A Path to Healing

By Elaine Cicora

As women in the food, beverage and hospitality industries, LDEI members understand the health benefits of seasonal, local, and natural foods. But this year’s Global Culinary Initiative Breakfast, during national conference in Seattle, emphasized the spiritual aspect of the story.

As its name suggests, LDEI’s Global Culinary Initiative embraces global communities through culinary connections. This year’s breakfast focused on Native American foods and traditions. In the process, it provided a valuable reminder of the wisdom that resides in traditional foodways – and how those foodways nurture both body and soul.

Valerie Segrest, Native Nutrition Educator, Tedx speaker, Kellogg Fellow at the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, and Food Sovereignty Project coordinator for the Muckleshoot Tribe, spoke first. Her message was simple: For the native peoples of the Northwest, a return to traditional foods equals a return to good health and abundance.

Prior to first contact, she explained, “the native tribes [of this region] made up the largest, most densely populated non-agricultural region in the world. We knew how to use and manage the natural world.” But today, with diabetes “at epidemic levels among native peoples,” and attendant problems like obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, peripheral neuropathies and blindness on the rise, that traditional wisdom may be lost.

To help reignite that knowledge, Valerie has created the Cedar Box Kit, an educational tool containing the 13 quintessential foods at the center of the Northwest Indians’ diet.

Developed with a grant from the CDC, the Cedar Box represents a way to move tribal culture into current times, Valerie said, by explicating the links between food choices, nutrition, health – and community. Thus, the foods in the Cedar Box Kit are of both cultural and nutritional significance. Among them, water holds first place. “Water is life,” Valerie teaches. “Put down those sugary beverages and drink water.”

Other foods in the box include berries (“wild strawberries are great for women’s health”); greens (“when it comes to nutrition, nettles make spinach look iceberg lettuce” ), bulbs and roots (“camas, a starch that helps reduce blood sugar, was once the most traded item after salmon”), nuts (“hazelnuts make us feel full from eating just a few”), wild game (“elk, deer, and mountain goats are a living legacy”), birds (“duck is high in fats and protein), fish (“salmon give their lives so we can have life”), and shellfish (“perfect little packages of nutrition”).

“I ask people to walk through the grocery store as if they are walking with their ancestors,” Valerie says. “For every item they buy, I want them to ask themselves: Is it seasonal? Is it local? And how do I cook it with good intention?”

Darren Jameson, a member of the Tsimshian Nation and chef de cuisine at Lisa Dupar & Company, spoke next. While his love of cooking encompasses an entire world of cuisine, his passion and focus are wild, indigenous foods.

Darren spoke movingly about his childhood memories of potlatch gatherings on the beach, and the strong sense of connection they created. “I learned you didn’t have to be rich to have a good life,” he recalled. “You just needed to have a community around you.”

As a forager, Darren also shared his concern about our impact on the land and water, especially in the case of wild salmon, an endangered species “that connects everything in the world. Its importance is not just that it is delicious. It is a keystone species whose demise will effect everything: bears, whales, eagles, and us.

“And as hospitality people,” he reminded us, “we are in a great position to educate others about salmon’s importance.”
Sea, forest and wetlands: “There is enough wild food in each of these places to create a full meal,” he said. “As a chef, to be able to take these things and create a meal that appeals to all is very special. I am privileged to be a part of that.

“It’s the most special way there is to connect with the past – and to create traditions for our own descendants.”

Read more about this year's conference in the Winter issue of the LDEI Quarterly.


Dames Dish! Five Reasons to Blog About Your Food Business

By Paris Wolfe
At its most basic, blogging keeps your customers informed and tells others about your business. Sure, you can use other social media to spread the news, but blog posts offer more space than Twitter or Facebook. (Just try to keep each post under 800 words.) And you can go on to promote those blog posts on Twitter and Facebook for a triple play.

Think about a blog as your newspaper. Introducing a new product or menu? Blog the news. Secured a new supplier? Blog why this is important. Have mad skills in the kitchen? Blog your expertise. Don’t just brag, but tell the story around your news.

Here are five reasons to blog:

1) To market or promote your business: The biggest blog benefit is awareness. It makes your business easier to find when someone is searching the internet. And it lets you tell them why they should choose you for their needs.

2) To connect with customers: Regular followers learn about your business and feel part of a community. That secures them as brand loyalists.

