Gourmet Food Truck Serves Boston’s Poorer Areas

By on Thursday, March 20th, 2014

Chef Nadine Nelson, with Fresh Food Generation founders Jackson Renshaw and Cassandria Campbell. Nelson plans menus that are “seasonal, with a wordly perspective.”

Food trucks have been rolling into American cities for years now, but the trend still seems to have bypassed some urban communities. In Boston, for example, popular food trucks like Bon Me, The Dining Car, and Mei Mei Street Kitchen cater to well-heeled folks in bustling areas like downtown, Copley Square, and the South End. Rarely does a Boston food truck venture into the city’s less tony neighborhoods like Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan.

Jackson Renshaw and Cassandria Campbell are moving full-speed ahead to change that. Their enterprising new food truck, Fresh Food Generation, will cater solely to these lower-income neighborhoods, which they consider a culinary desert in terms of accessibility to on-the-go meals that are locally sourced, nutritious, cooked from scratch, and still affordable.

With only fast-food chains, corner stores, and a scarcity of supermarkets, it’s no coincidence, they say, that the rates of obesity and diabetes are 2 to 3 times higher in these neighborhoods than others in Boston.

Fresh Generation’s first truck, designed by Red Door Trucks, will be completed this summer.

Renshaw and Campbell met while working at The Food Project, a non-profit organization that brings together youth from Boston and its suburbs to grow food for its CSA (Community Supported Agricultural Farm) and for charitable donations. Working at The Food Project planted the seed for their common interest in “food justice,” as they call it.

Campbell also had firsthand experience as a resident of Roxbury, where, she says, she was often frustrated with the lack of healthy food choices.

After earning her Masters Degree in City Planning from MIT in 2012, Campbell came up with the idea for Fresh Food Generation and thought of Renshaw, with whom she had a strong working relationship at The Food Project but had since lost touch.

Food Truck Teamsters

When she proposed the idea of co-founding the truck, Renshaw, who had recently graduated from the University of Vermont with a degree in agriculture, didn’t hesitate. “When do we start?” he asked promptly.

Food Truck Generation team poses in front of their new truck’s signature red door.

Since that first meeting over coffee, Fresh Food Generation has moved along without a hitch. In October 2012, they were voted “Favorite Community Project” in Roxbury, an award that included a $1,200 grant. Later, they raised more than $50,000 through a Kickstarter campaign. And they have also received discounts and donations on equipment.

So Campbell and Renshaw are well on their way to throwing open their truck doors this summer — and hiring a crew of young people ages 18 to 21, whom they would teach job skills and leadership — hence the “Generation” reference in their name.

Meanwhile, they have been busy catering events, sometimes three per day, occasionally to crowds as large as 80, and wowing those crowds with exotic dishes such as Cachupa, a Cape Verdean soup. (See recipe.)

Think Wordly, Cook Locally

This taste of early success is owed in large part, they say, to their chef, Nadine Nelson, a cooking teacher and food writer, who trained in Paris, is of Jamaican descent, has lived and worked in Roxbury, and is passionate about cooking “seasonal food with a worldly perspective.”

She plans an ambitious globally-inspired menu that is in fact quite local, as it reflects the rich diversity of cultures — Caribbean, North African, Mexican, and more — in the Boston neighborhoods that Fresh Food Generation will serve.

“With Fresh Food Generation, I hope we can break through barriers of race, ethnicity, income, and geography to make good food accessible to everyone.”–Jackson Renshaw

“Our food can be found on the streets of cities around the world,” Renshaw explains. Featured dishes might include Mediterranean Kofta, Jamaican Jerk Barbecue Pork, Dal Curry Vegetables, Mexican Black Bean Salad, and Kale Caesar Salad.

But even more than delivering dazzling meals to an area overpopulated with pizza joints and fast-food franchises, the mission of these young, dedicated entrepreneurs is simple, democratic, and straight from the heart.

“What it comes down to,” says Renshaw, “is that I really want all people to eat well. With Fresh Food Generation, I hope we can break through barriers of race, ethnicity, income, and geography to make good food accessible to everyone.”

When Tiki Ruled: America’s Fascination with Polynesia

By on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014

Don the Beachcomber Las Vegas interior.

Tiki is all about living the good life. It’s the lure of sleepy lagoons, sand drenched beaches, swaying palms, tropical plants, cool breezes, exotic drinks —- far from the pressures of day to day living.

Although Don the Beachcomber’s Polynesian restaurant first opened in Hollywood in 1934 and Trader Vic’s Tiki restaurant was established three years later in Palo Alto, generally speaking, Tiki culture first captured the imagination of Americans in the 1950’s. It was a combination of things—stories and souvenirs brought back by servicemen returning from duty in the South Pacific, James Michener’s book Tales of the South Pacific, the Rogers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific and, of course, the statehood of Hawaii in 1959.
Tiki bars and restaurants sprang up in many large cities. Some Tiki enthusiasts even went so far as to create their own Tiki bars at home.

Cookies in America

By on Monday, December 23rd, 2013

(Written with Gail Hartzell)

Friends and family gather at Gail Hartzell’s home in Ohio for a taste of cookie history.

“In the childhood memories of every good cook, there’s a large kitchen, a warm stove, and a simmering pot of love.”

Cookies aren’t an American invention but you wouldn’t know it around Christmas. The tradition of baking homemade butter cookies, cut into various festive shapes and frosted green and red is as sacred as Santa. Millions of bloggers swap recipes, decorating tips, all wrapped around the lore of “the family who bakes together, stays together.”

Gail Hartzell of Uniontown, Ohio takes this time-honored pastime to new heights. She just hosted her second annual Heritage Cookie Swap to honor treasured memories of time spent with her grandmother, Mary Endlich, gathering friends and family to share stories of Christmases past, swap vintage recipes of cookies and recall family traditions.

Grandma Endlich would be 122 years old this Christmas.

Using Grandma Mary’s handmade aprons, rolling pins and antique bowls, Gail and her daughter, Katie, baked their favorite one hundred year old year recipe of Grandma’s Ginger Cookies to honor this years’ Christmas Tradition.

Honoring Grandma

The idea of the annual cookie swap was inspired by a cookbook/scrapbook that Gail crafted paying tribute to Grandma Endlich’s farm lifestyle and the love and pride that went into her cooking and baking. True to her Pennsylvania Dutch heritage, Grandma Endlich was a simple, “from the earth” farm-raised cook who grew and canned most of her own fruits and vegetables. She used sight and feel for measuring ingredients–a lump of lard the size of a walnut or an egg was the exact amount for a flaky crust.

Gail’s collection of vintage recipes, post cards, photos and farm memorabilia are rich reminders of Christmases past.

The use of fruits, nuts and molasses in her recipes instead of chocolate or marshmallows was another signature technique, telling of Grandma Endlich’s Pennsylvania Dutch roots.

“When I bake ginger cookies using my Grandma Endlich’s 100+ year recipe, I’m participating in a tradition that has endured in our family for over a century.” says Gail. “With each bite I taste, I remember my most cherished childhood memories of Christmas; Grandma in her warm kitchen baking and the two of us spending time together.”
(Next page: See photos of Gail’s annual cookie swap)

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