Tag Archive | "Food"

The Last Italian Market on 18th Avenue

A typical afternoon at Frank and Sal’s in Bensonhurst

by Yvonne Bang, Italian Beat Reporter — 

“It’s not for this store!” Francesco “Frankie” Casamento repeated, a little more emphatically this time. Casamento, a 35-year-old co-owner of the Frank and Sal Gourmet Market in Bensonhurst, was standing in front of the dairy display case arguing with one of the vendors who serviced the store. The young, dark-haired vendor was trying his best to push another order of three-pack mini muffins. But he’d sold the store a bunch the week before, and many of them had come in expired.

Casamento later said of the product, “It’s a cheap, inexpensive item. This store—we have good quality.”

In Bensonhurst, where 99-Cent Stores have proliferated in recent years, a store that refuses to compromise on quality has become a rarity. Frank and Sal’s is one of the last remaining businesses in the area to stubbornly refuse to substitute quality for lower prices. Cathy Casale, who has lived in Bensonhurst for 49 years, grumbles that she can’t buy well-made items on 18th Avenue anymore.

“A lot of these [99-cent] stores put other stores out-of-business,” she said.

Eighteenth Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Bensonhurst, still has a butcher shop, a pastaria, a couple of fish markets, and plenty of fruit stands that cater to the area’s historic Italian population. Even ten years ago, there were still many Italian-owned businesses. But with that population shrinking, the number of places where you can buy authentic ingredients for traditional Italian dishes like the Sunday sauce—a meat marinara gravy—has shrunk down to one: the Frank and Sal Gourmet Market. Frank and Sal’s is the last Italian market on the street.

The market has been in Bensonhurst for over 22 years, since Casamento’s father, Franco, opened the store with two butchers, Frank Gassoso and Salvatore Civiletti. Hanging from low-slung rafters are baskets and Italian flags, bags of pasta, and over the deli, strings of sweet, dry sausages and rounds of cheese. The store specializes in Italian products and produce, like fresh green olives the size of kumquats, ample bouquets of dried, imported Oregano, and Sicilian eggplants, which are bulbous and as large as cantaloupes. Products like salted, dried capers will be difficult to find in most markets, and containers of sundried tomatoes won’t come as cheaply elsewhere. Some shoppers say they have the best Mozzarella in the area—fresh, hand-stretched, and made from cow’s milk, the way it’s supposed to be. But for all its success so far, the future is uncertain, as Bensonhurst has been changing over the last 10 years.

A large demographic shift and a general unwillingness to spend have weakened the competitive capacity of specialty stores that once catered to a solely Italian population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there has been a 57 percent increase in the number of Asian-Americans in Bensonhurst. Chinese-Americans make up almost 32 percent of the neighborhood’s entire population. Nancy Sottile, who runs the Federation of Italian-American Organizations main office six blocks north of Frank and Sal’s, agrees that many Italian-owned small businesses have closed. But she believes it’s because other ethnic groups do not shop at Italian markets.

“Chinese-Americans do not go to [Italian] markets,” she said. “I guess we did the same thing when we first came to America.”

And people don’t spend like they once did. A store called Exclusive V.I.P. Fashion, has been on the avenue for 26 years. The business—selling and designing elaborate wedding dresses for brides and events—has been affected as much by a changing culture—more people nowadays rent dresses or prefer to purchase them online—as by a relocating clientele base. Seated behind a jewelry display case in her store, the owner, who identified herself as Sally, was surrounded only by dresses. She acknowledges that many of her clients, of mostly Italian descent have moved either to Staten Island or New Jersey.

“This in itself is a dying business,” she said. “It’s an item that people just don’t have the money for—a luxury, not a necessity.”

But stores on 18th Avenue have also closed for other reasons. Second generation Italian-Americans opt out of taking over the family business when their parents reach the retiring age. A longtime favorite, Trunzo Brothers Meat Market and Salumeria, which remained rooted on the street for over 30 years, shut its doors in 2009; a Grocery and 99 Cents store took over the location. In an online rumination, Brian Trunzo, the son who pursued law instead of a life behind the meat counter like his father wrote, “I never wanted to be a butcher in the first place; it’s just not my vibe.”

On a recent Tuesday, Frank and Sal’s was busy well before the traditional afternoon rush most grocers expect. Shoppers with carts greeted Casamento on their way in; some shook his hand and patted him on the back. He picked up a jar of Nutella for a customer in line who’d dropped it on the floor.

