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.


Dame du Jour: Melissa McClelland

By Maria Isabella
Photo by Andrew Burkle

As a freelance photo stylist, Melissa is the first to admit she thoroughly enjoys working in an emerging industry that’s as creative as it is fun — which is the perfect fit for her.

After graduating from Laurel School in Shaker Heights, Melissa went to study sculpture and European history at Bennington College in Vermont. She then transferred to the Program in Artisanry at Boston University, from where she graduated. Eventually, she also went to the Culinary Institute of America for styling. Whew!

Today, Melissa enjoys a strong reputation, especially in the area of food styling and photography.

“I really respect the sense of community we have here in Cleveland,” says Melissa, “and the larger role that food plays in bringing people together and building relationships.”

Growing up, food was not such a big deal for her…until high school, that is. “I took a cooking class in 11th grade,” explains Melissa, “and that’s when I discovered that I really loved it!”

She worked in restaurants all throughout college. She also worked in the test kitchen of Eating Well magazine and as a chef at the now-shuttered Chapters Bookstore and Café. She currently regularly contributes to Edible Cleveland magazine.

Frankly, Melissa genuinely enjoys all things food. From her favorite local restaurants (Anatolia Café for its appetizers and white bean salad; Minh Anh for its rice noodle salad) to her own family gatherings (always featuring her mom’s famous English trifle pudding), she revels in the beauty of it all.

As for her idea of the perfect meal? “It would be a slow meal with many small plates on a nice long table, served with great wine and a lot of friends, preferably outside,” says Melissa wistfully.

Melissa first heard of Les Dames d’Escoffier from her sponsor, Maria Isabella. “I’m fairly new,” she says, “but I have already found the networking to be invaluable.”

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

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten? Ostrich.

What is your favorite cookbook? Thug Kitchen. It features vegan street food that always turns out well with amazing flavors.

What is your favorite food blog? Sweet Paul.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Rice pudding.

Any favorite indulgences? Homemade cornbread.

Do you have a signature dish? Paella.

What’s your go-to, quick-and-easy dinner? Kale and cannellini over pasta.

What’s your favorite dessert to prepare? Semolina cake.

What’s the biggest cooking mistake you’ve ever made? An M&M cake gone wrong for a co-worker who loved M&M’s. I put the candy in when the cake was still too warm and it ‘kind of’ exploded. But the co-worker was very appreciative and still loved it!

Name 3 things that are always in your refrigerator. Eggs, beer, and apple butter.


Dame du Jour: Barb Abbott

by Maria Isabella

Armed with a degree in biology from the University of Akron, Barb started her first career as a park naturalist. By definition, that’s someone who loves to share what they know about nature with others. Thirteen years later, Barb decided to switch gears and still share what she knows with others, but this time about food.

“I first learned about food tours when I was in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 2010,” explains Barb. “I started researching culinary tourism and eventually opened Canton Food Tours two years later. I then opened Wooster Food Tour two years after that.” She’s been the driving force behind the huge success of both operations ever since, and is working to expand into other Northeast Ohio regions in the next few years.

“This was an opportunity for me to match my skills with my passion,” says Barb. “I love to share and educate. High-quality food is now an everyday part of my life.”

She’s done so well, in fact, that she won the Canton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s first-ever “Entrepreneur of the Year” award after only one year in business.

When not working, Barb still finds personal pleasure in frequenting restaurants, including taking food tours in other cities when she travels. She has gone on 21 tours throughout the U.S., Bahamas, and even Canada. Her top five favorites are (in no particular order) West Palm Beach Food Tours in Florida; San Antonio Food Tours in Texas; River City Food Tours in Richmond, Virginia; Asheville Food Tours in North Carolina; and Local Montréal Food Tours in Canada.

Her local favorite spot? “Lucca in downtown Canton!” she says without missing a beat. “I always order their seasonal special.”

And when entertaining at home, Barb prefers it to be casual and leisurely, spilling outdoors, with multiple courses and small plates. Naturally, friends are always encouraged to bring dishes, too.

As an interesting side note, Barb is currently co-authoring a book entitled The Culinary History of Stark County with Kimberly Kenney, curator of the William McKinley Presidential Library & Museum.

Barb first heard of Les Dames d’Escoffier from her sponsor, Maria Isabella. “I’m a new member,” she says, “but I already really value the networking.”

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

What food always reminds you of home? Crest Bakery’s maple cream sticks.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever eaten? Sea urchin.

Which one chef would you want to invite over for dinner and what would you serve? Josh Schory, the chef from Lucca. I would serve my signature chicken and rice dish.

What is your favorite cookbook? Cookie Love by Mindy Segal.

What is your favorite food blog? Two Amused Bouches from Canton.

What’s your favorite comfort food? Mashed potatoes with a side of white bread slathered in butter.

Any favorite indulgences? Good chocolate.

What’s your favorite dessert to prepare? Toffee bars.

What’s one ingredient you can’t live without? Local honey.

Name 3 kitchen gadgets you can’t live without. Mezzaluna, garlic press, and skillet.


The Power of Pizza in Olmsted Falls

By Elaine T. Cicora
Photos by Barb Abbott and Elaine T. Cicora

In 1994, at the age of 43, Ann Reichle opened a pizza shop. Two years ago in May, she finally paid off a quarter-million dollar debt and started to turn a profit.

"It's a difficult business," the energetic entrepreneur told members of the Cleveland chapter at our Jan. 22 meeting. "But I love it."

In the years between 1994 and 2016, Ann and her family faced both challenges and accomplishments. Her business, Angelina's Pizza, brought home first place in a state-wide pizza competition in 1996, just two years after opening. (Ann's "Specialty Pizza" was the winning pie, a tender crust topped with meatballs, mushrooms, onions and sausage.) She also launched Angelina's locations in North Ridgeville and Elyria, started a successful catering operation, and took over a next-door coffee shop, "on a whim." Warm and welcoming, the Village Bean Cafe has been operating under Ann's direction since 2014, and was the site of our Monday night meeting. The cafe has also grown into a community gathering place, hosting book signings, meetings, and concerts.

But along the way, there were struggles too, including limited capital, a lack of experience, and a devastating lawsuit.

Through it all, Ann told us she never doubted her career path. "My goal has always been to be part of the fabric of this wonderful community," she said of the town she clearly adores. "I'm very supportive of our entire food community, and I don't consider other restaurants in town to be my competition. I've been covered in grease my whole life, first as a mechanic – and then I opened a pizza shop! It's a tough business, but you just have to keep going."

Clearly, Ann's perseverance paid off. In fact, things are going well enough these days that she recently purchased property at the opposite end of town, where she plans to build an 80- to 100-seat restaurant. "There are no chains in Olmsted Falls," she explained, adding that the town's restaurants strive to keep it that way. "We are all a little different, and it all works," she said.

Of course, inspirational stories like Ann's are known to work up an appetite, and the spread Ann laid out for us after her talk was a delicious representation of her craft. Among the treats were four pizzas, including her popular Breakfast Pizza with scrambled eggs and bacon, which she serves at the cafe; a salad bar with a selection of greens, vegetables, and charcuterie, along with grilled chicken breast or sliced portabellas for toppings; a lovely cheese and meat platter; an Ancient Grains Salad and a Tri-Color Couscous Salad; and a dessert tray.

Altogether, the evening was a worthy reminder of the power of female entrepreneurship – and the power of pizza too.

Our next meeting takes place in March at the downtown Cleveland Ritz-Carlton. Watch our website and Facebook page for details.