Edible Jersey's 2016 Local Heroes
Every year, we ask Edible Jersey readers to vote for some of their heroes in the local food movement— farmers, chefs and food entrepreneurs who have made a positive impact in their communities.
Congratulations to the class of 2016, and thanks for your good work.
Jams by Kim
“I always loved being in the kitchen with my mom,” says Kim Osterhoudt, the artisanal jam maker behind Jams by Kim. “My earliest memory of canning is pushing the cinnamon stick in the jar.” Osterhoudt got hooked after making her first jam at age 12.
Years later, while she worked a 9-to-5 job, making jams remained a favorite pastime and a way to relax. But after her position at Prudential Financial in Newark was eliminated, Osterhoudt opted for an early retirement and wondered what she would do next. “It happened to be spring when I left my job, so of course I was making jams,” she laughs.
Friends suggested she start selling them, so Osterhoudt decided to give it a try. That was September 2009. By December, her jams were a hit at holiday bazaars, and soon after at local farmers’ markets. During farmers’ market season, she now sells jam at Rutgers Gardens on Fridays, in Montclair on Saturdays, and Summit on Sundays. She sells on her website and in select food markets as well.
Osterhoudt, along with her sister, handcrafts jam two days a week in a rented kitchen inside the Manville Reformed Church, producing 150 to 250 jars daily. She started with just six flavors, but now has close to 40. “We are the Garden State,” she says, noting that she uses local produce picked up at the same markets where she sells. And Osterhoudt’s jams aren’t limited to the typical berry flavors. “Some of my biggest sellers are carrot-ginger jam and a pepper, tomato, orange and ginger jam,” she says. Other specialties include wine-flavored jams, margarita-flavored jams, sugar-free jams and vegan jams.
“I really make jams that I love,” says the food entrepreneur.
JAMS BY KIM
Circle Brook Farm
John Krueger’s first job managing a farm came out of a moment of serendipity and initiative.
“I lost my job in construction and I was out with a friend who was reading a want ad for a farm manager,” Krueger recounts. “He was joking, but when I heard it I knew I wanted it.” Krueger, at the time an avid gardener, applied and was hired by Heirloom Harvest Farm in Blairstown, where he would work for six seasons.
When that farm closed in 2002, Krueger became the farm manager at Starbrite Farm in Andover, where he grew mainly vegetables. Then, when the land he was farming on, including the adjacent Circle Brook Farm, was put up for sale in 2013, Krueger purchased it. Combined with additional land he rents from nearby farms, he now manages a total of 100 acres. “That’s a lot of vegetables,” he jokes. It’s a good thing too, since his CSA membership has grown from just 40 members in 2003 to over 700 last season. His drop-off locations are across North Jersey, including Morristown, Newark, and Caldwell, and stretch as far as Staten Island. He runs a completely organic operation. “It felt important to me to learn to grow food in a sustainable way,” he says.
“I also started to see the connection between farming and mitigating carbon emissions.” Even with 100 acres under his stewardship, Krueger continues to look to expand, including plans to plant apple, peach, and pear orchards, along with berries. “We are also planning to add animals to our offerings and this spring we’ll be raising hens,” he adds. “I want to give people a good balance of variety and choice with reasonable prices and good value.”
CIRCLE BROOK FARM
What is a Texas sculptor doing brewing beer at the Jersey Shore? If you ask Travis Coatney, he’d likely say, “Just enjoying the process.” After Coatney moved to Jersey to pursue a graduate degree in visual arts at Rutgers, the homebrew aficionado started working at a New Brunswick brewery for some extra money and quickly discovered he loved the work.
“Brewing is a good synthesis of art, science and engineering,” he says. “It’s a multifaceted industry and at the end of the process you get an interesting product that people can relate to and enjoy.” After finishing grad school in 2012, Coatney decided to turn his attention full-time to brewing.
Coatney joined Birravino in Red Bank last May and has built a loyal following for his flavors of house-crafted brews. He makes a variety of styles, including hoppy American beers and Belgian- and French-type ales. Coatney’s personal favorite is the Belgian saison. “It was traditionally brewed by farmers in areas where the water wasn’t safe to drink and was used as sustenance for the workers,” he says.
While there are three favorite beers always on tap at Birravino, the remaining five are at Coatney’s discretion. His goal is to brew beer that complements the restaurant’s rustic, Italian-style comfort food. “I try to fold in Italian or European influences while working with local ingredients whenever possible,” he says, citing last summer’s blend that used local wildflower honey.
