Salem’s Root celebrates three years of helping at-risk youth

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Peter Endicott, the owner of Salem’s Cheese Shop and Root graduate Henrique Corminas prepare the hors d’oeuvre that they created especially for Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration. [All photos by Alyse Gause Photography

By Shelley A. Sackett

 

Last Wednesday evening, over 200 people filled Root’s elegant HarborPoint event space overlooking the harbor at Shetland Park, enjoying fine food, stylish table settings and festive lights. The well-heeled patrons were not gathered for just another holiday party. Rather, they were attending a third birthday party fundraiser for Root, a non-profit culinary-based training program for at-risk youth. They also celebrated honoree Deborah Jeffers, Root advisory council member and school nutrition director for Salem Public Schools, who received the 2018 Root Community Leadership Award.

 

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Founder and Board Chair Jennifer Eddy, Root graduate Nicky Lebron of Salem, Nutrition Director for Salem Public Schools Deborah Jeffers and 2018 Root Community Leadership Award Recipient, parent of Root graduate Leticia Carrasco, Root graduate Cassandra Bartolo of Beverly, Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll and Root Executive Director M. Scott Knox were all speakers during the program at Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration.

 

 

Mayor Kim Driscoll hosted the Third Annual Gala and presented the award to Jeffers. “Who doesn’t like an organization that helps kids?” Mayor Driscoll asked rhetorically as she kicked off the formal program.

 

The Mayor spoke of Salem’s relationship with Jeffers, who eleven years ago proposed a food program in the public schools to provide fresh, wholesome, scratched-cooked meals with locally sourced ingredients. Today, this initiative has gained national attention and provides more than 900,000 nourishing meals a year. Every Salem school student gets free breakfast and lunch, regardless of need.

 

 

Jeffers also connected early on with Root founder and chairman of the board Jennifer Eddy to offer advice about setting a program that could both serve Salem Public School kids and be successful. “She is an exceptional partner and it is a pleasure to honor her,” Mayor Driscoll said.

 

Jeffers spoke briefly about the importance of food growing, preparation and sharing as a community to help lift us all up. “I don’t usually speak in front of a group. I’m more of a back room kind of person,” she admitted.

 

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Table of hors d’oeuvres in the kitchen for Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration includes Root’s own pickled vegetables and “Oat-eez” along with other catering items that are sold at the Root Café in Shetland Park. [Photo by Alyse Gause Photography]

Root is a social enterprise that focuses on the food industry as a training tool for at-risk youth ages 16 to 24 who have significant barriers to employment. Through a rigorous 12-week, 200-hour, work-force training program, students (called Program Partners) learn career and life skills through hands-on experience. “Root is the on ramp for youth in Essex County with an obstacle to success,” said M. Scott Knox, Root executive director.

 

Proceeds from the event will help support Root’s Essex County job skills training program.

 

It all started when Eddy had an idea she wanted to pursue to give at risk youth an opportunity to build a better life and break the cycle of poverty. She had visited and was impressed with D.C. Central in Washington, D.C. and Liberties Kitchen in New Orleans, two successful programs that use the culinary arts to train motivated young adults to access employment and education, and develop their skills as leaders and mentors.

 

When she returned, she put together a group of people, including her friend Elisabeth Massey, who serves on the Root board as community volunteer. They used the same structure and training program model Eddy encountered in D.C. and New Orleans. “She took the best of those two organizations and tailored it to our needs in Salem,” Massey said.

 

The result is Root, which operates a training program as well as several lines of food service-based businesses out of its Shetland Park facilities. These provide a training environment for the students and also generate revenue to support the mission. They include: The Root Café, which offers breakfast and lunch items; Catering By Root, and HarborPoint at Root, a new 2,200 square foot special event site. “Kids in the program learn by working in a real business,” Massey said.

 

Training is an intensive curriculum that runs Monday-Friday with four-hour morning and afternoon shifts. Program Partners attend life skills workshops, one-on-one career readiness coaching, and culinary training in Root’s on-site full catering kitchen. Root graduates are equipped with industry-certified credentials and direct skills that give them a sense of accomplishment and an advantage in seeking employment. “They leave Root with the skills not just to get a job, but to keep a job,” said Knox.