3) To build your reputation: The content and quality of your posts enables you to demonstrate your expertise and reaffirm your reputation as an expert in your field.

4) To share your thoughts and opinions: Do you have an opinion on a trending topic – like tipping or the paleo diet – that you really want to share? Blog it. But, blog wisely and avoid politics – or else!

5) To have fun: Share the news! Share some excitement

Dame Paris Wolfe is an award-winning writer, editor, and author of two blogs: The Herb Society of America and Willoughby Outdoor Market. She also is founder and administrator of “NEO Foodies, Ashtabula Wining and Dining,” and a contributor to The News-Herald, Edible Cleveland, Northeast Ohio Boomer, Crain's Cleveland Business, American Iron, and more. Contact her at 440-867-8966, pariswolfe@yahoo.com, Twitter @pariswolfe, Instagram pariswolfe.

Article originally published in Dames Dish! – Cleveland's Les Dames d'Escoffier monthly newsletter. Read more of newsletter here.


Dames Dish! Olive or Twist? Talking Business with Ann Thomas of Western Reserve Distillers

By Rebecca Ferlotti
“We really did it,” Ann Thomas, co-founder of Western Reserve Distillers (WRD), says when describing how she and her husband, Kevin Thomas, dove into the craft distillery world. Ann and Kevin read books, hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and took an intensive four-day course in Chicago on distilling. The process began four years ago when Kevin decided he wanted to retire but “he’s not the fishing type, so we needed to find him something to do.” When Kevin brought Ann an in-depth plan for a proposed business, she said, “Well, I guess we’re opening a craft distillery.”

Western Reserve Distillers currently carries three products: WRD Handcrafted Organic Vodka, WRD Handcrafted Organic Gin, and WRD Handcrafted Spelt Vodka, with more on the way. Before opening the distillery, Ann says she never tried anything but wine, cosmos, and margaritas. Now, she’s taste-testing all kinds of drinks. She also ensures the distillery stays certified organic, holding certifications through the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This means the distillery sources local ingredients, cleans with organic cleaners, uses organic pest control, and will treat the grass organically once it grows. The only things that aren’t organic, Ann says, are the enzymes they use to make their spirits; however, the enzymes are certified to be used in organic applications.

According to Ann, WRD "tries to eliminate as much waste as possible by: recycling all the cardboard used; having bottles made from lightweight, easily recyclable glass; and using a steam boiler to reduce their electric consumption, so they can recycle water". As a result, the Thomases spend most of their days online taking care of paperwork. “But it’s worth it,” Ann says.

From the beginning, the city of Lakewood was supportive, and local bars and restaurants were among the first to carry their products. When Ann visits a place that wants to taste test WRD products, she usually starts the conversation with, “We’re organic and just right down the street!” To drive home her point, Ann typically buys people a shot of Tito’s to compare with WRD. (I took the test, and the difference is shocking: WRD spirits are notably smoother with a cleaner finish.)

Ann’s advice for women who want to get into the industry is to contact COSE first. “They’re a fabulous resource that will get you to the people who can answer your questions,” she says. Also essential: an excellent attorney and an accountant. “Surround yourself with people you trust,” Ann adds.

Ann and Kevin’s ultimate goals are “to have a good life, surround ourselves with good people, and have something to pass on to our son and then granddaughter.”

Western Reserve Distillers and its adjacent restaurant, Distill Table, opened to the public Sept. 8, 2018. Reserve a tasting tour by visiting their Facebook page . Find them at 14221 Madison Ave. in Lakewood.

Article originally published in Dames Dish! – Cleveland's Les Dames d'Escoffier monthly newsletter. Read more of newsletter here.


C’mon, Get Happy!

By Elaine T. Cicora
Photos by Elaine T. Cicora and Bob Bohach

A dozen dames and three esteemed guests spent a recent Tuesday afternoon at Lakewood’s Salt+, sharing refreshing drinks and conversation during our 2018 Happy Hour celebration.

The communications committee chose Salt+ as our location for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Chef Jill Vedaa, the restaurant’s co-founder, was a 2018 nominee for a James Beard Award. But there was also the compelling menu of creative small plates – including a superlative chicken liver pate and a delightful dish of caramelized baby carrots, ginger-carrot puree and crispy carrots – that left many of us eager to return for more at this casually sophisticated restaurant.