Birravino’s quarterly beer dinners showcase Coatney’s ability to pair his creations with the kitchen’s dishes, while Thursday evening’s happy hour is his weekly opportunity to interact with customers. “It’s such a creative outlet for me,” says the artist turned brewer.
183 Riverside Ave., Red Bank
Squirrel & The Bee
“Food is everything,” says Michelle Retik, owner of Squirrel & The Bee, a grainless bake shop and café. She should know. Retik changed careers mid-life, returning to school in 2008 to master the art of traditional pastry. Working in New York for a famed French patisserie, Retik loved the job but found herself getting sicker and sicker. “I thought it was because I had four kids and worked a lot,” she explains. It wasn’t. In 2011, she was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, an inflammatory bowel disease.
“I thought my dream was over,” she says, noting that she was unable to work and often unable to leave her home.
“All of the medicine I was prescribed wasn’t working, so I started looking into what I was eating,” she says. Eventually, she cleared her pantry of grain, dairy and refined sugar. “Within 48 hours, I began to feel better,” she says, and so she cut these ingredients out of her diet permanently.
Gradually, as Retik grew stronger, she found herself back in the kitchen, preparing meals for herself that fit her new diet. Soon, though, she began receiving calls from others who needed food for relatives with dietary restrictions. Retik started her business and, after working seven days a week out of her home for about a year, she decided to open her café in Short Hills.
Now, almost two years later, Squirrel & The Bee provides baked goods, dairy-free soups, salads, sandwiches, and more, including 26 flavors of dairy-free ice cream, all made with local fruits and vegetables and no preservatives. While the café attracts many locals who simply want a cozy place to eat healthy food, customers with special diets also come from long distances. She finds that many customers share their stories and some even cry.
“I’ve had parents come in and say to their kids, ‘Yes, you can choose anything you want.’ Do you know what that’s like for someone who used to have to pick from one little corner?” she says. “I am so happy, honored and privileged to play a part in the daily health and wellness of people through food.”
SQUIRREL & THE BEE
515 Millburn Ave., Short Hills
The Clean Plate Kitchen
“People want to go out for a meal and not destroy their diet,” says Nicole Piazza of The Clean Plate Kitchen in Clinton. “They want to feel good.” Piazza is a holistic dietitian who has spent over a dozen years advising clients on better nutrition. At the same time, her husband Anthony owned the River View restaurant in Clinton. Though the two spent many hours there together, they rarely ate the greasy food the restaurant served. “We would have different food made for us in the back,” she says.
One year ago, the Piazzas decided to transform the River View into The Clean Plate Kitchen, with a reimagined menu on which healthy food is now the star. “We have an allergy-friendly undertone and are predominantly gluten and dairy free, but you won’t look at this menu and think ‘Oh, this is healthy,’ ” Piazza says. “It’s just real food.”
Though Piazza is not trained as a chef, she creates all the locally and seasonally influenced menus and recipes while also overseeing the kitchen. In addition, she maintains her private practice Nourish to Heal, and will soon have another loyal customer: Her first child is due in March.
THE CLEAN PLATE KITCHEN
49 Main St., Clinton
EcoSPACES at Philip’s Academy Charter School
“Today, we’ll be serving tilapia with mango salsa served on a bed of brown rice accompanied by sautéed kale, as well as a beet and berry smoothie.” No, this isn’t the script for a waiter at a top restaurant; it’s a typical meal for students at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark.
Gourmet food crafted from locally sourced ingredients is just one element of the school’s EcoSPACES program. From the rooftop garden, where each grade of the K–8 school has its own section, to the learning kitchen, where students learn how to prepare what they’ve grown, to the dining room, where family-style meals are served at round tables to encourage meaningful interaction, the EcoSPACES program is cutting- edge and comprehensive. There is even a farmers’ market within the school where students sell produce to family and staff.
Influenced by Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard, EcoSPACES director Frank Mentesana designed a program that brings to life the saying about teaching a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. “Instead of functioning as a ‘special’ like music or art, it’s worked into the curriculum in different ways,” he says. He cites as an example students learning about the Civil War, then retreating to the learning kitchen to make hawthorn berry jam, which soldiers of the era would have enjoyed, from berries grown on the roof. The innovative approach to food literacy has instilled a dedication to health and wellness in its students that goes beyond a child selecting an apple over a bag of chips.
“This was a real opportunity to make a difference in the community,” says Robert Wallauer, the program’s skilled head chef. “We offer a whole child education.”
ECOSPACES AT PHILIP’S ACADEMY CHARTER SCHOOL