Angela “Nena” Sierra, co-founder of Palenque Colombian Food

Crisp on the outside and fluffy on the inside is exactly how a corn patty “arepa” looks like. To give you a better picture, imagine a Mexican corn tortilla but thicker and of course, tastier. Arepas were originated a hundred years ago, contributing to the diet of various indigenous tribes across Venezuela and Colombia. They have now become a dish so popular that any socio-economic group eats them. And just like any sandwich, fillings vary and there are no rules. Colombian entrepreneurs Angela “Nena” Sierra and Viviana Lewis took this statement quite literal and changed the arepa game since day one!

Viviana had been in the food industry way before Angela decided to join her. Angela was working as a film producer in Bogota, Colombia where she flew back and forth for clients between Bogota and NYC. Wanting to take the next step, Angela moved to NYC in 2000 to begin a degree in film production. She involved herself in audiovisual production companies and in local theater. But after her experience in NYC, Angela decided to move back to Colombia and start working in television. Everything was going according to plans until she was badly injured. An elevator had not received maintenance in years and when Angela stepped inside, she slipped through a hole five floors down. “It was a miracle I was alive. It is a blessing I am able to walk right now”.

After the surgery in Colombia, Angela flew to NYC for a second medical procedure in her leg as it was poorly performed. Fast forward to several months later, Viviana came to Angela while she was recovering and mentioned she needed help selling arepas in a fair at Greenpoint. Not surprisingly, the arepas were a huge success! Angela fell in love with the quality of the arepas and saw a huge market potential for them. As she knew the film industry was not something she wanted to continue doing, both Angela and Viviana decided to buy their first food truck in September 2011 and named it Palenque Homemade Colombian Food.

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Besides a new revenue stream, the food truck gave Angela a mental recovery. Being busy all day by having to cook, clean, and move the truck from one corner to the other, Angela did not have the time to think about the pain she was experiencing in her leg. Much less in 2012 were people stepped out of Union Square Q Station for the food truck paradise to fill those hungry stomachs – it was just the perfect street food scenery. Even Daily News, New York Times and TeleMundo shared Palenque’s success in their platforms for this powerful transformation of the traditional Arepa to one with same taste, but greater nutritional value.

Just like pasta, Arepa is sometimes feared because it is a simple carb – mostly starch with little protein/fiber. But the great thing of an arepa is that it adapts to anyone’s needs – precisely Palenque’s mission. Palenque will not sell you the typical Colombian arepa made from just corn flour. These two female entrepreneurs have added a twist of healthy grains such a quinoa, hemp seeds, and flax seeds to the flour for more protein and more crunch! Now you don’t have to think twice before ordering one (or two).

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This step out of the comfort zone by looking into a healthier version of an arepa led them into the road to success. Palenque has expanded from a food truck to now three brick-and-mortars (Brooklyn, Rockaway Beach and RIIS Park Beach), events such as NYC Half Marathon and catering platforms like FoodtoEat. The business is also represented at festivals such as Smorgasburg every Saturday and Sunday. In fact, right after hurricane Sandy the NYC Mayor office asked Palenque to provide arepas to those people who had suffered the catastrophe at Rockaway.

So as you can see, these two female founders have taught us several lessons worth mentioning. First, you can build a business that is different from any careers or degrees pursued before. Second, you do not have to come up with a brand new product/service in order to be successful. You just need to find the faults of an existing one and fix them. Third, to make a difference in the world you need to dream big and work your butt off. And last but not least, Palenque has become a staple in NYC because it is run by two immigrant women. These women’s backgrounds, experiences and way of thinking has made it possible for us New Yorkers to get a taste of a dish served hundreds of miles away.

So what are you waiting for? Cater for you and your team and Contact us!

 

FoodtoEat’s One of a Kind Hispanic Vendors!

From Colombia to Venezuela, Argentina to Peru,  Mexico to Cuba – we can all agree the Hispanic community has made its mark in Manhattan. Especially when it comes to food, Hispanic proud themselves for what they serve at each of their restaurants. Each compares itself with its neighbor with the flavors once created by their mamás and abuelitas. So whether you are looking for small bites like empanadas and sweet plantains or a bigger plate that makes you feel like home, FoodtoEat has you covered. !Comamos!

  • Havana Central – Cuban Restaurant

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We all wish we could be laying down in a beautiful, white-sand beach in the outskirts of Cuba eating the most fresh grilled fish, or having lunch in a historic site in Old Havana. But reality is reality! And we can’t give you the white-sand beach but we can certainly deliver that fresh grilled fish you are craving! One of our Cuban vendors, Havana Central, offers a variety of meals that will leave you scrapping your plates. Just to give you a sneak-peak, our customers’ favorites are the Herb Roasted chicken with cilantro rice and plantain as well as their flavorful Vegetarian Stuffed Bell Pepper. Chao pescao!