 

Referrals to the program come through the school system, the Department of Children & Families, social workers and word-of-mouth. Candidates who demonstrate a “barrier to success”, such as socio-economic level, housing status, or learning disability, go through an application and interview process. The average age is between 18 and 19 and Root just graduated its fifth cohort, marking almost 100 graduates in three years. “We really try to do whatever we can to be successful,” Massey said.

 

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Root graduate Nicky Lebron of Salem, Root graduate Arianna Couturier from Salem, Root Founder and Board Chair Jennifer Eddy, Root graduate Jayla Bryant from Salem, Root graduate Nevada Winter from Salem, Nutrition Director for Salem Public Schools Deborah Jeffers and 2018 Root Community Leadership Award Recipient gather at Root’s 3rd Annual Celebration. 

 

Recent graduates Nicky LeBron and Cassandra Bartholow praised the program. “For the first time, I felt like I was able to accomplish something for myself. I learned to be more proactive. I learned what I’m good at is working with people,” said Bartholow, whose mother works in Shetland Park and heard about Root.

 

LeBron is a 2018 Salem High School alum. On the last day of school, his class took a field trip to Root, and he knew immediately Root was for him. “What I loved about Root is — everything!” he exclaimed. “My mentors also felt like my friends. I could go to them about anything, not just cooking.”

 

 

Root is located in Shetland Park, 35 Congress Street, Building 2, Third Floor. For more information or to volunteer or make a donation, visit rootns.org or call 978-616-7615.

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Chef Joe Raises the Bar at Village Tavern; New Menu Offers More than Just Bar Food

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“Chef Joe” displays his technique while preparing one of his signature dishes, Beef Strogonoff. PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Joseph Peterson — “Chef Joe” — can pinpoint the exact moment he knew he wanted to be a chef. He was a 12-year-old boy living in Dryden, New York, about an hour south of Syracuse. It was 10 o’clock at night, his mother was at work, and he was hungry. “I made stir fry beef with noodles and it tasted so good,” he said with a broad smile. “I had so much fun making it that the next day I thought, ‘this is what I want to do.’”

Right around that time, Dryden got its first cable service. Peterson wasted no time discovering cooking shows and famed chef Ming Tsai’s “East Meets West” program particularly captivated the tween. “He showed people how he cooked inside his restaurant, which was French-American-Asian. As a kid, I watched that show every Saturday and wanted to grow up to be just like him,” Peterson said.

Fast forward to 2009 when Peterson, fresh out of Boston’s Cordon Bleu cooking school, went to work for his idol at Tsai’s acclaimed Wellesley restaurant, Blue Ginger. After training under the celebrity chef, he went on to become executive chef at Jerry Remy’s, the downtown Boston restaurant near Fenway Park.

That’s where “Chef Joe” was working when Andrew Ingemi, who co-owns Village Tavern with his father, Arthur, realized that he would be a perfect fit for their Salem restaurant. “Jerry Remy’s gave him experience with volume,” Ingemi said. “I needed someone who would have no trouble with an October crowd. With Joe’s experience of a busy restaurant with Red Sox games multiple times a week, it was an easy choice.”

Ingemi hired Peterson last fall and the two unveiled an overhauled menu last month.

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Village Tavern co-owner Andrew Ingemi and Chef Joseph Peterson at a quiet moment in the bar.    PHOTO CREDIT: Shelley A. Sackett

Part of Ingemi’s dream was to make Village Tavern known for higher end tavern fare rather than just bar food. The new menu features such dishes as Sweet and Sour Duck and 28-day dry-aged grass fed sirloin, which “may be the very best steak you’ll ever have, other than at a fancy steakhouse in Boston,” he said.

Peterson is equally excited about the fusion side of the menu, which mixes traditional appetizers and Asian touches in such inventions as Philly Steak Egg Roll and Buffalo Chicken Ragoon.