As would be expected from such a diverse group as ours, conversation topics ranged from programming at the Culinary Vegetable Institute (thank you, Marci Barker!) to the state of Cleveland’s independent restaurants (it’s good!). Dame Bev Shaffer also raised a toast to Dame Elaine Cicora, and her recent Grand Prize win in the annual LDEI MFK Fisher Awards for Excellence in Culinary Writing; the award includes roundtrip transportation to the annual LDEI conference, this year in Seattle, where she will accept her prize.

We also enjoyed a chat with the vivacious Jesse Parkison, Salt’s sommelier and co-founder; and received outstanding service from FOH staffer Allison Stavnicky.

From left to right, guest Ann Loparo, Salt's Jesse Parkison, and guest Rebecca Ferlotti.

On behalf of the communications committee, many thanks to all who joined us for cocktails and conversation, as well as to Jill, Jesse and the wonderful staff at Salt+.

We hope to see you at next summer’s Happy Hour!


Leadership at Its Finest – Chapter Meeting at EDWINS

By Elaine T. Cicora
Reporting by Maria Isabella

For eleven chapter members and three guests, our May 14 membership meeting at EDWINS Leadership & Restaurant Institute proved to be an evening of engagement, inspiration and delicious food, prepared and served by EDWINS’ staff of talented trainees.

Founded in 2007 by the charming, and highly accomplished, hospitality professional Brandon Edwin Chrostowski, EDWINS is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing formerly incarcerated adults with a foundation in the culinary and hospitality industry, while providing the support network necessary for their long-term success. Its mission is three-fold: to teach a skilled and in-demand trade in the culinary arts, to empower willing minds through passion for hospitality management, and to prepare students for a successful transition home. (To learn more about Brandon’s impressive roster of awards and accomplishments, and the talented team of culinary professionals who help operate the restaurant, click here.)

The elegant restaurant on historic Shaker Square opened on Nov. 1, 2013.

During the business portion of the meeting, Dame Maria Isabella presented Brandon with a cookbook stand and 30 cookbooks from her personal collection, including Jacques Pepin’s “La Technique,” for use by the trainees. Afterward, members had an opportunity to order from the unique and totally French menu, which featured such sublime dishes as Guinea hen airline breast, stuffed with morel mushrooms, spring pea puree, Swiss chard and rosemary Madeira sauce; grilled seafood sausage with white fish, scallops, shrimp and pine nuts in a shallot beurre blanc; and seared foie gras, with peach compote, strawberry verjus and pickled strawberries. The meal was leisurely, and members enjoyed a wonderful opportunity for networking and fellowship within the restaurant’s beautiful setting. And clearly, we weren’t the only diners who appreciated the EDWINS experience: Franz Welser-Most, famed conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, was spotted at the next table!

Near meal’s end, members heard from Brandon, who delivered a short, impromptu talk. He briefly described the institute’s 6-month training program, and discussed the mission and the philosophy behind it. He also referenced his Oscar-nominated film, Knife Skills, which documents the restaurant’s hectic launch (click on the link to watch it). And finally, he noted that the institute is currently raising money to build a butcher shop, to provide additional career training opportunities to the institute’s students. This was followed by a lively Q&A session.

Members finally pulled themselves away from the table around 9:30 p.m., full, happy and impressed, as always, by EDWINS, Brandon, and the world-class program he has established in Cleveland.


Dame du Jour: Marla Monzo Holmes

by Maria Isabella

When you grow up in a family business, surrounded by quality products, a strong work ethic, and a loving support system, it’s only natural you would want to continue that tradition. Marla has not only done that, she’s raised the bar and gone miles beyond—quite literally.

“My father owned a beverage store called Monzo’s Wine Country in Cleveland’s Westpark neighborhood,” begins Marla. “He had the largest foreign beer collection on the west side. However, he was best known for his amazing sandwiches, which people would come from all over to purchase. I would often help him make those famous sandwiches.”

Growing up in an all-Italian family, Marla’s fondest childhood memory was of visiting her grandmother’s home in New Castle, Pennsylvania. “My grandma, who only spoke Italian, always prepared the best food,” she says with obvious pride. “She also made the most delicious soup every day!”