  • Nuchas – Argentinian Restaurant

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Empanadas, empanadas, and more empanadas. YUM! Beef, chicken, spinach and cheese, italian sausage, shiitake curry, slow braised short rib, you name it! At Nuchas, they are proud to be transforming the iconic empanada into a gourmet meal. Delicious and convenient, in the palm of your hand.

  • Palenque Homemade Colombian Food – Colombian Restaurant

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No Colombian meal is complete without carbohydrates. A sort of cross between a tortilla and a pancake is what Colombian know as Amasijos. So everything from a crispy arepa, to a sweet corn cake is considered that. And this Colombian vendor, Palenque, is dedicated to provide delicious gourmet colombian fusions. Step out of your comfort zone and order one of their signature dishes!

  • Areppas – Venezuelan Restaurant

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Areppas, a Venezuelan restaurant here in Manhattan, is considered to be the “Chipotle for arepas”. If you didn’t know, an arepa is made from ground maize corn. As healthy as it can get, an arepa is grilled and then opened to be filled with delicious ingredients such as ham and cheese, sweet plantain and shredded beef, or chicken and avocado. Arepas are simply for everyone – vegans, vegetarians, meat eaters, health freaks and more. Don’t believe us? Order them now!

  • Baby Brasa – Peruvian Restaurant

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Baby Brasa serves contemporary Peruvian cuisine and fusion dishes. It is a vibrant restaurant filled with colors, great food, outstanding cocktails and a music that will make you dance. As to our favorite catering dishes, el Lomo Saltado (marinated strips of sirloin steak with tomatoes, onions, and a side of French fries and rice) is a must try or if looking something on the lighter side you can never go wrong with the Fish Ceviche.

  • Corazón De Mexico – Mexican Restaurant

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¡Órale! Finally Mexican cuisine! This food has been well-admired throughout the world for its vibrant, authentic and delicious taste. The healthy ingredients, the wonderful aromas of fresh spices, the hot sauces that make you cry, and the deadly margaritas are the perfect combo to be a very popular cuisine. Now stop reading and start eating some tacos Güey!

Christine Chebli, Co-Founder of Toum

Do you know what exactly Lebanese food is? Would you be able to distinguish a Greek Gyro with a Lebanese Shawarma? I certainly could not and know most people couldn’t either. There is ignorance on the different types of foods each Middle Eastern country has, putting them all under the same umbrella. But people like Christine, co-founder of Lebanese restaurant Toum, is trying to change that. “We are still teaching New Yorkers, who know all about food, really what Lebanese food is. They come and they say: Oh, I’ll have a gyro and what we serve is nothing similar to a gyro. So educating a customer is always challenging “.

But in order to educate consumers about Lebanese food, it needs to be served! Christine and her husband Rodrigue noticed there weren’t many Lebanese restaurants that cook good, authentic Lebanese food and decided to take a chance on what they’ve been cooking for many years. Rodrigue had been in the food industry since he could walk, and always dreamt about opening a Lebanese restaurant in NY. And Christine, on the other hand, had a financial background. She worked as an investment banker for eleven years before deciding to fully commit to the food industry. And after many thoughts given, Christine and Rodrigue opened the first Lebanese food truck in NYC in July 2012!

But let’s rewind a few years before that opening. Prior to their truck, Christine and Rodrigue launched a food booth in a friend’s open space in a festival in Little Eataly. They wanted to test the waters first, see if people would come and buy some of their food. At one point, Rodrigue decided to serve himself lunch and started creating a Lebanese style burger – a fine chopped beef with spices, onions and parsley. “He spread it on bread and grilled it, and while he was grilling it someone came up and said: “Ooh, what is that!? I want whatever he is preparing!” And it was love at first bite. Then one person after the other were asking for this burger that wasn’t even part of our menu!”.  After seeing many customers line up, it was official that a food truck was happening.

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Food trucks are part of the American landscape, with coffee carts and hot dog stands representing the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit. Food trucks are a great way to enter and test a market, without blowing a huge amount of capital. But while this concept may seem appealing to many people, the venture comes with a list of challenges specifically in the NYC area. Apparently, government officials in NY make it so much harder for food trucks to strive than in any other states like Florida, Denver and Atlanta. “The city is against you. You’re not allowed to park anywhere, you’ll get a ticket for parking every time, you’re not allowed to vend, and you’re not allowed to serve from a metered spot where all spots in Manhattan are metered. And say you paid the meter because you are commercial vehicle and served lunch. You now get two tickets: one for parking on a meter and one for vending. It is really hard”, says Christine. For food truck owners, this is part of their day-to-day. It is seen as their daily rent. Drivers even get their parking spots at 3:00am just to vend lunch from 11:00am to 3:00pm. And sometimes after staying up those long hours cops can come at noon, middle of the lunch rush hour, and tell you to leave. “If you are shut down at that time, you’re not finding a spot anywhere else in the city. You have traffic, you have food waste, you have staff that needs to get paid anyways and you just lost an entire day!”. It is frustrating given that it is not about the money, but the principle. Truck owners are doing nothing wrong, just selling food to hungry customers. They are not parking in front of a restaurant, or taking business from someone else. So if everyone is happy, why punish them? We rely on food trucks to nourish us at music festivals, cater our graduations and engagement parties and most importantly, broaden our lunch horizons. These truck owners continue to expose an “unaware group of eaters to new culinary opportunities”.

