Tag Archives: Bill Taibe

Roundup: Staples Tennis, Wakeman Town Farm, Stop & Shop …

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Congratulations to the Staples High School boys and girls tennis teams! Both are state champions!

The boys of coach Kris Hrisovulos defeated Westhill 7-0 yesterday, clinching their 5th straight — yes, 5th (!) — state “LL” (extra large schools) championship. They finished the season 22-1, shutting out all 4 state tournament opponents. Their only loss was to Darien, in the FCIAC final.

Singles winners yesterday were Tighe Brunetti, Robbie Daus, Brandon Felcher and Lucas Haymes. Doubles victors were Bradley Sheppard/Luke Brodsky, Alex Miller/Jack Motyl, and Matthew Chiang/Josh Suggs.

The 2021 state champion boys tennis team.

The girls of coach Paco Fabian beat Amity 4-3, for their 3rd straight title. Jenna Kornbluth’s 6-4, 6-1 victory at #4 singles clinched the match, after everyone else had finished.

Other victors for Staples: Karenna Birns (singles) and Elle Tesoriero/Audrey Kercher, and Carine Geijerstam/Maya Farber (doubles).

The 2021 state champion girls tennis team (Photo courtesy of The Ruden Report)=======================================================

Work continued on Railroad Place this morning.

During repaving, all the restaurant structures were removed. That’s done, and now all 3 restaurants — Harvest, Tarantino’s and Romanacci will be open this weekend.

In related news, Romanacci has taken over the former Commuter Coffee location It’s now a full restaurant, with bar.

Outdoors or in, Railroad Place is the place to be. And with reduced train travel, there’s plenty of parking nearby!

(Photo/Matthew Mandell)

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Your kid may not be a career farmer. But Wakeman Town Farm’s 2-week summer service program for 6th through 9th graders is a great outdoor, hands-on opportunity to learn about the land. And become more self-reliant and independent in the process.

Participants plant, water and harvest vegetables to be donated to local food pantries. Representatives from those agencies visit WTF, and discuss food insecurity in the area.

Teens and chefs also cook a nutritious meal for the Gillespie Center, using  the Farm’s organic produce. They also run their own farm stand.

Students get to know the rabbits, ducks, chicken, sheep, goats and alpacas. They learn about animal care, feeding and halter training.

The program also explores environmental topics like composting, pollinator gardens and the Zero Waste initiative.

There are 4 sessions, each 2 weeks long. For more information, click here. To register, click here.

Who can resist a summer program like this?

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Mark Mathias spotted this at Stop & Shop yesterday:

(Photo/Mark Mathias)

Actually, the photo shows something that is not there.

Look closely. The supermarket has removed all those one-way directional arrows, which no one has followed for at least the past 10 months (if they ever did).

Stop & Shop is not the only place getting back to the pre-pandemic normal. Trader Joe’s shoppers no longer have to queue up, and be directed to a cashier; we’re now free to find our own, just as we did before March 2020.

And the Westport Weston Family YMCA has removed the absurd red tape on the stairs, demarcating the up and down sides. The staircase is way too narrow to have any effect.

What have you seen? Click “Comments” below.

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Tomorrow’s “Songs for a Summer Evening: Music that Made Movies Magical” YouTube video benefits the Norwalk Sister City Project, a non-profit doing incredible community development work in a poor Nicaragua barrio.

But there’s a heavy Westport presence n the video. Broadway icon Kelli O’Hara, Staples Players stars Jamie Mann and Bridget Looby, and Emily Rabon Hall and her dad Bill Hall all join together to share the magic of music from the movies. Tom Kretsch is president of NSCP, and has worked with Bill Hall to create the video.

Click here for the link to the 7:30 video (and to donate), or click the link below:

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The Westport Library’s Summer Reading Challenge is underway.

The 5th annual program — designed for adults — includes 25 categories of books. After reading one, submit it on a special web page. Then track your progress on the leaderboard.

Chalk up those categories. NOTE: Each book can be used for only one category. Click here for details.

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Rae Suba’s family owns the Post Road storefront near Tiffany. She runs the Child’s Play occupational therapy center on the 2nd floor. Currently, the ground floor is vacant.

But now — just in time for tomorrow’s Pride rally, and at one of the most visible spots in town — she’s decorated it with rainbows.

