Last June, Shauna Ahern, cookbook author and good friend of mine made a pie. On the spur of the moment she decided to bring all of her Twitter, Facebook, real, and virtual friends together through a virtual pie party.
The goal was to bring a community together through pie, old friends, and friends not yet found. People baked pies, shared stories online with friends, and met new friends. It was a huge online success. More than 1,500 people participated.
Fast forward to October. Shauna’s success spurred an idea in Jackie Gordon’s and Ken Leung’s minds. They borrowed Shauna’s idea but made it a real live event instead of virtual. Jackie and Ken started tweeting and blogging about the event–inviting everyone that they know to bake a pie and gather for an afternoon of culinary delights and great conversation. And their idea came to fruition on Saturday October 15, 2011 at Rodeo Bar in New York City.
Twitter was alive with talk of pies even before the party started. The night before the party and the morning of the party tweets were buzzing about pie—people talking about their pies, how they were looking forward to the event, and tweeting photos of their culinary creations.
On Saturday morning Larry and I arrived a bit early for the party with chicken empanadas and a sadly melted lemon icebox pie. Note to self: When toting a pie across town, DO NOT take one that will melt on the way. Luckily Lily, the manager of Rodeo Bar offered to try to freeze the “lemon milkshake” back into a reasonable facsimile of a pie. And speaking of Rodeo Bar, they were great! Thank you Rodeo Bar for hosting this event. It was a great space with a super staff.
Some of Rodeo Bar’s beautiful and delicious dishes.
Click on a thumbnail for full size image.
Soon, pies of all description—and their bakers—filled the room. There were savory pies, sweet pies, galettes, jalousies, empanadas, and all kinds of beautiful, scrumptious pastries.
For a few moments before people started eating, it looked like the paparazzi had arrived, as people gathered around the beautiful pastries to the sound of camera shutters and flashing lights filled the room with energy and excitement.
Eventually, the crowd was diverted from their photography frenzy by the sound of Jackie tapping on a glass and someone whistling for the crowd’s attention. Jackie kindly thanked everyone for coming and proclaimed, “It’s time to eat some pie.” The sound of camera shutters was replaced with the clinking of forks on plates as the foodies in the room began to make pie carnage. Old friends were reunited and new friends were made, thanks to Ken and Jackie.
When the eating subsided (which took quite awhile), it was time for door prizes. Many door prizes. Everyone gathered around in anticipation of winning one of the fabulous items.
Among them were many great cookbooks, and handily, the authors were present at the party to sign the books. What a sweet deal winning one of those it must have been.
The party started to wind down after the door prizes were awarded and Ken and Jackie again thanked all for participating. And then Lily, the manager of Rodeo Bar, offered hugs to all while thanking everyone for coming to her restaurant. What a wonderful, welcoming place Rodeo Bar is for food lovers of all backgrounds.
And now, I find myself already looking forward to the next Pie Party Potluck Live. There is going to be a next one, right?
Sometimes we have to step outside our comfort zone and do something that makes us feel uncomfortable. Before I left for my weekend in Seattle and the CreativeLive photography workshop with Penny De Los Santos, I knew that I had been given a rare opportunity, and I told myself, and Larry, that I was going to take 100% advantage of the gift that I’d been given. I was going to use this weekend to reach down into the depths of my soul and find the creative person that lives there, pull him out and help him live to his full potential. And this is the story of how I started doing just that.