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Fast-forward to 2012 – a buzz kicked in when people would take lunch breaks and immediately follow the line of hungry customers waiting for their flavorful Shawarma. The quality and consistency of Toum is what kept customers happy and made them come back. The food, as Christine mentioned, was served as if it was for their kids. “If my kids wouldn’t eat it, then I will not serve it. We make sure the customer gets the same quality every time he/she orders from us. We never use lower quality product, even if it affects our margins. We are more concerned with the quality to make sure the taste is great with every order. The margins hurt, but the food truck must keep going”.

People started asking about corporate catering, weddings, events, birthday parties and more. “Lebanese food is not something you can find in every corner like Italian or Mexican food. After people coming to us and tasting our food, they asked about catering and that is when we started engaging with catering platforms like FoodtoEat. Never reducing its quality, Toum was taken to the next level. Ask anyone who runs a food truck what their ultimate goal is and most will tell you that it’s their dream to one day turn the truck into a full-fledged, brick-and-mortar restaurant. And so Christine quit the corporate America job to nurture “this baby full-time”. Having a food enthusiast and a business professional gave a lot of potential for Toum to follow the right direction to be a successful restaurant. It was the perfect combination to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The food side is all handled by Rodrigue and the business operations, development, marketing, social media and other non-food related decisions is Christine.

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They gave themselves a two year timeline to decide if they would continue working for Toum or if it was something they wanted to keep as a side job and go back into the corporate world. Fortunately, Toum Restaurant has been growing at a steady rate and continues to do so. As of now, training and having people visualize Toum as a restaurant instead of a food truck is the biggest challenge for both Christine and Rodrigue. “I would like for people to know that we’ve transitioned from a truck to a restaurant. But we are hoping that our social media push and marketing campaign is going to help do that. But also training is hard because people are set in their own ways and you can’t blame them. So allowing people to do things in their own technique but tweak to work for us is certainly our goal”.

It is really amazing to have a dream and see it come to life in your own hands. Your own blood, sweat and tears. “It was never my passion to be in the food industry; it was mostly Rodrigue. And I believed so much in his dream that I was sure it was going to turn out positively. When he creates food, he does it with such passion and so beautiful that everyone wants to eat. It just had to work”. Not having many Lebanese restaurants in NYC, it is a motivation for this power couple to continue showcasing their food that comes from their own hands, their own recipes. “Seeing the amazing feedback and the potential for the bigger picture is all the motivation we need. For me, I feel like we made it. Now, it’s only about consistency and further growth”.

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Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

Get To Know Our Team: 20 Questions with Jaimie!

Interested in learning more about the people who make the magic happen at FoodtoEat?! Here’s your chance! We’re giving you a behind the scenes look into our team and their personalities with a brief Q&A where they spill everything from their biggest fear to the most unusual thing they’ve ever eaten.

Next is Jaimie Adkins, our kickass saleswoman! Learn more about Jaimie below!

What’s your role at FoodtoEat?

I’m the Director of Business Development

What’s your favorite part of your job?

Creating a memorable experience for our clients and helping vendors grow their businesses.

What’s an accomplishment you’ve had at FoodtoEat that you’re really proud of?

Deepti (our founder) was asked to keynote an event called “Agents of Change” for IIDA, an architecture firm, at Lincoln Center. We also coordinated the catering through one of our local food vendors, Jaa Dijo Dom. At the event, Charles Chipengule, the owner of Jaa Dijo Dom, told me that it was surreal to be catering Lincoln Center, as it wasn’t long ago that he would be waiting here during the day with the homeless for his wife to pick him up after he got off of his shift as a dishwasher. And today he was catering Lincoln Center. Chills! That’s why we do what we do.

What’s something you worked on recently OR are working on right now that you’re excited about?

Our new partnership with Warby Parker! They’re so appreciative of the fact that our service helps them to streamline the food ordering process and the team is coming together to experience all kinds of new cuisines. As a company they have such a great mission; it’s so exciting to be feeding them!

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in beautiful Sussex County, New Jersey, home of Mountain Creek Ski Resort. Over the years, I’ve lived in San Francisco, New York, Philadelphia, Florida, and Alabama; and I’m currently back in my hometown!

What’s your favorite hobby?

Spending time outdoors: biking, kayaking, swimming, beaching

What’s something unique about you?

