits entree for $16.75 (literally the most expensive thing on the menu if you are wondering about price point) and it will not disappoint.  “We want to offer simple approachable food that is understandable so guests can sit down and just enjoy dinner.” My favorite on the menu is the hummus trio.  Here is my trio of reasons that I love it so.  It’s house made, the flavors are always a magical threesome of surprise deliciousness,and it’s served with a combo of warm pita bread triangles, veges and feta.  Not to mention, there’s always enough to take home left-overs if you are able to resist licking the bowl clean before you are ready to leave.   What’s next for the Herr family?  The recently opened Downtown Pasta (located in the borough of Oxford) is doing well and follows the same structure as Nottingham with an Italian bistro style menu.  “Barring any additional natural disasters (the snow levels in Oxford were the 2nd highest in history this winter, which prevented the restaurant from opening on time and caused parking complications), we will be great!”

Want to further your connection with this Nottingham gem?  Of course you do. Why not give one of their dishes a go in your own kitchen?  I talked Matthew into sharing The Inn’s hummus recipe with me.  Your challenge if you choose to accept it – is to Bring It Home – make it at home, make it your own, and send me your pics!  Or better yet, why not stop in the restaurant and share your success and secrets with Matthew himself.

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Red Pepper Hummus

1 can chick peas /garbanzo beans

juice from 1/2 lemon

1tsp olive oil

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 tsp fresh parsley

1 clove crushed garlic

1 whole roasted pepper sliced (click here to see how to roast a pepper)

Sea salt & black pepper to taste

Preparation: In a food processor, blend parsley, garlic, red pepper, garlic, and onion until smooth.

Add beans, lemon juice and olive oil

Process until smooth and serve with warm pita triangles

This recipe can be made up to two days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.