I arrived in Seattle on a Thursday morning, checked in at my hotel, and headed out to for lunch. I perused downtown Seattle and I settled on a quaint, little, non-descript Vietnamese restaurant. A safe decision, because I love Vietnamese food. After lunch, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take another route back to the hotel—the explorer in me I suppose—and I discovered a lovely restaurant called FareStart. I stopped along the side of the restaurant long enough to kick myself in the butt for not finding this place first, and as I rounded the corner at 7th and Virginia, I saw a sign near the front door that read, “Guest chef night every Thursday.” This piqued my curiosity, and I opened the front door to find a beautiful restaurant humming with the sounds of people enjoying a nice lunch. I asked the hostess about the “guest chef night.” She told me that the guest chef was going to be Mauro Golmarvi from Assaggio Ristorante in Seattle, and the price was $24.95 for three courses. This seemed rather inexpensive to me, as a New Yorker, so I made a reservation for 7:30 that evening. It was going to be a nice three-course dinner for one where I could quietly contemplate the upcoming photography workshop and how I could make the best use of it.
Upon being seated at the restaurant, I overheard a conversation between a woman at the table next to me and a gentleman who appeared to be working, in some capacity, at the restaurant. I learned that FareStart is “a culinary job training and placement program for homeless and disadvantaged individuals.” I learned later that they have been in operation for 19 years and have provided opportunities for nearly 5,000 people to learn a skill and turn their lives around. In those 19 years, FareStart has also served more than 4.5 million meals to disadvantaged men, women, and children.
Because of their selfless, spirited efforts, FareStart won the 2011 James Beard Foundation Humanitarian of the Year Award. “The James Beard Humanitarian award is a fantastic honor that we at FareStart are humbled to receive,” said FareStart Executive Director, Megan Karch as she accepted the award at Lincoln Center in New York City on May 9, 2011. “It has always been our mission to empower homeless and disadvantaged individuals while creating nourishing and excellent food. To be recognized by the food industry is not only exciting, it’s a confirmation of something we’ve known all along—the power of community. For nearly 20 years, FareStart has provided opportunities for more than 5,000 people to transform their lives through culinary job training and placement. By awarding us with this prestigious distinction, it is clear that the James Beard Foundation understands the transformative and community-building power of food.”
FareStart has not gained this type of recognition by staying within their comfort zone. They have to constantly push beyond their comfort level and step into that place that feels dangerous, that place that feels like one might even fail. But then, failure is only a step toward progress and learning.
I had an inspiration while sitting there. I wanted to be a vehicle to help spread the word about this fantastic place that was helping homeless and disadvantaged people to develop a skill and change their lives. I wanted to find out more about FareStart, take photos, and write about it on my blog. But I stopped this fantasy in its tracks. I would have to actually speak to someone and ask if I could take some photos—an act that fell far outside my personal comfort zone. I’m not exactly sure why it’s so uncomfortable for me to ask something like this, but it makes a big knot in my stomach and then I start having visions of rejection. But what if they say no? I convinced myself that the world would not end, no one would point at me and laugh; I would simply have my originally planned quiet dinner and then be on my way. I thought of my promise of making a 100% effort in my personal growth during this weekend at the photography workshop—this was a seminal moment in my new career as a photographer. I knew I couldn’t get the pictures and the story if I didn’t ask, nobody was going to do it for me. So when I saw the gentleman who had earlier been speaking with the woman at the next table walk down the stairway, I threw caution to the wind. I felt my arm rising into the air as though it had a mind of its own. It caught his attention. He smiled and came over to my table. Suddenly, I began to babble as if in a foreign language, one that neither he, nor I, could understand. He politely asked if he could sit at the table with me. I took a deep breath and said, “of course.” I somehow managed to start speaking coherent English. We talked about FareStart, and I ended up in the kitchen taking photos of the food, meeting the staff, chatting with sous chef Sam Clinton, and also taking photos of the chef.
One never knows what opportunity lies around each corner that we take in life. Literally. It is important to listen to our instincts. When an opportunity arises, it’s easy to shrug it off with excuses of why it was not the right time, the right place, or whatever, to take advantage of that opportunity. But how do we grow when we do that? We don’t. We grow when we listen to our instincts, make ourselves step out of our comfort zone, and do something that is uncomfortable for us at that moment. What we gain for seizing such an opportunity is too vast to describe fully here. Some of the things we gain are new friendships, self-esteem, and a feeling of accomplishment.