I’m a singer and a certified yoga instructor

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Palma de Mallorca

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

A disorganized fridge

What’s the most daring thing you’ve ever done?

Recently, the Vertigo water slide at Mountain Creek.

What’s one thing you’re determined to do in your lifetime?

Go to Machu Picchu

What do you wish you knew more about?

Bitcoin

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Set your intention and be clear with your ask.

What are your top 3 favorite movies?

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Star Wars:  A New Hope and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

What’s your biggest fear?

Sharks

What’s one motto you try to live your life by?

Lead with kindness

What’s your food kryptonite?

Crème Brulee

What’s one food or food trend that you can never get behind?

Fried oreos

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Get Juiced in Sussex County, NJ

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

Escargot

Janie Deegan, Founder of Janie’s Life-Changing Baked Goods

In the realm of desserts, cookies and pies will always be at the top of the list. Imagine both of them combined into one type of dessert… Now THAT is a mouthwatering thought. Good news for you, it can be! After many trials and errors creating cookies, cakes, and pies in her home kitchen, Janie Deegan (founder of Janie’s Life-Changing Baked Goods)  created something special: her famous Pecan Pie Crust Cookie.

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But before we go into the details of this delicious cookie, Janie’s story needs to be heard. In her early 20’s, Janie was an alcoholic and an addict. Her addiction eventually lead her to being homeless and isolated, with no communication between Janie and her family and friends. Her life was at a standstill, and close relatives started to feel helpless after telling her multiple times to get sober. It was a dark time for Janie, who says that her problems with addiction had been building for years, due to her inability to deal with stress and anxiety. . But when Janie turned 25, something inside of her changed. She started to crave the desire to turn her life and to become sober one day at a time.

Janie found a job as a superintendent in a building in the East village where was taking people’s garbage out but “living life!”. She started to realize that she wanted to develop skills of her own and pursue a career. One thing was crystal clear to her though: in order to deal with her anxiety and stress as well as continue to combat her addiction, she needed to have control over the results in what she did. And that is why baking was perfect for her! She baked a lot of cakes as a child with her mom, so she knew she was good at it. And it turns out that baking is more than creating something sweet. Baking is accompanied with a broad amount of psychological benefits. Baking for Janie, and for many others, allows her to cope with stress, to express her love, to communicate better with others, and to give back to those who always loved and supported her. Baking gives Janie control in her life as well. It is a step-by-step process, always (well, most of the times) following the same metrics. If you put the right amount of sugar, butter and flour, you will always create that perfect cookie.

Years of gaps in her resume and very few work experiences were no excuse for Janie to not start taking her life back. “I mean, I wish I could put my sobriety on a resume because what I’ve learned from not drinking has totally changed my life. It is crazy for me to think of the person I was at 25 – always scared, meek, filled with fear and no concept of self love. What I have developed in the past six years is all about strength, courage and learning to follow through. I have found the real me – not the better me, not the worse me but the real me. And that is a huge blessing”.

Taking a leap of faith, Janie made her first investment in herself and purchased her very first $25 mixer. She started baking pies and cakes, the sweets that brought her the most joy as a child, and she would bring them to friends’ dinners and parties since it was all she could afford to offer. But people would immediately ask her where she bought these delicious treats! And they always kept asking for more. It was because of these friends and family that supported her that Janie started regaining her self-confidence and pride in her work that had been lost for many years.

“I was definitely scared to start since I did not go to culinary school. I would keep thinking: Who am I to think that I could be a business woman?! But it’s funny because whenever I think about what type of career I want, I always tell myself: one where I am able to work out in the middle of the day or grab lunch with a friend. But so you hear this word “entrepreneur” and it freaks you out because it is such a big word. But I’ve come to realize that if you are doing something you love, then you are already an entrepreneur”.

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And so right before turning 30, Janie decided to fully focus on growing her business. She stopped working as a superintendent and as a nanny, and committed to her dream of being an entrepreneur. Since she needed financial help, Janie applied for the Pepsi’s “Stacy’s Rise Project” and won the grant because of her story. This program was specifically focused on elevating women in the food industry through an entrepreneurship program – and that is exactly what happened. For the past two years it has been a nonstop mission for Janie to be completely genuine and dedicated with what she is doing. She wants her story to reach as many people to encourage those who have struggled with an addiction or those who lack the courage to build a business due to self-esteem. “I think that is why people keep asking for more. I mean, the cookies are great but people really relate on a personal level with what I am doing. You need to find something that sets you apart from the others; that is how you succeed”.

As for what the future holds, Janie wants to continue doing corporate catering and selling at local markets but is looking to switch her products to consumer packaged goods to reach a wider audience. She knows that it will definitely get more challenging as the business grows since she is the chef, the sales person, the PR person, and everything in between. “It is hard to keep the business alive while trying to grow it. Seeing me on my Quickbooks is like pulling hair!” But New York City is the city to be when seeking business resources. There are so many programs for small businesses and people to connect with and Janie has found a lot of support in this community. The food industry, surprisingly enough, is very nurturing of each other – especially among female-owned businesses.