After graduating from Kent State University, getting married, and starting a family, Marla eventually took on a position as a kitchen consultant with Pampered Chef. Through hard work, determination, and a real flair for teaching, she was able to earn 19—yes, 19!—trips all over the world with this organization. While traveling overseas, she would take time out to also attend cooking classes, which made her an even more valuable employee, resulting in her rise as a top producer and team leader. In fact, by the time she left to care for her ailing father, she had conducted over 2,000 cooking demos all across the U.S.

She eventually went on to star on The Robin Swoboda Show as their “mom chef,” taping numerous episodes and enjoying every minute in front of the camera. Marla also began teaching cooking classes as a culinary instructor at Polaris Career Center in Middleburg Heights, which she still does to this day alongside catering gigs and cooking demos at farmers’ markets.

As for how Marla came to hear of Les Dames d’Escoffier, we’ve got social media to thank for that. “I saw it on Facebook!” she readily admits. And the best part of membership? “Our events,” Marla says with a quick smile.

Learn more about Marla as she shares some fun and interesting insights about herself.

Of all the places you’ve traveled, where did you have the best food or wine?
In Alife, Italy. I helped my Zia Mary make homemade pasta dough for ravioli. My cousin, Angelo, drove up the mountain and picked fresh mushrooms. Then he made fresh ricotta from the milk he got from the cow next door. That meal was truly unforgettable!

What’s your favorite restaurant and what do you usually order there? Bucci’s in Rocky River. I love their cavatelli.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten? Blood pudding, but I have to admit it was just a very small taste!

What is your favorite cookbook? Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan.

What is your favorite food blog? Italian Food Forever.

Describe your perfect meal. Eggplant Parmesan, salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and fresh bread right out of the oven with garlic butter.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Pastina.

How do you like to entertain? Outdoors on my Italian patio in the summer with homemade pizzas from my pizza oven. I inherited my dad’s garden statues and potted lilies that helped transform my backyard into the same patio he used to have behind his store.

Do you have a signature dish? Chicken marsala.

What’s your favorite dessert to prepare? French macarons because everyone is so impressed you can actually make them!


Putting on the Ritz

By Jackie Bebenroth
Photos by Jackie Bebenroth

Thinking about the Ritz-Carlton Cleveland may conjure images of immense chandeliers, floral banquettes and stiff martinis at the lobby bar, but at our March 12 membership meeting, we learned that a recent 18-month renovation has brought the iconic destination to a state of modern-day luxury.

For the 12 members in attendance (along with four guests and two spouses), the evening started at the all-new TURN Bar + Kitchen. The crafty cocktail list was full of conversation starters. While the meeting commenced, members sipped on classic favorites with a local twist like The CLE, a refreshing gin and sparkling grapefruit spritzer and the Botanical Garden Gimlet with gin, eucalyptus syrup and orange blossom water. Although lake effect weather was in full force, inside the restaurant we felt warm, welcomed and right at home.

Following the meeting, we were greeted by Rachel Vitalone, the Ritz-Carlton Catering Sales Manager, who served as our tour guide for the evening. She swept us up to the 7th floor, where we discovered a completely re-imagined gathering space called LINKS. It’s an open kitchen designed for social and corporate culinary demos, ideal for team-building exercises, group cooking adventures and creative meeting breaks. The room, with a design that seems plucked from the home of an upscale chef, flows into a more formal meeting area that seats 120 and boasts amazing views of our fair city.

 As expected of the Ritz, intriguing details were considered throughout the seventh floor experience. Gorgeous local art graced the walls in a rotating art gallery that was curated in collaboration with HEDGE gallery. Wandering down the hall, it seemed odd to tour the new fitness center with cocktails in hand, but we were drawn to the gleaming room with high-tech equipment, an interactive smoothie bar and virtual, on-demand workout classes. CORE is open to the public, via membership, as well as to guests of the hotel.

Our tour continued into the bustling catering kitchens, where chefs shuffled room service requests and prepped for upcoming tastings and events. The Ritz-Carlton motto, “Ladies and Gentleman serving Ladies and Gentleman” hung proudly on the wall.

We returned to our seats and enjoyed a delightful dinner from a menu that lived up to its promise: “This is Cleveland, flavor and textures, rich culture and entertainment. We happily partner with local butchers, breweries and farmers to show the essence of our cuisines, heritage and personality. Let us turn our city into something you can taste.