She says, “It is my humble honor as a forever LGBTQIA+ ally to create this window display, in an effort to rise to the Westport Pride words: ‘Elevate. Educate. Empower.’

“These children, teens and adults deserve visibility, respect, hope, inspiration and kindness. Happy Pride Month Everyone! 🌈🌈LOVE WINS🌈🌈Compassion and empathy will save humanity. Namaste. 🙏🏼

“My clinic will always be a safe space for children, teens and young adults who are LGBTQIA+. Thank you to my family for letting me use the building display window.”

46 Main Street

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Around the corner on Jesup Green from Tiffany and Rae Suba’s rainbow storefront, Westport Book Shop has become one of Westport’s hottest destinations — and not just for used books.

Every month, a different artist is featured at the Drew Friedman Community Arts wall in the back. For June, the artist is Holly Hawthorn.

Her porcelain sculptures reflect her love of the ocean and beaches, and incorporate seashells gathered over many years of walks on beaches from Maine to Greece.

Holly is a sculptor, printmaker ceramic artist and former teacher. She studied art in the US, Italy and Greece.

The exhibit is open during the Book Shop’s business hours:  Tuesdays through Fridays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m.

Holly Hawthorn, with her Westport Book Shop art.

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Speaking of art: George Billis Gallery hosts an opening reception on Friday, June 18 (146 Main Street, 4 to 7 p.m.).

New artists include Westport-based Jarvis Wilcox. The gallery says: “His lush still life paintings are poetic with much emotional connections stimulating the viewer. Wilcox brings delight and insight as he discovers seeing and then making his works of art.”

Also in the exhibit: watercolorists Derek Buckner Paul Pitsker, still life artist Julian Cardinal and ceramicist Alice Federico.

“Cherries with Silver Cup” (Jarvis WIlcox)

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Bill Taibe is branching out.

The owner of 3 very popular Westport restaurants — Don Memo, Kawa Ni and The Whelk — is opening a cafe in the new Norwalk Art Space (455 West Avenue). The breakfast and lunch menu includes flour water salt and Idylwild breads, Riverbank Farm kimchee, and barbecue smoked turkey.

Bill Taibe and staff at the Norwalk Art Space.

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Suzuki Music Schools is back to in-person learning. To celebrate, they’re hosting a free concert in the Colonial Green parking lot (246 Post Road East).

The program next Tuesday (June 8) includes great music — and food vendors.

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And finally … the Suzuki concert (above) sounds great. Hopefully, the young musicians will sound almost as good as this.

Roundup: Beach, Pool, Golf And Tennis News; #ILoveWestport; Lucky Grad; Fireworks; More


Here’s the latest update from Westport Parks & Rec:

Starting Wednesday, July 1, lifeguards will staff Compo and Burying Hill beaches from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. All regular beach rules will be enforced, in addition to all COVID-19 rules. Boogie boards and skim boards are permitted.

The Longshore pools will remain closed, due to state restrictions and limited staffing resources.

Parks and Rec director Jennifer Fava says her department “will continue to monitor the guidance from the state, Should restrictions ease, and we can staff appropriately, we will reevaluate the possibility of opening the pool complex.”

Starting tomorrow (Saturday, June 27), 2 players may share a golf cart. Both must wear face coverings in the cart, and the same person must drive the cart the entire time. Exception: members of the same household are not required to wear face covering in a cart, and valid drivers may alternate.

Also starting tomorrow, all tennis courts at Longshore, Staples High School, Town Farm and Doubleday (behind Saugatuck School) are open for both singles and doubles play. All platform tennis and pickleball courts are open for singles and doubles too.


During the lockdown, town officials emphasized: “We’re all in this together.”

That’s the message during reopening too. To drive it home, they asked a variety of people to make personal promises for keeping everyone healthy.

Anthony John Rinaldi taped those promises. He’s making them into a series of videos, all tagged #ILoveWestport.

In the first one, restaurant owner Bill Taibe promises to keep cooking. Farmers’ Market director Lori McDougall promises to support local vendors. Police Chief Foti Koskinas promises to keep Westporters safe.

There are more too, in this quick video — including a special “06880” appearance. Click below to see.


Like many Westporters, Serkan Elden kept his “Proud Family of 2020 Staples High School Graduate” sign up, even after the ceremony 2 weeks ago. He is justifiably proud of his daughter Deniz, a great member of the senior class that went through so much this year.

