Taste of Montclair 2016: A Toast to Fabulous Food, Community & Charity

Dolce FedericaMonday evening was made for success as the Montclair Rotary Club and MC Hotel presented the 5th Annual Taste of Montclair this year— one of the city’s largest and most notable food charity events. Since inception, the excitement and following grows, with 2016 topping off at over 400 patrons!

Organizers chose The Manor in West Orange, as the place to be for this year’s yummy soiree—an invitation I happily accepted. Once inside, the umbrella weather was quickly forgotten. The recently renovated 60 year-old landmark perfectly complemented the impressive lineup;  53 food crafters filled two rooms with delectable bites and amazing sips—a  reflection of Montclair’s generosity and diverse culinary appetite.

Stellar chefs, top confectionary talent, restaurateurs, food and beverage brands all showed off their very best for several wonderful charities, including: SOFIA, Succeed 2gether, TONI’s Kitchen, The Montclair Inn and many more.

There’s no doubt, the spring food scene is bubbling with talent, exciting new things on the menu—and you are going to love it!  Here’s a glimpse of the evening’s trends, talent and tasty fare:

GRASS FED. GLUTEN FREE.

Samba Montclair

Samba Montclair

Samba Restaurant in Montclair does it again with something so delicious, I think it’s fair to say— Eu quero de novo! Owner and Brazilian born, Ilson Goncalves, has been in the restaurant business since he was ten years old—and it shows. Samba debuted dreamy flavorful pillows of gluten free yucca starch gnocchi in a spicy ground beef ragu. Ilson described the “Samba experience” very simply: “I’m from Santa Caterina and this is authentic Brazilian home-cooking, just like your mother would make.” Newsflash: Samba needs to be my adoptive mother—and I’m sure, with every bite, patrons felt just the same.

Chef James DeSisto of Laboratorio Kitchen- Taste of Montclair 2016

Chef James DeSisto of Laboratorio Kitchen- Taste of Montclair 2016

Next up: James DeSisto’s, Laboratorio Kitchen. I first visited the restaurant in September of 2015 and fell in love with their homemade lump crabmeat stuffed ravioli. And on this special occasion, DeSisto did not disappoint, with a beautiful charred watermelon and arugula salad, drizzled with vanilla bean dressing, along with steak crostini gorgonzola. The consensus on the tasting floor was none other than delicious. Can’t wait to see the rest of their spring menu!

And if you welcome getting stuffed, then Stuffed Burger is the way to go! Founder and Montclair native, Dan Campeas, is a young entrepreneur on a grass fed beef mission. Dan spoke of quality, saying, “Once I went grass fed, I never went back…it’s important to keep things light”—and patrons just couldn’t get enough of their juicy grass fed burgers. Dan’s favorite: the Montclair Blue Burger stuffed with blue cheese, chipotle aioli, and sautéed mushrooms! So good!

CREATIVITY MEETS QUALITY

Over a yummy tomato fennel soup with kale pumpkin seed pesto, I met a renaissance woman. Montclair based, private chef, Jane Yagoda, a familiar face at the farmer’s market and owner of A Gardener’s Kitchen, is a gem. She started in food at the age of 13 as a self proclaimed “restaurant brat”, was a former Food Editor for Ladies’ Home Journal, recipe developer—and now has gone solo. Lucky us! This private chef has her own line of packaged granola at Whole Foods too! Ingredients are local, organic, and just plain phenomenal.

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Assorted Chocolates- courtesy of Dolce Federica

And just when I thought the love fest was coming to an end, I discovered a chocolate paradise straight out of Luisa Spagnoli’s, Perugina workshop. Federica Heiman, Owner and Chocolatier of Dolce Federica, is as sweet as her company name. Jewels of the table included a beautifully decorated chocolate Easter egg—a nod to the classic Italian, uovo di pasqua, and a gorgeous assortment of delectable European chocolates with Italian influence. Federica tantalizes with prosecco, limoncello, pistachio from Bronte (Sicily’s “green gold”), hazelnuts from Piemonte, olive oils and even balsamic vinegar. Every bite was irresistibly authentic—a true mark of European craftsmanship. Federica’s fine creations are available online. Locals rejoice; she also conducts private events! Complimenti Federica!