Despite the fate of other shops along the street, Frank and Sal’s does well these days. Casamento remarked, “We still do good. There has been a drop off. People have moved out of the area. There is competition in the neighborhood. But we have our own niche.”

Later that afternoon, up the street at the Avenue Fruit Market where the owner Tony sells only produce, a sharply-dressed elderly gentleman with bronze-tinted Hunter Thompson glasses and white hair sleekly combed back inspected and pinched red peppers displayed in boxes on the street. The products were displayed on a corner, where auto and foot traffic easily kicked up dust and where flies were free to roam and land. The man, who declined to state his name, described Frank and Sal’s products as first class. When asked why he was browsing at the Avenue Market instead, he replied, “Convenienza di prezzo”—the low price, and nothing more.

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A Family Restaurant Keeps it Simple with Loyal Customers

By Jaslee Carayol

When Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill in Woodside, Queens opened in 1992, it was the only Filipino restaurant on the stretch of Roosevelt Avenue known as “Little Manila.”  Today, there are five – soon to be six – other Filipino restaurants in the area.  Though no item on the menu exceeds $10, customers have come and gone because food is cheaper and quicker elsewhere.  Renee’s once employed 22 people, but now employs eight during the week and 15 on weekends.  The restaurant is quieter these days, but Renee’s hasn’t succumbed to the fast food trend to attract more customers.  Their food, the owners say, is all cooked fresh on premises.

Renee and Ernesto Dizon first opened a restaurant with six tables and such a small kitchen that they had to do a lot of the cooking on their grill at home.  By 1995, the family moved the business to the current location, a larger space only blocks away.  The Dizons’ only daughter, Emma, was in high school when the restaurant opened.  She now plays a large role in running the place including cooking, doing payroll and interviews, and managing employees.

“If you keep your food as good as it can be, you’re always going to have customers,” Emma Dizon said.

Signature dishes at Renee’s Kitchenette include barbequed meats, dinuguan (pork blood stew cooked with garlic and chili), kare-kare (oxtail with string beans, eggplant and peanut sauce), and chicken adobo (a national dish prepared with soy, garlic and vinegar).  Renee’s serves cuisine from the Philippine province of Pampanga, which Emma Dizon said many Filipinos consider to have the best cooking.  Influenced by Cantonese and Spanish cooking, food from that region is typically sweet or savory and includes lots of meat and produce.

“We come here every time we go to Queens,” said Anna Real, a young woman eating dinner with a friend.  A resident of Port Washington, Long Island, Real said, “I’ve been coming here for years.  I don’t remember how long.”

Aleli Sweeney, a Whitestone resident, has also been a longtime customer at Renee’s.  Sweeney, who ordered for herself and her companion without looking at the menu, emigrated from the Philippines 30 years ago.  She said she has been coming to Renee’s since around the time it opened.

“The food’s very good,” Sweeney said.  “There are not many Filipino restaurants.  It’s either come here or go to New Jersey.”

Sweeney said she likes Renee’s because the food is “more homemade, like family.”  She and her companion, Michael Charles, eat at the restaurant once a week, usually on Sundays.  Charles added that the food is “fresh and inexpensive.”

Sweeney said she prefers Renee’s to other Filipino places because of its family atmosphere.  “Other places are too crowded and loud, especially with people coming in and out at the baker[ies].”

Renee’s Kitchenette & Grill is an intentionally homey restaurant.  The walls are painted a warm shade of yellow, plants hang above the counter and there are knickknacks and decorative signs.

Concordia Soriano and her husband, Bill Buell, live in Lower Manhattan, but eat at Renee’s a several times a month because there aren’t many Filipino restaurants in Manhattan.

“It’s her favorite, she’s Filipino,” Buell said of his wife.  “I come here just to bring takeout to [her].  It’s the best.”

Buell and Soriano added that they buy so much food at Renee’s, they need reusable shopping bags to carry the takeout home.

“I like the taste – unique, always fresh,” Soriano said.

Other area Filipino restaurants serve a slightly different cuisine than Renee’s.  Several storefronts away, Krystal’s Café sells food that is less regionally specific.

“It’s more mixed,” Dennis Mendoza said of the cooking.  Mendoza has worked at Krystal’s for 12 of the 15 years it’s been open.  “Most customers are from different parts of the Philippines.  Filipinos have different foods they like.”

Krystal’s Café is markedly busier than Renee’s during the same hours.  Many tables are filled and Mendoza said that there are many regular customers.

“They eat breakfast before work and dinner after,” Mendoza said.  “They feel at home.”