Someone else is proud too.

The other day Deniz found an envelope in the Eldens’ mailbox. It was addressed simply: “The Graduate.”

Inside she found a note: “Congratulations 2020! Hope this is a Winner! Good Luck. From, Anonymous Lyons Plain Rd. Neighbor.”

Attached was a Double Match lottery scratch card.

She did not win. 🙁 But odds are good that this is a gift Deniz will remember long after the coronavirus is history.


If you missed last weekend’s “Stand Up (At Home) for Homes with Hope” comedy show — no problem.

An encore presentation is set for Wednesday (July 1, 8 p.m.). Four very funny comedians joined Staples grad/noted songwriter Justin Paul for a wonderful hour of entertainment.

Click here to register. And if you saw the show the first time around, you’ll receive an automatic link to watch again.


 

There are no 4th of July fireworks at Compo Beach this year.

And, the Westport Fire Department warns, there should be none anywhere in town.

The note that all fireworks are illegal in Connecticut, expect sparklers and fountains.

Also illegal: items like party poppers, snakes, smoke devices, sky lanterns and anything that emits a flame. Possessing or exploding illegal devices could result in a fine or jail.

Note too: Extremely dry conditions make it easy for fireworks, sparklers and fountains to cause brush fires.


And finally … as other states find themselves in the same situation Connecticut was in 2 months ago, we here are thinking of our friends around the nation.

Meals Go Straight To First Responders

Last night, Nicole Straight sat home feeling anxious.

Her daughter — suddenly home from college — was working a volunteer shift at EMS.

Food Rescue US — the app that uses volunteer drivers to move food that would otherwise be thrown away by restaurants to shelters, kitchens and pantries, and which Nicole runs locally — had gotten slammed. Longtime generous donors were suddenly shutting down.

As she chatted with a friend — an ER nurse at Norwalk Hospital — Nicole had an idea. What if she could get meals from a local restaurant, and bring them to first responders?

She called Bill Taibe — owner of The Whelk, Jesup Hall and Kawa Ni, who had just announced an end to in-house dining. He was happy to help.

Nicole told him to make whatever he wanted, and pack it individually. She’d bring it to Westport EMS.

Bill calculated the cost at $15 a meal. Nicole posted that information on Facebook. She hoped to get enough donations so she would not have to cover 50 meals — $750 — herself.

Since last night, almost $6,000 has poured in.

Old Post Tavern in Fairfield asked if they could help. An ICU nurse from Norwalk Hospital said her crew would love a meal.

Nicole’s daughter contacted the crew chief from Norwalk EMS. Tomorrow, they and the ICU unit will get 70 meals, courtesy of Old Post Tavern.

Nicole is also setting up meals for Trumbull EMS, Bridgeport Hospital’s ER and ICU, and Bridgeport’s Harding High School Adversity to Prosperity program, which keeps at-risk youth off the streets and involved in sports.

She is looking for first responders who’d like a meal, and restaurants who would like to help (and be paid, of course).

Meanwhile, Nicole is setting up a GoFundMe page, so other communities can also support both restaurants and first responders.

Until then, people can Venmo @nicole-straight. She’ll buy meals from local restaurants — and bring them to first responders around Fairfield County — as long as she can.

Crew chief Rob Pocius accepts a special delivery at Westport EMS.

Restaurants Take Drastic Steps; Savvy + Grace Closes Temporarily

First it was schools. Then the library, Town Hall and Y. Last night, it was the beaches and Compo playground.

Now, COVID-19 is rippling through our restaurants.

Yesterday, Bill Taibe closed his 3 restaurants — The Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall — for in-house dining.

Takeout meals are available through curbside pick-up. If you can’t leave the house — or don’t want to — they’ll deliver. It may take some time how to do it, Taube says, “but we’ll figure it out. Everybody’s got to eat!

“We feel this is necessary in order to do our part to help stop the spread of this virus,” says the owner of 3 of Westport’s most popular dining spots.

“If there’s ever a time to tip, this is it,” he adds.

For the time being, the doors to The Whelk will be closed. (Photo courtesy of Our Town Crier)

While not closing, other restaurants are taking their own measures during the pandemic.