Dear to Peterson’s heart is his Beef Strogonoff, which is a hearty and tasty dish his mother used to make once a week. His special secret? He adds sour cream at the end to give it a “zing” (his mom used heavy cream).

“A lot of cooking is about technique,” Peterson said as he prepared this dish for the Salem Gazette. “Stroganoff is simple, but hard to make it taste well.”

Ingemi’s family has been in the restaurant business in Salem since the 1970’s. His great-grandfather is the Steve of Steve’s Market and his father and grandfather have owned many eateries over the years. Ingemi didn’t join them until 2012, when his father and brother were opening the Village Tavern and asked him to help out. At the time, he was working in Boston at State Street Bank. He thought he would stay a year. Five years later, he’s still there.

“I fell in love with working with my family and making the restaurant better. It’s so rewarding,” he said. “It’s kind of fun — we have a big history in Salem.”

He’s also proud of “Chef Joe” and all the staff for “kicking it up a notch” to be up to Joe’s standards in the kitchen. “We’re able to give guests the overall experience we’ve been wanting to give them for the last couple of year,” Ingemi said.

Peterson is delighted to be in Salem after many years in Boston. While he’s looking forward to making an impact with his food, he is just as eager to take a leadership role among his employees in his kitchen. In the six months he has been at Village Tavern, he has already promoted many from within and has built a team spirit and loyalty among his staff.

“Taking a cook and making him sous-chef or taking a peeler and making him a prep chef, that the kind of stuff that excites me. I like growing people. I could do everything myself back there, but that’s not the idea,” he said.

More Than Just Pizza and Spaghetti

 

 

Anyone who has traveled to Italy and had the great fortune to eat even one dinner in Lucca knows that not only is the town a draw in its own right, with its enclosed walls and lovely broad parks, but that its food is also among Italy’s most compelling.

 

If Lucca is not on your 2017 agenda (or within your budget), Salem can dish up the next best thing: Vittorio Ambrogi, Lucca native and executive chef at Trattoria Orsini, located in the previous Grapevine space at 26 Congress Street.

 

The former chef of the Grapevine (where his wife Stacy was one of the owners), Ambrogi has created a modern Italian menu that features dishes ranging from chopped salads to grilled octopus to his special “Orsini Meatballs” (veal, beef and pork meatballs braised in Chianti tomato sauce with Cavatelli pasta).

 

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Ambrogi’s famous pasta Bolognese

 

Ambrogi’s accent is as deliciously Tuscan as his cuisine, and he peppers the conversation with “pero” (Italian for “but”) and other Italian phrases. When asked what are some of his favorite dishes to cook, he lets loose with a belly laugh and says, “Risotto and sauce. You can’t go too far from the sauce in Italian.”

 

According to Michael Gajewski, a Trattoria Orsini General Manager (“I’m really just a glorified busboy,” he joked), although the chef and space are the same as the Grapevine’s, the new restaurant differs in significant ways. Major renovations included adding expanded patio space and creation of a different “look” with new furniture, a sleek bar, and two rooms with cozy tables where diners can enjoy quiet and intimate conversations as well as terrific food.

 

However, what has remained the same is what makes Trattoria Orsini as special as the Grapevine was. “Having Vittorio and a lot of the old staff back, and of course Vittorio’s food and his nightly specials” are what patrons are happiest about. And of course, everyone is looking forward to spring and summer on our beautiful new patio,” he said.

 

The new restaurant opened last summer with over 4,000 square feet of interior dining and a 2,000+ square foot patio. Completing renovations, equipment procurement, permitting, staffing and menu production were among the biggest challenges, according to Gajewski.

 

Among the menu’s most popular items are the meatballs, risotto, arancini (rice balls), shrimp scampi, octopus, cod and, of course, Ambrogi’s famous Bolognese sauce. The chef added the Grilled Octopus appetizer (accompanied by fried black polenta, olives, capers and fresh tomato sauce) as an item unique to the new restaurant. The dish was not on the Grapevine menu, and has been a huge crowd pleaser.

