Tag Archives: Stephanie Webster

Now Cooking: Food For Behind The Lines

Among the many casualties of COVID-19, some of the first — and 3 months later, still hardest hit — were food service workers.

Tens of thousands of Connecticut chefs, cooks, servers, dishwashers, bartenders and others in the area were instantly out of work. Though unemployment, stimulus checks and food stamps have helped, thousands are not receiving any benefits.

Cruelly, men and women who spent their lives putting food on our table are now food insecure themselves.

A grassroots initiative — Food for the Front Lines — did a spectacular job supporting both the state restaurant industry, and healthcare workers on the front lines.

In just 8 weeks, the group — started by Westporter Nicole Straight — raised $130,000. They paid 40 Connecticut restaurants to deliver over 10,000 meals to hospitals and first responder units throughout Fairfield County.

State Senator Will Haskell (3rd from left) helped prepare food boxes, after a recent drive at Aitoro Appliance.

As the crisis evolved, the group did too. Food For the Front Lines is now “Food for Behind the Lines.” They’re working with local chefs to identify and support people in the industry in need. They conduct food drives, then distribute boxes of donated and purchased food to their families.

Chefs also help by purchasing food at reduced rates from their distributors.

Food For Behind the Lines has already hosted 3 food drives, and distributed 500 food pantry boxes to unemployed food workers.

Driving forces behind the group include 4 Westporters: CTBites founder and editor Stephanie Webster; Terrain Café and Amis Trattoria executive chef Jes Bengtson, and Food Rescue US volunteers Ria Rueda and Allison Sherman.

Besides food collections, Food For Behind the Lines seeks donations. $25 feeds a family of 4 for a week.

Now there’s a great way to give — and get something food-related in return.

Popular food website CTBites — founded and edited by Westporter Stephanie Webster — has published a “Connecticut Chefs Recipes for Restaurant Relief” online cookbook. It features 100 recipes from popular chefs throughout the Nutmeg State.

The e-cookbook costs $25. 100% of the proceeds benefit Food For Behind the Lines. (Click here to order.)

How’s that for a great tip?!

Food Rescue US Sinks Deep Westport Roots

If you’re like me, you’ve probably given little — if any — thought to the enormous amount of food that restaurants and grocery stores throw away every day.

If you’re like Simon Hallgarten and Stephanie Webster though, you have.

The Westporters — he’s a founding partner of Northview Hotel Group, she’s editor-in-chief of CTbites — are national board members of Food Rescue US.

The organization — known until this past January as Community Plates — fills a simple, important, why-didn’t-I-think-of-that mission: moving fresh, usable food that would have been thrown away by restaurants, grocers and other food industry sources, to families that desperately need it.

The national Food Rescue US group has a strong local presence. Under Hallgarten and Webster’s leadership, Westport has become a big town for food donors — and as “food rescuers.”

Whole Foods cannot possibly sell all its food. It’s a leader in offering its unused goods to people in need.

Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and Fresh Market are longtime donors. Many smaller stores and restaurants participate too.

Right now, 40 Westport volunteers transport food to shelters, kitchens and pantries in Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford. Over the past few years, more than 350 Westporters have helped.

Many bring their children on food rescue missions. “It’s an important lesson for our kids who otherwise are sheltered from the harsher side of life, and the struggles that many families go through every day,” Hallgarten — who started his career as a chef — says.

Ziggy Hallgarten — Simon’s son, an All-State soccer goalkeeper and current lacrosse player at Staples — and his younger brother Ollie are food rescuers.

Ollie Hallgarten, with a vehicle full of donated (“rescued”) food.

“It’s an easy way to give back to a large community at once,” Ziggy says. “With an hour’s worth of driving, you can change the lives of so many.”

On his first run with his dad 2 years ago, Ziggy was shocked to see some of his favorite foods — perfectly edible — about to be thrown away.

They filled the back of their station wagon, and drove “pounds and pounds of food” from a New Canaan grocery store to a Stamford homeless shelter.

“The locations of my deliveries changed during the couple of years I’ve been a food rescuer,” Ziggy says. “But the priceless smiles of the recipients when I’ve driven up with boxes of food never ceases to amaze me.”

He brought friends on runs too, showing them the feasibility — and ease — of saving otherwise wasted food.

Though Food Rescue US is a volunteer driven (ho ho) operation, there are of course administrative and other costs. So this year’s fundraiser — “Food for All 2017: An Evening to End Hunger” — is very important.