Pearl at Longshore — which recently hired a new chef, reworked the menu and remodeled the interior — has removed some tables, creating more distance between diners. They offer 10% off on takeout orders, and will bring it outside for pickup.

Pearl at Longshore has made changes….

In addition to also removing tables, offering curbside pick-up and delivery (within 3 miles), Rizzuto’s has removed items like flowers and salt and pepper shakers from all tables. They’re printing menus on lightweight paper for single use. too.

… and so has Rizzuto’s …

The Boathouse has added curbside pick-up, and will soon offer delivery.

… and the Boathouse, at the Saugatuck Rowing Club.

They — and every other restaurant in town — have strengthened existing health policies, and implemented new ones, such as washing hands upon arrival at work; before and after serving or removing food and beverages; before resetting tables, and after every customer interaction, including credit card processing. They’ve also expanded and enhanced their cleaning and disinfecting protocols.

Restaurants also encourage patrons to buy gift cards. They provide much-needed cash now — particularly for small, great places like Jeera Thai — and can be used whenever you feel comfortable going inside.

PS: It’s not just restaurants. Customers can call Calise’s Market (203-227-3257). They’ll put together hot foods, soups, sandwiches, cold cuts, homemade pizzas, drinks, snacks, milk, water, bread, eggs, butter, dry goods — whatever you want  — all for curbside service or delivery.

Sandra Calise-Cenatiempo reports they just stocked up on pasta, sauces and many canned goods. Tomorrow (Monday) they’ll start making dishes that can be frozen.

If you own a restaurant — or store — and would like “06880” readers to know what you’re doing, click “Comments” below.


But restaurants are not the only small businesses reeling from COVID-19.

Savvy + Grace — the great, locally own downtown unique gifts-and-more store — will close for a while. But only the doors.

Owner Annette Norton — Main Street’s biggest booster — says:

As a small business owner I have been grappling with how to handle this.

I am responsible for the rent, vendor bills, expenses, yet with all of the information I am collection, it pales in comparison with our community’s health. Therefore, I have decided to close until further notice.

I will be inside, alone, processing all of our new merchandise for spring. Which, by the way, allows me to offer curbside delivery and call-ins, or direct message me on Instagram for shipping: @savvyandgracewestport. You can also call the store: 203-221-0077.

My store has always been, and always will be, about putting my customers first. This too shall pass.

I just want to do what is responsible, given the information available. It has been my pleasure to serve this community, and I am committed to seeing this through.

See you soon. Stay healthy!

Savvy + Grace, a jewel on Main Street. (Photo/Lynn Untermeyer Miller)

Westport Means Business

Those are not just words. “Westport Means Business” is the name of an ongoing series of events bringing together local business owners — and those who hope to be — to share, learn from and support each other.

“Westport Means Business” is about connections, not competition.

Last year’s inaugural session included Julie Fountain and Dana Noorily, founders of The Granola Bar; Jamie Camche, longtime owner of JL Rocks jewelry store, and Kitt Shapiro, whose 2-year-old West is already an established downtown presence.

The next event is tomorrow (Thursday, January 9, 7 p.m., Westport Library Forum; networking begins at 6:30 p.m.).

Panelists include Bill Taibe, executive chef and owner of The Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall; JoyRide’s CEO and co-owner Becky Cerroni and co-founder and chief brand officer Amy Hochhauser, and Maria Pooya, founder and CEO of Greenwich Medical Spa.

All are local residents. All own multiple-location businesses. All are very different. But their focus on community, generosity and success crosses all boundaries.

Last year’s topic — “Jumping Off” — explored the moment the women decided to start their own businesses. This year it’s “Lessons Learned”: sharing advice on what to do — and not do.

Jen Tooker — Westport’s 2nd selectman, whose portfolio includes speaking with local business owners — will once again moderate. As she did last year, she will encourage panelists to tell their stories.

And suggest what our town can do better, to help local businesses.

Tooker says that feedback she’s heard falls in 3 general areas. One is that we have a successful and vibrant local business community. But owners want ways to meet, learn from, challenge, support and cross-promote each other.

Another is that among our many talented residents, many men and women are looking to start second, third, even fourth careers. How can we capitalize on this talent pool, and connect them with others who have already started businesses?

A third area is that Connecticut has a reputation of being anti-business. How can we turn this narrative around, and highlight our diverse, vibrant business community?