Past experiences have led Janie to value what is important for her, what her goals in life are and what it takes to pursue them. She intends to be a second chance employer, and work specifically with homeless shelter and halfway houses to be a resource for a community that she was once a part of. Janie is the perfect example that you do not need to have a particular degree to pursue a dream or discourage yourself if going through a rough time. Dedication, passion, and a genuine mission will get you far ahead of the game.

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Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

Food Waste: Think. Eat. React.

OVERVIEW

 “If food waste were a country, it would come in third after the United States and China in terms of global warming” (Frischmann, 2018). It is no secret to anyone that food waste, especially in the U.S., is a major problem. Every year, $210 billion is spent on food that is never eaten, amounting to 52 million tons sent to landfills annually. Another 10 million tons are discarded or left unharvested on farms. Yet, one in eight Americans (estimated 49 million) are food insecure. 

Food waste not only has social and economic implications, but also environmental. As 40% of food in the United States goes uneaten and sent to landfills, it contributes to 8% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. When the food rots in the landfill, it starts to release a chemical known as methane that is known to be “25 times more powerful than CO2” (Vogliano and Brown, 10). Only about 3% of the food in the U.S. is actually composted. 

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But food waste is not generic. Companies, consumers and countries contribute to food waste in different forms. In developing countries, for example, most food waste occurs before even reaching the market. Some reasons include inefficiency in transportation, equipment, packaging and storing the food. On the other hand, developed countries contribute in a larger extent to food waste once it has reached the consumer level. Big contributors are businesses such as grocery stores, institutions, catering departments and restaurants. Grocery stores specifically generate an absurd amount due to “cosmetic imperfections, expiration dates, damaged items and food returns” (Otten, 4). Other sectors such as restaurants generate due to “food trimmings, planned overproduction, spoilage and food served that customers do not eat” (Otten, 4). 

According to the National Resource Defense Council, “if we are able to just rescue 15% of the food waste in the U.S., we could save enough to feed 25 million citizens” (Move For Hunger). Surprisingly, consumers waste the most food compared to supermarkets and other businesses. 43% of the food waste occurs at home, equaling a loss of about $1,300-$2,200 for a family of four every year (Move For Hunger). Moreover, wasting food affects the environment not just from the gases that are released but also from the unnecessary excessive use of resources – 21% of fresh water, 18% of cropland, and 19% of fertilizer used to produce the food wasted.

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SOLUTIONS

As a community, we need to start working together to reduce the amount of food waste sent to landfills. Because solutions vary from corporations to restaurants to consumers, we’ve provided a general view of what solutions can be implemented in order to tackle this issue. 

For Businesses (grocery stores, catering departments, corporations, restaurants, organizations): 

  1. Improve data on food loss to estimate how much is being thrown away and how much should be bought 
  2. More accurate forecast demands based on consumer purchases to only bulk those items who sell the most
  3. Connect with organizations that provide surplus food to local shelters, after-school programs and other non-profit organizations.  
  4. If you are part of a company that caters often, partner with a catering service, like FoodtoEat, that knows how to portion correctly.
  5. Educate consumers on what the difference is between “use by” and “sell by” dates, on how to decrease food waste with more efficient storing methods and on how to better reduce, recover and recycle. 
  6. Invest in new technologies that can lengthen shelf life of fresh meat/poultry/fish, can delay the ripening of fruits and vegetables during shipping and storage, and monitor food waste in large communal kitchens to reduce costs. 
  7. Find creative ways to sell or avoid wasting food that has been mislabeled, bruised or overproduced.  

For Consumers:

  1. Move older food products to the front of the fridge so you remember to eat them!
  2. Take your restaurant leftovers with you and refrigerate them. That way, you don’t have to spend money on your next lunch at work. 
  3. This is going to sound weird, but check your garbage. Not to pick the leftovers, but to know what food you are tossing regularly so you buy less of it. 
  4. Compost excess food if you have a terrace or lawn. This will enrich your soil and help decrease greenhouse gasses. 
  5. Meal prep! By knowing what you have in your fridge, you know what you are missing in order to buy. 
  6. Most importantly, embrace the so-called “ugly” fruits and vegetables! They have exactly the same minerals, vitamins and nutrients as those more pleasing to the eye. This is BY FAR one of the biggest issues with major grocery chains. 
  7. Freeze! Freezing food is the best method to not let it rot. For example, those leafy greens that seem to soft for your salad are perfect to be put in the freezer for smoothies. 

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THE BOTTOM LINE

Food waste is a big challenge, but there are already numerous companies investing in technology to combat this battle as well as individuals taking action. Addressing this problem is beneficial for our communities, our bank accounts, our health, our soil, and individuals with very few resources.