Though there are no advertisements and Mendoza said “people just know” about the weekend karaoke nights, he said the restaurant got more business, particularly from non-Filipino customers, after reviews in the New York Post and the New York Times.

Over at Renee’s, Emma Dizon said they don’t advertise either.  “We’re a simple restaurant without pretension,” Dizon said.  “And we can’t really afford it.  It’s nice to advertise, but it’s not us.”

Emma Dizon recently added to the restaurant’s menu options.  Last year, Renee’s began serving beer and wine, and added a combination lunch special to its menu.

“We’re always coming up with something,” Emma Dizon said of trying to attract customers.  “We’re not going to stop.”

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Immigrant-Owned Businesses Flourish in the City, Despite the Recession

If you go to eat at a small restaurant in New York City, chances are it will be run by an immigrant. Neha Tara Mehta reports on how immigrants are overcoming the odds to open new businesses in a recession. Produced by Jake Heller.

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Tea Shops Open Throughout Manhattan

When many businesses are closing down due to the recession, the luxury high-end tea business is on the rise. Salim Essaid reports from one tea shop that opened on 97th Street and Broadway.

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Best Choice Foods Grocery Market Struggles to Maintain Business in Chinatown

By Linda Ong

When shoppers inside Best Choice Foods in Chinatown look down, they see hundreds of old orange price tags scattered and stuck to the floor. The discarded price tags represent the owners’ commitment to adjusting their prices daily. Since 2008, U. Win Myint and Yu Yu Khin have struggled to compete with the influx of new Asian grocers opening in Chinatown.

“These stores took away many of my customers,” said Myint, who matched his wife in a washed-out collar blue shirt and faded jeans. “It was hard.”

In the past decade, ethnic grocery stores have become some of the fastest growing stores in the United States. Now, Chinatown is flooded with Asian-specialty markets, putting a strain on long-time grocers, like Myint and Khin. Profits for Best Choice Foods have declined, and Myint said revenue is now 25-percent less than that prior to 2008.

“Before, we could set prices however we wanted and people would buy,” said Myint. “Now, we’re making just enough to keep the business going. It’s tough.”

Prior to opening Best Choice Foods in 1989, Myint’s father owned a small, successful biscuit shop in Myanmar. Myint said running a business in New York City is more taxing.

“It’s much more complicated in the U.S.,” said Myint. “More competition.”

The couple manages every aspect of the business, which employs seven people working as cashiers and stockers. From 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. every day, the couple serves customers from opposite counters at the front of the grocery store, warmly greeting the constant flow of customers in different Asian dialects, and speaking in Burmese when customers aren’t present.

The pressures on the business are severe. The 2008 opening of Hong Kong Supermarket on Hester St. has lured away shoppers from Best Choice Foods and other area grocers. Best Choice Foods’ closest competition, One Long Hing Market, is located only 20 yards away.

Chui Ping Yan Ng, who has lived in Manhattan for 35 years, said she prefers One Long Hing Market to others.

“Every day after work, I pick up fruit from here. It’s on my way home,” said Ng. “Sometimes I will pick up fruit from other places if the prices are good. But, here, it’s fresher.”

Every shelf, counter, and corner of Best Choice Foods is packed with goods. The narrow, rectangular store holds an inventory of over 2,000 products- a mix of neat piles of 10 different brands of rice, hanging packages of fried, seasoned poultry skins, and a section full of pickled fruits and vegetables, among others. To differentiate themselves from other grocers, Myint and Khin said they constantly study consumer behavior within their store by paying close attention to the items purchased by customers and to the items that remain unsold. After analysis, the couple then adjusts their prices, sometimes daily, to appeal to customers. According to Khin, unsold items indicate that other grocers are selling at cheaper prices.

“Price is important to our shoppers,” said Khin. “We have many people who bargain the price because they see it cheaper somewhere else. Sometimes the difference is pennies. We say ‘okay’ and sell it.”

But the effects of the tough economy have made it difficult for the owners to remain competitive. According to the New York City Police Department, reported thefts in Chinatown have increased by 20.5-percent since 2010. Myint said that every year, he has lost approximately 10-percent of revenue from stolen goods. As prevention, he installed a 42-inch Panasonic television screen at the entrance, which monitors every corner of the store.

“It’s easy for people to steal because our store is small and items are small, too,” said Myint. “The security system is to put fear in stealing from our store. But, not all our shoppers are like this.”