“I’m inspired by every local business owner I meet,” Tooker says. “I can’t wait to continue celebrating our business community. We’re partnering with the Westport Library on this, and are working together with the herculean efforts of the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Merchants Association. Just as we want Westport to be a great place to live and raise a family, it can also be a great place to start and grow a business.”

“Westport Means Business” plans 3 panels this year, and monthly podcasts.

Thursday’s event is free, and open to all. Pre-registration is not mandatory, but click here for a link so that organizers can get a sense of numbers.

Menu Moments: What To Eat At Kawa Ni

Kawa Ni (Japanese for “on the river”) is an Asian-inspired establishment. They serve a wide array of drinks and food in a cozy interior. It’s a casual setting for an after-work get-together with co-workers, or a destination for friends and family.

Though a Japanese-style restaurant, chef/owner Bill Taibe, and his brother and fellow chef Jeff Taibe, draw inspiration from other Asian cuisines (notably Vietnamese, Chinese and Korean).

As a nod to the Japanese-style pub called “izakaya,” Kawa Ni specializes in many small plates, a few one-dish entree portions with rice or noodles, and an impressive variety of sake, other alcoholic beverages and teas. Westport-based nutritionist, Heather Bauer serves up her top healthy picks below.

Bill Taibe (right) and his Kawa Ni staff.

Heather’s Tips

Kawa Ni does not do special requests (except for edamame), so plan your day around dinner; eat clean at breakfast and lunch. Be sure to drink your daily water allotment by 3 p.m., to help your body handle the extra sodium at dinner.

Kimchi — a traditional Korean food made from fermented cabbage — is served as a condiment or on the side. Since it’s fermented, this food helps improve gut bacteria, lowers cholesterol, boosts your immune system, reduces inflammation, and has antibacterial properties.

Pickled kelp is another highly nutritious Asian food rich in vitamins K and A, iodine, calcium, iron and more.

Appetizers

  • Share edamame (request butter on side) and shishito
  • Choose one appetizer (green papaya salad) for yourself.

Entrees

  • Hamachi ochazuke
    • Sliced raw fish over chilled yuzu dashi (no carbs)
  • Kani crab salad
    • While this hass a mayo base, it’s not a carb. Plus it’s so good!
  • Hamachi sashimi appetizer.

Add side veggies to an entree:

  • Tsukemono (pickled vegetables, kimchi)
  • Shaved broccoli miso goma
  • Pickled kelp.

Farmers’ Market Serves Up Top Chef Battle

The Westport Farmers’ Market is 12 years old — and wildly popular.

Every Thursday from May through November throngs fill the Imperial Avenue parking lot, on a hunt for fresh produce, meat and fish, baked goods, even pizza, tacos and dog food.

But the Market always looks to add spice to its spices, herbs and more.

So — even though the Westport Farmers’ Market is a community celebration, not a competition — they’re introducing a Chef of the Market contest.

Starting this Thursday — and running once a month through the fall — 12 well-known names battle it out through an opening round, semifinals and finals. The winner will be, I guess, the chief chef.

The brainchild of board member — and no-slouch-himself chef Bill Taibe — works like this.

On the 3rd Thursday of each month, 3 chefs go head-to-head-to-head.

At 10 a.m., they get $20. They have 45 minutes to shop for ingredients, cook, and present their appetizer-size dish to the judges. PS: Electricity is not allowed.

In keeping with the fun theme, judges are randomly selected from any shopper who wants to participate.

In 2015, chefs prepared a recipe at the Westport Farmers’ Market. This year, they’ll compete against others. (Photo/Oliver Parini)

The first round runs through August. The winner of each group moves on to the semifinals, the 3rd Thursday in September.

Finals are set for “Fork it Over,” the Westport Farmers’ Market annual October fundraiser.

All chefs donate one $50 gift certificate from their restaurant. The winner gets every gift card — so he can enjoy his competitors’ meals yet not pay for them — along with other prizes.

The early chefs — particularly those tomorrow — have it tough. They can’t choose from flavorful snap peas, strawberries or squash. However, Taibe is sure they’ll do imaginative, tasty things with this month’s bounty, like radishes and kale.

Fresh produce is one of the Westport Farmer’s Market’s most popular attractions. Chefs competing in this year’s competition know exactly how to prepare it. But can they shop for it — and finish their dish — in just 45 minutes?

