Back in the day, Martha Stewart’s kitchens — the small one on Saugatuck Avenue, then the glamorous, made-for-TV Newtown Turnpike space — put Westport on the culinary map.
A new kitchen concept may soon get us back there. And it’s got a Martha connection.
C&K Community Kitchen is a collaborative, community incubator kitchen. Launched through Cabbages & Kings Catering — Sarah Gross’ renowned business — it supports the use of organic, non-GMO, locally sourced products and services.
It nurtures anyone inspired by that movement by offering affordable, certified commercial kitchen space, rented in 8-hour shifts.
And it’s available 24/7/365.
A core of folks are already excited by Gross’ venture: an organic frozen soup maker, a gluten-free baker, a maker of potato omelets who is creating a frozen version to bring to market, a cooking teacher, and a local food retailer needing a kitchen to create more substantial offerings for its stores.
Others who have contacted Gross about using the kitchen include a how-to-cook filmmaker, a farmer considering new products, 2 people hoping to create a meal delivery service, jam and canned good makers, a chef who wants to make his very popular grilling sauce organic, and an organic bone broth maker who would like to offer his healthy option to the world.
“We’re open to any and all inquiries,” Gross says.
Gross is well known to everyone here who eats. A Westport native and Staples class of 1970 graduate trained as a fine arts painter (with a master’s in psychology), her mother’s kitchen and dining room were often filled with great artists, poets, authors and editors.
After college, she answered an ad for a new retail establishment: The Market Basket. It was Martha Stewart’s 1st venture.
Gross’ talents evolved. She eventually managed Stewart’s catering business.
The idea for C&K Community Kitchen dates back to those early Market Basket days. In addition to Gross, Stewart hired locals like Dale Lamberty (who went on to found Great Cakes) and Audrey Doniger (who launched her famous lemon bars there).
Gross herself made desserts after hours in the prep kitchen, for Soup’s On. When owner Sue Fine moved, she offered Gross her Saugatuck Avenue space.
Cabbages & Kings Catering grew quickly. Gross has served fabulous food and managed events all over Connecticut and New York. Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are among the many diners who have enjoyed her meals.
Yet after more than 40 years in the industry, Gross realized what needed to change.
“The more aware I became of the pollution of the mainstream food system, the more difficult it became for me to service my clients with the quality I was known for, without totally revamping how I work,” she says.
She closed her Saugatuck Avenue kitchen, but kept her facility nearby. She could not give up her beloved 3-bay refrigerator and freezer, stove and sinks.
Though she wanted to support what she knew to be “good and true” in relation to food, Gross also realized that with today’s extensive rules and regulations, she could not have started out today the way she did in the 1970s.
So she’s keeping her kitchen alive, in a 21st-century form: a collaborative community incubator kitchen.
She’s giving anyone who cannot afford a certified kitchen the legal space to produce organic, non-GMO, locally sourced, regenerative food — and get it into the marketplace, for others to enjoy.
“I want everyone to experience, accelerate and champion the kind of world I want to be a part of, and share,” Gross says.
(To learn more about the community kitchen, call 203-226-0531. She offers a 10% monthly discount to the first 6 applicants who meet the required criteria, and commit to 1 or more shifts weekly for 6 months.)