 

His Pan Roasted Cod dish, while among the most popular entrees, is not really an Italian dish as far as Ambrogi is concerned, because Italians don’t have access to the same kind of fish Americans do. “Cod is not a very popular fish in Italy. It’s not as meaty and juicy as it is here. It’s also a smaller fish,” he said.

 

While Ambrogi loves cooking and creating inventive and delicious nightly specials, he also likes his days off. Last Monday and Tuesday he took advantage of the recent snowfalls and decided to go skiing at his favorite place, Sunapee, which is “always fun”.

 

The Tuscan chef has been cooking for over 27 years, including almost 20 at the Grapevine where he developed quite a loyal following. He reflected on his long career and devoted patrons, and added modestly, “We’ve been putting out pretty decent food for many years and we are still doing that.”

 

Trattoria Orsini is located at 26 Congress Street and is open from 4 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. For reservations, call (978) 594-8048 or visit trattoriaorsini.com.

 

 

Melt Ice Cream: More Flavors More Frequently

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Christiana Kroondyk, owner of Melt, enjoys her personal favorite: Atomic Coffee.

 

Shelley A. Sackett

 

Even as a kid growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, ice cream stood out among its dessert peers for Christiana Kroondyk.

 

“I remember biking to the nearest shop with friends and eating it after a quick trip to the beach with my family,” said the owner and creator of Melt Ice Cream, an artisanal ice cream line that now has its own storefront home in the former Salem Screamery location. “Ice cream was always a special treat growing up.”

 

Her taste for ice cream never wavered over the years, but in 2009 her interest changed from eating it to making it. While vacationing with her family, they found a newly opened ice cream shop run by a couple that sold unique and delicious flavors, such as lavender mint basil and maple bacon — “before bacon was a ‘thing’.”

 

When Kroondyk got home, she quit her Human Resource Compensation Department job, bought a personal ice cream machine, and began trying out recipes and experimenting with unusual ingredients. “My focus with Melt is making all the ice cream myself. I use local ingredients where I can,” she said. Her original plan was to sell Melt as an artisanal ice cream line at farmers markets.

 

Instead, when The Salem Screamery was put up for sale last year, Kroondyk bought it, “definitely something I envisioned, but not as quickly as it happened.” For a year, she operated the shop as the previous owners had — selling ice cream from Bliss Dairy in Attleboro, MA — all the while experimenting with her distinctive flavors and thinking about how she wanted to make the store “hers”.

 

“I wanted to change the environment of the store. We updated the inside a lot over this past winter to make it warm, happy and inviting,” Kroondyk said. While she spends a lot of time at the store, this year she’s more behind the scenes making ice cream rather than behind the counter scooping it. Still, she loves saying “hi” to the regulars. “Meeting and getting to know the customers and the community is extremely important to me.”

 

Equally important is her commitment to unconventional and all natural ice cream flavors. “Coming up with funky flavors is most fun for me,” Kroondyk said, noting that she only uses real ingredients. “My mint chip ice cream is not green,” she pointed out proudly.

 

Her goal is “more flavors more frequently” and she features four or five “Rotating Flavors” that change every week or two. Right now, customers have the chance to taste 18 “flavors to melt for”. The rotating ones include vanilla chai, anise with candied fennel (a must for black licorice lovers), green tea, and banana with caramelized white chocolate. Of the 14 “standard” flavors, however, not all are all that standard: potato chip toffee and chamomile chardonnay top the list.

 

With all these exotic creations to choose from, what unusual flavor is Kroondyk’s favorite? Without a pause, the maestro of the non-traditional breaks into a wide, little girl smile, and reveals her taste buds’ old-fashioned, Grand Rapids roots: Atomic Coffee.

 

Melt Ice Cream is located at 60 Washington Street in Salem. Hours are Sunday through Thursday, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Visit meltsalem.com for more information.

 

SIDEBAR???

“Artisan” is a term used to describe “food produced by non-industrialized methods, often handed down through generations but now in danger of being lost, according to the School of Artisan Food website. Tastes and processes are allowed to develop slowly and naturally, rather than curtailed for mass-production.”