When I rounded that corner at 7th and Virginia in Seattle, I had no idea that this opportunity was waiting for me, but I managed to listen to my instincts, found the courage to step out of my comfort zone, and ended up with memories that will last a lifetime—plus photos. Perhaps it was the spirit of the thousands of people who have gone through the FareStart kitchen—people who have overcome adverse circumstances and turned their lives around, faced their inner demons and learned a life skill—that gave me the courage to try. Whatever it was, I have grown and learned because of an experience that I could easily have talked myself out of doing.
New Yorkers are always on the quest for the best slice of pizza pie and I am no exception. It seems that there’s always another pizza joint popping up somewhere with claims about being the best pie in New York City. And I always feel compelled to find out for myself. DiFara’s Pizza has been around since 1965, and I suppose I didn’t feel quite so compelled to try his pizza since it wasn’t the newest thing around. My mistake. Owner Dom DeMarco is churning out some of the best slices around.
I hate to admit this, but I have lived in New York City for nearly eight years and I only recently tried my first slice of Di Fara’s pizza. I blame it on all of the bad press that I have read–the long lines, the long wait, the expensive slices ($5.00 per slice + $1.00 for toppings). Yes, I was one of those people that figured that no slice of pizza could possibly be worth a whopping $5.00. I stand corrected.
Last Sunday, Larry and I were walking through Brooklyn and we ended up at Avenue I and Ocean Avenue, just a short walk to Avenue J and E 15th Street where Di Fara’s occupies a very unassuming corner. From the outside, you would never know what culinary delights await inside. So we made the decision to drop in, get a quick slice, just a snack really, since we would be having dinner at home in only a few more hours. We arrived at Di Fara’s and to our great surprise and delight, we didn’t find the legendary line snaking out the front door and down the sidewalk. The delight soon turned to despair as I turned to Larry and said, “they must be closed today”, but upon further inspection they were open. We had hit it on a slow day.
We were elated. Or at least I was. We swung the front door open to find a very disorganized group of people standing around watching Dom DeMarco, hunched over the counter, stretching the dough, swirling big circles of bright red tomato sauce around the dough, sprinkling the cheese and placing the toppings onto his pizza pies. We attempted to find the “line” and finally was told by a young gentleman there that, “in a minute, she will ask if anyone hasn’t ordered yet”. “She” was the lady standing at the counter writing mysterious things down on a pad of paper and then building to go pizza boxes, seemingly ignoring all the hungry mouths that were waiting on some hot pizza. After a few minutes she finally asked if anyone needs to order, and I shouted my order of two slices across the sea of people and then moved through the crowd at an attempt to snag a seat.
We soon found a seat, no small feat in this tiny space. I think there is seating for about 16 people. We sat and began to watch the clock tick away, the minute hand circling the clock over and over. I wondered why in the hell it would take so long to make a couple of slices of pizza. Total elapsed time since ordering to first bite was about an hour. And then the moment of anticipation arrived. They called my name and I went to the counter to retrieve our much anticipated moment of culinary delight.
It was at that moment that I saw a whole pie, strewn with an assortment of different toppings. Ah! I proclaimed (in my head), “so this is why it takes so long to get a slice.” It seems that they wait until enough people have ordered a slice to make a whole pie and then they bake the pie. So, if you haven’t been and you’re planning on going, heed this advice and buy a whole pie. You will be glad that you did.
The pizza dough was thin and chewy, yet not tough. The sauce was perfectly balanced and the pepperoni and mushrooms tasted like top quality products, probably one of the reasons for the high price. And speaking of price, after my first visit to Di Fara’s I have learned the best way to go is to order a whole pie (about $32.00 after tax is added).
So the next time you’re thinking about heading out to try that newest, trendiest pizza in New York, think again, hop on the Q train, hop off at Avenue J and you’re only about one block from the best, really the best, pizza in the city.