Set for next Wednesday (April 26, 6:30 p.m., The Loading Dock in Stamford), it features over 15 tasting plates from top Fairfield County chefs, along with beer, wine and craft cocktails. Every $1 donated helps cover 20 rescued meals.

Westport sponsors for Wednesday’s fundraiser include Whole Foods, Moffly Media, and the Elizabeth and Joseph Massoud Family Foundation. Fleishers Craft Kitchen and Whole Foods are among the participating food vendors.

“Hunger is an issue that can be fixed,” Simon Hallgarten says. “Food Rescue US’ goal of ending hunger in not a crazy pipe dream. It’s a reality — if we reach critical mass in the next decade.”

In Westport — thanks to so many restaurants, stores and volunteers — we’re almost there.

(For more information on the April 26 “Food for All” fundraiser, including tickets, click here.)

CT Bites. Chew On That One.

If you’ve lived here a while, you know that in many ways, Connecticut bites. (Just check out the comments here last week, about a survey placing our state 49th in a poll of places residents would most like to move out of.)

But we do have a fairly robust (and ever-changing) food scene. And CT Bites covers it like guac on nachos.

The clever, wide-ranging, sometimes-irreverent-but-always-interesting look at food in Fairfield County includes information on restaurants, recipes, cooking classes, food festivals, wine tastings, chef comings and goings, teaching kids to cook, family-friendly spots, gadgets, and of course a chance to “dish” on whatever readers want.

A typical CT Bites page includes plenty of information.

A typical CT Bites page includes plenty of information.

Now, editor-in-chief/founder Stephanie Webster and executive editor Amy Kundrat have collaborated on a handsome — and very handy — new book.

It’s called Extraordinary Recipes from Fairfield County Chef’s Table, and it features recipes from over 50 excellent restaurants.

Westport is well represented:

  • Bobby Q’s (Brisket and Beef Burnt Ends; Pit Beans)
  • DaPietro’s (Ravioli Alla Campagna with Salsa on Burro a Nocciole)
  • LeFarm (Burrata with Sweet & Sour Summer Squash; Brined Pork Chops with Corn & Pepper Chow-chow)
  • Matsu Sushi (Ruby Angel; Salmon Confetti Salad)
  • Michele’s Pies (Apple Raspberry Crumb Pie)
  • Saugatuck Grain & Grape (New Beginning)
  • SoNo Baking Company & Cafe (Caramel-Apple Tart)
  • Tarry Lodge Enoteca Pizzeria (Pizza Margherita)
  • Terrain Garden Café (Buttermilk Fried Chicken & Apple-Corn Bread Waffles)
  • The Whelk (Shrimp & Grits with Jalapeño Butter & Tennessee Country Ham; Seared Scallops with Farro, Corn, Beans & Bacon)

There’s also a recipe from The Dressing Room (Goat Burgers with Bacon & Apple Marmalade), which goes to show that putting together a book takes a loooong time.

Clockwise from upper left: the book; Amy Kundrat; Stephanie Webster; Sugar & Olives' pancakes.

Clockwise from upper left: the book; Amy Kundrat; Stephanie Webster; Sugar & Olives’ pancakes.

The recipes are great. The photography is fantastic. But there’s much more.

Each restaurant and chef gets an in-depth write-up. Sidebars cover food charities; farms and farm dinners; “diners and dives”; coffee roasters; frozen treats; burgers; food trucks; juice bars; noodle bars; pizza — even train station eats (who knew?).

Whether you make Seared Ahi Tuna and Lime-Chutney Polenta with White Chocolate, Jalapeño & Cilantro Sauce (Chocopologie) — or just reservations — for dinner, this book deserves a place at your table.

Martha Stewart: “Eat” your heart out.

(To purchase a copy, click here. This Saturday — May 17, 1 p.m. — Stephanie Webster and Amy Kundret will be at the Westport Barnes & Noble for a book-signing and Q-and-A. They’ll be joined by chef Jon Vaast of Norwalk’s Sugar & Olives, who will bring his Chocolate Pancakes with Bourbon Whipped Cream recipe.)
 

CT Bites Invites: Something New To Chew On

When Ellen Bowen launched the Southern Connecticut territory for Living Social — the website offering daily discounts to subscribers — she liked working with restaurant owners to design enticing deals.

But, she soon realized, the website got a lot better deal than the merchants.

“It brings in traffic,” she says of the discounts. “But most people were spending only the value of the coupon. And there wasn’t a lot of repeat business.”

Her now job — event curator at CTBites.com — is much more satisfying. The Westporter has helped site founder Stephanie Webster move beyond the wildly popular restaurant reviews.