Despite this, many of the customers at Best Choice Foods come often. Jane Zheng, who has been living in Manhattan with her son and family for three months, has become a regular. She said she comes for the variety of products sold at Best Choice Foods.

“I end up buying all my groceries here,” said Zheng, while holding her baby Ethan. “The owners are easy-going, too.”

Other shoppers come for the experience. John Wilson, a Manhattan resident, comes once a week to buy special curries and chilies at the market.

“The owner is really nice and sweet. One time she gave me a free soda,” he said. “I love coming here.”

For owners Myint and Khin, keeping customers satisfied is enough to keep them going.

“We know it’s difficult times for our customers, too,” said Khin. “If they leave happy, they will come again.”

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In East Harlem, It’s All In the Family

by Jackie Kostek

At El Zarareno bakery in East Harlem, it’s all in the family.

Christian and Gladys Moncion opened the bakery together in 1990.  Mrs. Moncion manages the business side, and Mr. Moncion mans the kitchen.  Their two children, Christian and Christina, work the register.

“You have to have some connection to the family to work here,” said Daniel Heredia, who has worked at the bakery for five years.  His mom is a family friend and has worked at the bakery since it opened.

The bakery sits on the corner of 110th St. and Third Ave.  With three local schools nearby, the area is bustling with families and children.  The bakery is small and quaint, but there is a steady stream of customers flowing in and out.

Since opening, the mom and pop bakery has stuck to tradition.   And it works.

Christina Moncion, the co-owners’ 19-year-old daughter, said the lagging economy hasn’t affected the bakery’s profits.

“Even in 2008, when the economy dropped, we didn’t see much of a change,” Christina said.  “Maybe there were less new customers, but our regulars still came.”

Christina said the business thrives on its “regulars.”   She said most of the “regulars” are older and have lived in East Harlem since the ‘50s and ‘60s, when it was a busy Puerto Rican neighborhood.

Christina said the family knows their customers, and doesn’t feel the need to market their business in any modern way.

“Nope, no Web site,” Christina said.  No facebook or twitter either. The bakery isn’t even listed on East Harlem’s online directory of local businesses.   They only accept cash, but they do have an in-store ATM machine for customers carrying plastic.

El Zarareno may not have a presence online, but it does command a presence in the neighborhood.

Roberto Santos, a Washington Heights resident, grew up a few blocks from the bakery and said he has fond memories of it.

“My parents were from Puerto Rico, and we made trips to the bakery every Sunday after church,” said Santos.  “My mom had all the same traditional Puerto Rican recipes at home.”

Santos said El Zarareno stuck by its Puerto Rican roots, and he thinks that’s why it has been able to weather changes in the neighborhood and the downtrodden economy.

“If you look around the neighborhood, most places are gone,” said Santos.  He said the majority of Puerto Rican-owned bakeries and bodegas didn’t survive the influx of other Latin groups in the past two decades.

Christian Moncion, co-owner and baker, said he has added a few new items to the menu to accommodate the Mexicans, Dominicans, and Cubans who have moved into East Harlem.

“Some of our “regulars” have brought in recipes from their cultures,” Mr. Moncion said.  “And we’ll add those to our menu.”

Mr. Moncion, who is Dominican, said the bakery has always included some Dominican recipes, but they recently added a Mexican tres leches cake and a Cuban beef patty.

Still, the bestsellers are the Puerto Rican pastries, a cream-cheese filled pastry called a quesito, and a cheese and guava-filled pastry.

The family’s “secret blend” of coffee is a bestseller, too.  Daniel Heredia estimated the bakery sells 500 cups a day.  At $1 a cup, Heredia said the coffee sales help pay the bills.

“Puerto Ricans will come in and ask if the coffee is bustelo, a Puerto Rican coffee, because they say it tastes like home,” Heredia said.  It’s not bustelo coffee, but it is similar.

Purp Inkerman, an East Harlem resident, said he’s addicted to the coffee.

“I’m late to work four to seven days a week because of the coffee,” Inkerman said with a laugh.  He works across the street in a tattoo parlor, but he said he sometimes waits 20 minutes for his morning coffee.  “If the line is long and I know I’m going to be late, I just buy an extra coffee for my boss,” Inkerman said.

“Ask him what he puts in the coffee,” Inkerman said, pointing to Daniel Heredia behind the counter.

Heredia said he can’t divulge the family’s secret.  After all, it’s a family affair.

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Food Trucks Thrive Amidst Possible Regulation

Lobster macaroni and cheese, eggplant schnitzel and goat curry may sound more like four star restaurant than curbside grub. But the landscape of New York City’s food trucks is quickly changing. Nathan Vickers and Jackie Kostek report.