While we need all possible solutions to be implemented in parallel, our daily decisions on how we produce, consume, and purchase is the most important contribution. We, the consumers, are the most significant cause of food waste (Robbins, 2018) since our way of thinking triggers companies’ actions. For example, if we demand more “ugly” products in our supermarkets, these chains will start promoting more and wasting less of them.

That being said, individuals being the main cause of food waste can be seen in a positive light. If we want to improve the ecosystem that surrounds us, we can change our decision making process to make businesses and organizations act quicker and smarter. In fact, we can all start today…

References:

Manal Kahi, Co-Founder of Eat Offbeat

Imagine hummus in 2013. Can’t remember? We can tell you – it was not good.

Lebanese Manal Kahi had the exact same thought when coming to the U.S. for her master’s degree in International Affairs. She was surprised by how popular the dip was and even more surprised when people said how great it tasted. As popular as these brands were, pre-packaged foods never taste as good as if you cook it yourself. And for Manal, it was common to have great quality products since she grew up with an orchard outside her home that was filled with tomatoes, lemons, parsley and other vegetables. Having all of these fresh ingredients, it was impossible for there to be pre-packaged hummus or tabbouleh on her family’s dinner table.

So when she decided that she didn’t want to continue eating supermarket hummus anymore, Manal started making her own and bringing it to her friends’ parties and events. After so many compliments and requests, Manal knew there was a gap in the market for hummus that she could fill. When thinking  “who can bring really good hummus to the U.S.!?”, it was a no-brainer for both Manal and her brother, who grew up in a family that created it fresh every day and whose recipe was passed down through generations.

At the same time, the Syrian refugee crisis was continuing to worsen, and many refugees were searching for a better life in the U.S. Manal herself had to leave Lebanon because of the intense turmoil and living in the U.S., she felt powerless watching the devastation in her country. She wanted to help her people but wasn’t sure how to do that across the world. After thinking about the crisis non-stop, Manal connected the dots and found a way to be useful to those who were suffering in the midst of the crisis. She contacted the International Rescue Committee, an agency that helps refugees resettle and find housing, employment, childcare and education. Her initial idea was to solely hire Syrian refugees to make hummus and other kind of authentic Middle Eastern meals. But she quickly found out that hummus in the U.S. was a market that was completely over-saturated and very competitive price-wise. And after seeing so much potential and diversity in the refugees, Manal decided to expand her idea. She started to create a community that would open it’s doors for refugees that came to NYC looking for a job and allow them to create the dishes authentic to their culture. Now, refugees from countries such as Afghanistan, Senegal, Sri Lanka, and Guinea replicate the meals that they cooked back home and deliver them to hungry New Yorkers. That is how Eat Offbeat started in 2015.

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Eat Offbeat is a social impact catering company that serves authentic meals made by talented refugees. They cater office lunches, happy hours, private parties and large conferences. The company’s goals are to introduce New Yorkers to real, authentic food products, to build bridges between those eating the food and the refugees who make it, and to flip the narrative to what it means to be a refugee. Most importantly, they focus on erasing the negative connotation around the word “refugee” and educating customers about the human beings behind the food at Eat Offbeat. Because of these refugees, Eat Offbeat is still able to be in business. The refugees themselves are the ones who come up with the recipes, and then are trained over a four to five month period in order to have the recipes standardized and scaled to feed larger groups of people for catering. Over 40 refugee chefs have been trained since Eat Offbeat began by exceptional people like Chef Juan, a Michelin star chef who works with Manal and her team to give each chef the kitchen skills needed to produce their dishes on a daily basis. In addition, these refugees take a lot of pride in their work. All of the dishes served include a small description and a picture of the chef who prepared it. It is part of the company’s mission to ensure that the refugees are being represented and are part of the consumer’s experience. Any dish served is served as a dish from a particular refugee, not the company itself. Giving the chef ownership of their dish restores dignity for an individual that has lost everything and has to start over again in a country separated from their family and friends.

But as in any business, challenges arise. When asked, Manal said her two biggest challenges are the margins on food being too low, and the perception of being a non-profit organization. From an investor’s point of view, Eat Offbeat is sometimes seen as a business that is less aggressive or less profitable because of having refugees as employees and being looked as a non-profit. From a customer’s point of view, the initial thought is usually “Oh, it’s a cute non-profit that supports refugees. They probably are too small to cater for us” (Manal). Manal finds that many customer assume they are a non-profit and can provide free food or discounted food for events or meals. However, she runs a business just like any other restaurant, so changing the way consumers see them is something her team is working on. However, Manal believes that despite these challenges, the impact the business has on the refugees they employ is worth the struggle. “All the effort, all the trouble and all the challenges are worth at the end of the day. Knowing customers are trying something completely new and exotic, and that they are happy motivates our chefs. They are kind of taking a step off the beaten path, and trying to be more open minded to where food comes from; connecting with our team, with immigrants and their status” (Manal).