Amy Kundrat, Stephanie Webster and Ellen Bowen (from left) represent CT Bites at last fall's Blues,Views & BBQ Fest in Westport.

Ellen and Stephanie have introduced CT Bites Invites. Each week, the website offers readers a special culinary event. Because Ellen works closely with owners and chefs, the results benefit everyone: the restaurants, those who work there, and Fairfield County’s enormous population of “foodies.”

“We get very creative,” Ellen says. For example, Bobby Q’s paired great barbecue dishes with craft beers.

“You can’t just walk in and ask for that,” she notes. “It’s insider access.”

There’s insider access to chefs too. A 10:30 cooking demonstration by DaPietro’s Pietro Scotti was followed by a special 3-course lunch.

Pietro Scotti of DaPietro's wows his CT Bites Invites guests.

Beyond the great food and behind-the-scenes activity, Ellen says, “It’s very social. People invite their friends. And it’s really creative.”

Since CT Bites Invites began in November (with a pairing of exotic tacos and various tequilas), every event has sold out. Some are so popular, extra dates have been added.

Feedback (ho ho) has been great. And Ellen is having a good time too.

“I’ve learned a lot about food, chefs and restaurants,” she says.

One example: Iberico, a very rare ham. It comes from special pigs in Spain. Raised only on acorns, they’re “happy and totally stress-free,” Ellen says. “Even when they’re slaughtered, there’s music playing.”

The result is “the most tender and delicious ham you can imagine.”

(Also, very expensive.)

Barcelona Restaurant paired Iberico ham with cheeses, wine and sherry. “It was very successful — and educational,” says Ellen.

On January 25, Bonda in Fairfield features an evening menu tasting with chef Jamie Cooper. Participants will give insights — and the results will help shape his next menu.

“For a foodie, learning about chefs’ training, watching them in action, talking back and forth — it’s heaven,” Ellen says.

“This goes way beyond ‘honey, where should we go for dinner tonight?'”

Good food, conversation and education await CT Bites Invites guests.

CT Bites

CT bites.

No, it’s not a teenager’s lament on the lame life in the Land of Steady Habits.

CTBites.com is a blog — a clever, wide-ranging, sometimes-irreverent-but-always-interesting look at food in Fairfield County.

That’s food in all its forms.

There are pages on:

  • Eating In (recipes, cooking classes)
  • Eating Out (restaurants, food festivals and farm events, wine tastings, chef comings and goings)
  • Ingredients (ice cream names, green tips to reduce your carbon footprint)
  • Kids Bites (teaching children to cook; family-friendly joints)
  • Gadgets (onion goggles, coffee makers)
  • Food Talk (forums on the best pizza place, best bartenders, and everything in between)

CTBites is the brainchild of Stephanie Webster.  A New Yorker-turned-Seattleite, she’s lived in Westport for not quite 2 years.  But she’s already nailed our food scene.

She launched her blog last July, after realizing that — unless New York and Seattle — Fairfield County foodies did not frequent Yelp.

Or any other restaurant review blog.

In just 10 months, CTBites has grown “exponentially,” Stephanie says.  She’s added food-loving, good-writing friends as contributors.  They attract about 7,000 unique visitors a month — and it’s almost all by word of mouth.

Now, Stephanie says, she’s ready to turn her attention to really marketing — and monetizing — her blog.

The restaurant reviews are the initial draw for readers, and the most popular pages.  “We’re not the standard Patricia Brooks/New York Times reviews,” Stephanie notes.  “We get down to the nitty gritty.”

Readers like the blog’s community feel.  CT Bites has sponsored monthly prix fixe lunches, where contributors and foodies meet and mingle.

CTBites.com sponsored a prix fixe lunch at The Dressing Room.

So how is the food scene in Fairfield County?

“Considerably better than I thought,” Stephanie answers quickly.  “I like the hidden gems.  Places like Le Farm are excellent, but I also like places like Bereket.  It’s a Turkish restaurant behind a gas station in Bridgeport, and it looks like a complete dive.  But it’s just like being in Istanbul.

“This isn’t Manhattan, where you’ve got a great place every 2 blocks.  But there are plenty of good places around.”

Stephanie finds the the farm-to-table movement “exciting.”  She’s also excited by the recent move of John Holzwarth, former executive chef at The Dressing Room, to The Boathouse at the Saugatuck Rowing Club.

“People love that there’s something out there — a window on Fairfield County,” Stephanie says of her site.

“And it goes both ways.  Farmers and chefs like being part of the dialogue too.”

Stephanie Webster is happy to give them — and everyone else in Fairfield County who eats — something to chew on.