All 12 chefs gathered at the Market last week, to pick their dates out of a hat.

There was already smack talk — including between the chefs at Taibe’s own Whelk, Kawa Ni and Jesup Hall, all of whom are competing. Other Westport chefs represent The Cottage, OKO, Match Lobster Burger and Amis.

There’s chatter on social media too.

Starting Thursday, the rest of us can see where it all leads.

Let the Chef of the Market games begin!

Chef competitors include: May 24, Geoff Lazlo, Ben Freemole, Christian Wilki; (June 21) Matt Storch, Jeff Taibe, Adam Roytman; (July 19), Jonas/Brad, Anthony Kostelis, Anthony Rinaldi; (August 16) Nick Martschenko, Dan Sabia, Carlos Baez.

Food For Thought: Farmers’ Market Helps Veterans, Chefs Grow

Farmers’ markets are cool. They usually have fresh produce. Shopping there boosts local economies. It’s hassle-free and homey.

The Westport Farmers’ Market is that — and much, much more. It’s dynamic, constantly evolving, and a true community event.

One element contributing to all that is programming. There are demonstrations, projects, and ongoing partnerships.

One of the most creative and meaningful is called Farmers to Veterans to Community. The program gives military vets affiliated with Homes for the Brave in Bridgeport a chance to prepare farm-fresh food under the guidance of WFM’s vast chef network.

Homes for the Brave helps homeless men and women, and their families, attain housing and learn life skills.

Through the Farmers’ Market, veterans learn about the health benefits of local food — and job opportunities with area restaurants. It’s a win-win-win — for vets, farmers and restaurateurs.

Of course, it helps the entire community — and economy — too.

FVC began 2 months ago, with 6 women. Chef Jennifer Balin — a Westporter who owns Sugar & Olives, just over the Norwalk line — and chef Dan Sabia of Jesup Hall pioneered the program. They shop at the indoor farmers’ market, then bring ingredients to the kitchen at the women’s home. They demonstrate cooking techniques. Then, at dinner, they share recipes, and discuss life skills and employment opportunities. One job may already be in the works.

Chef Dan Sabia of Jesup Hall explains his technique.

More dinners are planned for February. Chefs Geoff Lazlo, Bill Taibeand Matt Storch, along with food blogger Liz Rueven, will participate.

Westport Farmers’ Market executive director Lori Cochran-Dougall is justly proud of her creative programming. But, she admits, Farmers to Veterans to Community is special.

“This puts to work — literally — our values of giving back ot the community, by helping those who have given so much of themselves,” she says.

What a wonderful recipe for success!

(The winter Westport Farmers’ Market runs every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Gilbertie’s Herb Gardens, 7 Sylvan Lane. For more information click here, or email director@westportfarmersmarket.com)

Chef Jennifer Balin’s delicious table, at Homes for the Brave.

Aw, Shoot!

Keep your eye on Josh  Suggs and Samantha Henske.

Thanks to their own keen eyes, both were double winners in the 3rd annual Young Shoots student digital photography contest.

The joint effort of the Westport Arts Center and Westport Farmers’ Market shows off local talent — and the color and vibrancy of local farms.

Over 70 photos were submitted by youngsters ages 8 to 18, from across Fairfield County. Subject matter ranged from rhubarb to honey bees.

Suggs won the age 11-14 competition (judged by photography and food experts) for “Back to Our Roots,” and the Fan Favorite (selected by the public) for “Apple of My Eye.”

Josh Suggs’ “Back to Our Roots.”

Henske picked up 1st place in age 8-10 for “A Bouquet of Lettuce,” and the Fan Favorite prize for “One in a Million.”

Samantha Henske’s Bouquet of Lettuce

The age 15-18 category winner was “Happy Rhubarb” by Lili Dowell. The Fan Favorite was Sarah Maybruck’s “Colorful Beginnings.”

Lili Dowell’s “Happy Rhubarb.”

All were honored last night at Sugar & Olives. First-place winners earned $100, and the co-lead of a photo shoot at The Whelk with chef Bill Taibe.

Second place winners Samantha Sandrew, Olivia Toth and Claire Langdon received $50 each.

Fan Favorites got a 1-year membership to the Arts Center, and a Farmers’ Market t-shirt.