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An open mind brings more opportunities. This is how Manal wants consumers to start thinking when connecting with her business. It is very important for her to build a personal connection between Eat Offbeat’s mission and the customers that order from them. Manal says, “for me, we have achieved our mission if someone tries chef Nazreen’s chicken and goes crazy for it, automatically associating Iran with that dish, rather than anything else they may have heard about Iran or what they think about Iran’s problems. So instead, when they think about Iran, they will think about Nazreen and how amazing the flavors of the chicken were. And how lovely Nazreen is, rather than any preconceived notions they may have had about the country” (Manal). Human connection beyond food is what many food businesses strive to have. These refugees learned in the kitchen with their mothers and grandmothers while most of us find inspiration through blogs and websites. Consumers today don’t have the personal connection that they once had with food, mainly because of the digital era we are in. It’s very rare to have a connection with the people that produce our food but that’s what Eat Offbeat is hoping to change. Manal wants to reconnect people with food and let them know more about who cooked the food arrives on their plates.

Eat Offbeat is a company where they shed light the skills of their refugees, rather than what their status represents. They are refugees by status, but chefs by nature.

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

 

This Recipe is on Fire: Our Grilled Summer Flatbread Pizza!

Pizza is one of our favorite food groups. It’s a staple item that can be eaten any time of year and is consistently delicious. No matter how you top it, if there’s a crispy crust and melted cheese, we’re in.

Which is why we’re so excited for this month’s recipe blog! We get to share our amazing flatbread pizza recipe that looks like it was created by a gourmet chef but really requires 7 ingredients and is ready in under 20 minutes. Oh yeah! So whether you’re looking for a quick meal or a fun way to spice up the menu at your next rooftop party, our Grilled Summer Flatbread Pizza is the perfect way to turn up the heat this month!

Grilled Summer Flatbread Pizza

Recipe serves 2 as a meal/3-4 as an appetizer

You’ll Need:

2 pieces naan (we used roasted garlic but plain works as well!)

1 ball Burrata cheese

1/2 cup fire roasted corn (you can buy frozen or char corn on the stove or grill)

1 bunch of asparagus

1 teaspoon fresh chopped parsley

handful of heirloom cherry tomatoes, sliced

arugula (for garnish)

Before you start cooking, you want to make sure that all of your ingredients are prepped, so we’ll start by blanching the asparagus! Bring a pot of water to a boil. Once boiling, add the asparagus and cook for 30-60 seconds. After 30-60 seconds, immediately remove from water and transfer to a bowl with ice water to stop the cooking process. Leave in ice water until you’re ready to use!

Once your asparagus is ready, start your pizza creation by grilling your naan. We used a cast iron grill pan but an outdoor grill is preferable! Grill the naan for two minutes on each side or until grill marks have been formed.

Next spread the burrata evenly on the naan and top with fire roasted corn, blanched asparagus, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes and arugula. Broil for approximately 3 minutes or until naan begins to brown and the cheese gets bubbly. Or, as an alternative, you can place directly on the grill until the cheese gets bubbly. Once at your desired crispiness, remove from grill and let cool. Serve with your favorite chilled beverage and enjoy!

Einat Admony, Owner of Taïm

This is Einat Admony, the owner of Taïm. Born in Israel, she grew up eating Yemenite and Persian food, in addition to Moroccan and Eastern European dishes. She was a curious girl that loved exploring, especially different cuisines and cultures. From a young age, Einat would always help her mother prepare the Shabbat dinner. When she turned eighteen, she served both as a driver and ad hoc cook in the Israeli Army, where she understood that cooking was her real passion and that it was something she would never get bored of. After spending a few months traveling, she came to New York City to begin her culinary career as a chef. 

Einat spent seven years working in different fine dining restaurants such as Patria, Bolo, Tabla and Danube in New York. Because she loves to travel and learn from other cultures, Einat knew the best way to immerse herself in these cultures was to work in restaurants with differing cuisines and familiarize herself with their dishes. These greater experiences made Einat want to start building an empire of her own. In 2005, she opened Taïm: a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant in the West Village. Realizing many people did not know exactly what Israeli/Jewish food looked like, Einat knew she had to change that. “Israeli food is much more colorful, full of flavors, with spices and layers of excitement that many people do not imagine it to be!”. That said, Taïm is the ultimate representation of how people should eat Middle Eastern/Mediterranean food!

Surprisingly enough, Einat mentions how easy it was to open her first Taïm location. It took Einat and her husband just a couple of months! As we all know, competition wasn’t as fierce and harsh as it is nowadays. And since she did not have any children yet, Einat and her husband had more flexibility on spending longer evenings at the restaurant and building the business.