COMFORT FOOD. CUSTOM CAKES. GADGET GURUS

Kimmy's Kakes- Full shotHailing from East Hanover, Andrew Blume, Owner of Two Men and an Appetite presented the most delicious General Tso Meatballs and an artful display of crudité!  “Presentation is important”, said Blume. “You eat with your eyes—but it has to taste good”.  And it certainly did! Custom online cake designer, Kimmy Buchanan of Kimmy’s Kakes was also there, luring patrons to a heavenly display of red velvet “kake pops” and a three-tiered fondant cake. Kimmy’s sweet story began with buttercream, an artistic streak, and a Wilton’s cake decorating class. The rest is genuine love for making people happy. Mission accomplished Kimmy!

Keeping it sweet, Brooklyn native, Anthony Lauro and business partner, Phil Byrne served up their best cheesecakes from Anthony’s Cheesecake in Bloomfield. What started out as a specialty cheesecake shop now serves breakfast, lunch, dinner twice a week and Sunday brunch. Check them out!

Next stop, Greece— or as close as it gets this side of the Atlantic. Owner, Angela Nissirios of Stamna Greek Taverna spoke of her island home, Karpathos and offered Spanakopita, Greek styled shrimp, Garides Saganaki and heavenly Moussaka! Thank you Stamna! Ευχαριστώ!

And with all of this food, let’s not forget the genius behind some of our kitchen’s best tools. Joining the fun was Hipatia Lopez, inventor of Empanada Fork, a pastry press utensil used for empanadas, apple turnovers and calzones. Talk about a time saver! Empanada forks can be found at Chef Central in Paramus and other restaurant equipment supply stores.

LOCAL SPIRITS WITH SPIRIT

Jersey Artisan Distillery

Jersey Artisan Distillery

Joyce of Jersey Artisan Distilling showed off gluten free whisky. As of today, the Fairfield based company is one of only four distilleries in the country offering a gluten free alternative. Heading to the beach this summer? Look out for their rum sorbet! Gin, spiced rum and absynthe are also in development.  Stay tuned folks; these guys are good!

And speaking of summer, Owner Ed Gangi of Cricket Hill Brewery had me swooning over their Jersey Summer Breakfast Ale. It just came out a month ago and with several hundred retailers and restaurants like Egans carrying this seasonal treat, you’ll have to taste the yumminess for yourself!

Last but not least, Owner, Joe Caruso of Focus Wines shared his very best Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, but more importantly the story behind the brand. Caruso and his two children were born with congenital cataracts. Maintaining vision is a continuous battle, one full of surgeries, therapy and amazing support from several premiere children’s hospitals. The wholesaler donates 10% of  net profits to these institutions and has even named his wines after his daughters, doctors and other inspiring patients.

Stories like Joe Caruso’s remind us of all the good-hearted people dedicated to making this world a better place. We witness this year after year in some of the most hardworking local charities and non-profit organizations—the real stars and very motivation behind Taste of Montclair.

Cynthia Walker, founder and executive director of S.O.F.I.A (Start out Fresh Intervention Advocates) was full of gratitude on their second year as a donation recipient. The organization, dedicated to eradicating domestic violence, has seen an increase in abuse cases, yet also a willingness to seek help. Walker blames the economy, stating “It’s unfortunate…but the key is for us to be patient and available when the time comes”. Cynthia encourages those who receive assistance to become certified domestic violence advocates and help others through their struggles. To date, SOFIA has a team of 15 advocates and 20-30 volunteers. Donations are vital to center operations, direct marketing costs, and recently aided in hiring part-time help. This spring’s programs include Motivational and Financial Empowerment Workshops, free to the community every Saturday. SOFIA’s 6th Annual Walk against domestic violence is set for September 10th in Canterbury Park. All are invited to attend!

Also present, Myrna Marcarian, Director of Development at Succeed 2gether—an organization providing community support and meeting the daily educational needs of low-income families. Programs include: After-School Tutoring, Math and Literacy Workshops, and their Summer Enrichment Program. This spring’s calendar is full of children’s programs, including violin, drum circle and sports math class, plus an important fundraiser in April! Parents too can benefit from this summer’s workshop—Mindfulness: Taking Time for What Matters.

If you missed this year’s festivities, do not panic—there’s plenty more fun coming right up! All Taste of Montclair Restaurants are invited to participate in the Spring Montclair Restaurant Week, April 9 – 17, 2016. Plus, mark your calendars…Taste of Montclair is already booked for March 13, 2017 and we can’t wait! Cheers to all!

Links of interest:

Taste of Montclair

Montclair Rotary

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