First place winners (from left) Lili Dowell, Samantha Henske and Josh Suggs, with Bill Taibe. (Photo/Adriana Reis)

Steve Ruchefsky’s Gang Of 50

For his 50th birthday, Steve Ruchefsky figured he’d whip up a nice feast for a few friends.

That quickly evolved into an invitation to Bill Taibe. He’s an even better cook than Steve — who is, after all, a lawyer who now manages private investments, while Bill at the time owned Le Farm and was about to open The Whelk. So 5 years ago the backyard of Steve and his wife Rondi Charleston’s handsome Evergreen Avenue home was transformed into the setting for a killer 5-course meal.

Steve — who considers himself lucky, with a “wonderful wife, great daughter and amazing friends” — capped the occasion by announcing a $1 million gift to the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

He knew Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward through serving on the Westport Country Playhouse board. Steve’s donation allowed the camp in upstate Connecticut — which “creates fun and friendship for seriously ill children and their families” — to build a residence for doctors and their own families. “Steve’s Station” made it easier for them to stay longer — and their kids to enjoy the facility too.

It was a wonderful gesture. But that was only the start of Steve’s post-50 life.

“I had 2 ephipanies,” he says, 5 years later. “I grew up in Rockaway Beach. I didn’t have a lot. So I knew I wanted to help people.”

Steve Ruchefsky and Rondi Charleston in their wine cellar.

At the same time, he adds, “I wanted to do more than writing a check. I wanted to have fun with my guy friends.”

He rounded up 6 of them. All felt blessed to live here. All had spent the first part of their lives building careers and families, then seeing their children off to college. All had plenty of energy, and the desire to make time in their busy lives for others.

The result: “Go50.” (It stands for “Guys Over 50.”)

Those men — now 13 — are all at least 50 years old, and eager to “get out of our bubble, get dirty, and get going to do good.”

Many names are familiar: Tom Cope, John Engelhart, Jim Hardy, Barry Leskin, Matthew Maddox, Vinny Mullineaux, Jim Naughton, John Porio, John Seigenthaler, David Tetenbaum, Doug Weber and Steven Wolff.

Their first project was at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. The boathouse was crammed with boats, canoes, fishing rods. Nothing was organized.

Nine “Go50” guys headed north in a van. They emptied, cleaned, sorted and painted. They got rid of old equipment. Campers, counselors and administrators loved what they’d done.

Go50 guys, after cleaning the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp boathouse.

Energized, the “Go50” gang tackled the Burroughs Community Center in Bridgeport. They painted and renovated a conference room, bringing new life to the building.

Then they wondered how they could do more than some one-off projects.

“None of us served in the military,” Steve says. “We were spared from the draft, and could start our careers when we were young. We decided we wanted to give back to people who did serve in the armed forces.”

Just off I-95 in Bridgeport is Homes for the Brave. The non-profit provides housing, vocational training, job placement, mental health and addiction services, and life skills coaching to help individuals — especially veterans, many of whom have been in prison or have addiction issues — leave homelessness behind.

Steve committed “Go50” to an ongoing relationship. They’ll prepare meals, clean the grounds, and help where and however they can.

Homes for the Brave helps veterans in many ways.

That’s one story. It’s a great one.

Then Steve heard about Homes for the Brave’s newest project.

Created by Peter Van Heerden — former executive director of the Westport Arts Center, now head of Fairfield University’s Quick Center — along with Westport artist Nina Bentley, it’s a show in which people living at the Homes tell their stories.

The performance is called “War Stories.” But they’re really “life stories.”

Notes posted at a recent “War Stories” rehearsal.

Steve has seen rehearsals. “These are not actors or writers. They’re men and women who have served our country. Life has been hard for them.

“They’re not Gold Star veterans who came home to parades. They’re vets who for the most part joined up to get away from trouble. But they came back and found themselves in trouble again.”

A recent preview in Hartford earned a standing ovation.

Steve wants to get the word out about upcoming performances at the Quick Center (Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1 — click here for more details; click here for tickets).

Steve Ruchefsky (center) at a “War Stories” rehearsal.

Learning about “War Stories” has inspired Steve to do even more with “Go50.”

“We have a great time together. We get a lot done, and we laugh a lot,” he says.

One thing they laugh about is that they’re all over 50, yet they’re “gang members.”

But what a gang!