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After seeing the extensive line of hungry customers craving more and more of her delicious falafel, Einat decided to expand to other locations in Nolita and Midtown. And when dreaming even bigger, Einat and her husband decided to explore nearby cities for growth. Both found that Washington D.C. could be the perfect hub to expand their business. Besides D.C. being very culturally well-rounded, its proximity to NYC made the most sense as to the expansion to a new state. 

So what is chef’s Einat hidden secret to Taïm’s success?! She mentions there are many in order to keep a busy restaurant running, but you always need a key differentiator to keep people coming. For Taïm, Einat is confident about her falafel! In Israel, according to Einat, eating falafel is as cheap as eating a slice of street pizza in NYC. She grew up being surrounded by it, especially because her mother would always make them. But when creating her own, it took her many months to perfect her recipe because she wanted it to be the item that Taïm is known for. Knowing the methods used to prepare the food as well as cook it was very important to her. For Einat, making falafel requires the freshest ingredients, the correct seasonings and flavors, the perfect amount of chickpeas, and the right texture – “crispy, crunchy on the outside but moist on the inside” (Taïm). There are many other restaurants that offer falafel, but many of them leave your plate filled with oil. This is a no-go at Taïm, where falafel are fried but to the precise moment where they don’t become greasy. To Einat, this is a very important difference, it provides customers with richly-flavored products while still keeping them healthy. 

Besides falafel,  Taïm serves a vast amount of other healthy, fresh menu options – many of which are vegan. Having vegan and vegetarian dishes for Einat is extremely important, as she wants to educate more consumers on the importance of cutting down on animal products for health and environmental reasons. Her focus on healthy dishes directly correlates Taïm’s identity of being “a vegetarian mecca, a vegan temple”. 

Educating customers about Israeli food and vegetarian choices as well as watching them enjoy her food and seeing the happiness that it brings them are the many rewards of the business, Einat says. With the amazing team she currently works with and her husband’s constant involvement, Einat is confident that she will be able to expand the business further as time goes on. Although it’s challenging to do so in NYC, due to the intense competition in the market, Einat says, ” if you make it in NYC’s market, you can scale up anywhere!”.

It is always easier to compete with others when doing something one loves and is passionate for like Einat with cooking. She is motivated to continue cooking and can’t imagine what it would be like if she couldn’t. Experimenting in the kitchen is what keeps her going; it is her fuel. Inspiration, she says, comes from multiple sources: colors, music, flowers and other food creations. One just needs to dig deep and find them!

 

 

Need catering for you and your team? Contact us!

 

Your Guide to Celebrating LDW in NYC!

When you think of LDW (Labor Day Weekend), the images of beaches and celebratory BBQs most often come to mind. But for others, LDW means watching the city empty out and enjoying all of the amazing parts of New York without the crowds. If a long weekend getaway isn’t accessible for you (which is the case for many New Yorkers), there are still plenty of ways to enjoy the days that are dedicated to acknowledging the contributions of workers throughout the country.

From food and drinks to live sporting events, it’s easy to find activities to take part in with friends and family while you say goodbye to summer and prepare for fall. Here are a few ways for you to celebrate LDW like a true New Yorker!

Eat, Drink and Be Merry at Maison Premiere: Many restaurants extend their happy hours or offer discounts on food over Labor Day Weekend but our favorite way to celebrate is at Maison Premiere in Brooklyn. Opening at noon on Labor Day, enjoy live jazz, fresh seafood and BBQ specials while sipping on delicious drinks. To check out all of the details and make a reservation, click here!

Watch the Classics at The Met’s Live in HD Festival: The Summer HD Festival hosted by The Metropolitan Opera runs from August 23rd to September 2nd and features ten amazing performances, including Aida, Carmen and Luisa Miller. Join over 3,000 of your closest friends and neighbors (not kidding) as they watch the music come to life. Bonus: it’s free! Check out the full line up of performances here.

Experience the West Indian Day Parade: There ain’t no party like the West Indian Day Parade party… which also happens to fall on Labor Day! This parade is the culmination of New York Caribbean Carnival Week, ending with a seven hour carnival that runs down Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. It’s the perfect way to celebrate the end of summer while immersing yourself in Caribbean culture AND some amazing costumes!

Attend a U.S. Open Match: The U.S. Open Tennis Championships start on August 26th bringing the best tennis players in the world to Queens. With multiple games going on each day, you have plenty of options to fit this thrilling tournament into your schedule. Need recommendations for where to eat while you’re there? We got you covered.

Take a Dip in Astoria Park!: Sometimes you just gotta beat the heat. And if you’re looking to cool off anywhere, make it at the Astoria Park pool. The largest swimming pool in NYC, it’s conveniently located under the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge and walking distance to some of the best bars and restaurants that Astoria has to offer. But don’t miss your chance- it closes for the season on September 8th!