Clarification: Not all of The Milk Truck’s sandwiches cost $7.25. Keith Klein, owner of The Milk Truck, says sandwiches on the menu range $5.75 to $7.50.  The sandwich mentioned in the segment is the Three Cheese Grilled Cheese sandwich.

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On Weekends, an Experienced Chef Teaches Ameuteurs How To… Buy Fish

To make a little money on the side, Chef Abigail Hitchcock teaches aspiring chefs how to navigate Chinatown’s fish markets — and then how to cook what they buy. Sarah Laing and John Light report.

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Against Odds, a Pork Shop Thrives


by Olivia Smith

Faicco’s Pork Shop in the West Village is thriving thanks to two unlikely factors: the recession and real estate.

“People still have to eat and they want good food,” said Eddie Faicco, the owner of the Italian shop on Bleecker Street. “You might spend $100 at an expensive restaurant, but for the same price you can feed two people for a week if you shop here.”

However, other small businesses in the West Village are not doing as well as Faicco’s. Some are shutting down or have been forced to move because of Manhattan’s sky-high real estate. But the Faiccos own their building, which makes all the difference.

“If I were at the mercy of a stranger I may not have this place,” Faicco said.

The Faiccos started serving the Greenwich Village community in 1900. Eddie Faicco runs the shop in Manhattan and his two brothers, Louis and Matthew, run the second shop in Brooklyn. The three brothers inherited the land from their grandparents, the original owners, who bought the land on Bleecker Street in the 1940s.

“Paying so much rent for a small business isn’t worth it,” Faicco said. “That’s why you see so many failing now.”

Joe’s Pizza, made famous by the Spider Man films, used to be around the corner from Faicco’s. It had to move locations when its rent was raised from $900 a month to $25,000 a month according to the owner’s grandson Sal Vitale.

“We were a small business, a hole in the wall,” said Vitale, who works at the pizza place’s new location. “Once [the landlord] saw how well we were doing he got greedy and went crazy.”

Avoiding rent has not only kept Faicco’s in the same place, but has also been a major factor in helping the shop maintain supermarket prices according to employee Joe Beshara.

“These are Brooklyn prices, not Manhattan prices,” Beshara said pointing to the deli sandwiches and balls of beef mozzarella. “We try to keep it reasonable.”

The butcher shop’s inexpensive products help it compete with larger specialty markets.

“Our prices haven’t gone up and that’s why we’ve had the same customers coming back for 40 years,” said Beshara.

These customers, who have returned to Faicco’s decade after decade, attribute the success of the century-old shop to its sausage and the seared broccoli rabe.

“I moved to the West Village 56 years ago,” said Lucille Tesoriero. “I’ve shopped here since then. The food is fresh and the people who work here are friendly.”

Faicco’s takes its cuisine seriously. There is a separate curing room for meat in the back of the store. But before a customer has a chance to get in line, they have to go about business the old-fashioned way and take a number at the entrance.

“I like it because its old-school and authentic,” said Jack Daley, an Italian-American who has been coming here for 12 years. “Faicco’s reminds me of places on Long Island that I grew up going to. There aren’t many places like it anymore.”

Certain specialty items that are imported from Italy may cost a bit more, but most things are reasonable. Rice balls are $1 and a pre-packaged meal like Chicken Parmigiano serves two people and costs $9.49. Canned Pastene tomatoes are $2.69 and La Nonna del Monello pasta is $5.99. The most expensive item is prosciutto for $28.99/lb. The least expensive is a piece of garlic for $0.50.

“We’ve been here a long time,” Faicco said. “That means something. I don’t think we’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.”

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Rastafarian Ital Food: Healthy and Holy

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by Andrew Parsons

In the kitchen at the Four Seasons Bakery in Flatbush, Brooklyn, cook Andre Gordon’s hands never rest. He circumnavigates three large pans on a tiny stove. He pivots to a long metal table to hurriedly chop onions and then aggressively opens a can of black-eyed peas with a large kitchen knife. Fresh peppers and pumpkin are tossed into oil. Gordon says this is when he usually offers a few words of praise to Jah.

“I cook the food and I say ‘Thank you Father, Thank you for the food I’m preparing for the people. Bless this food,’” said Gordon.

Gordon, a Guyanese known as Chef Blackie to many customers, is the chef at the Four Seasons located on Church Avenue in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He is tall, gaunt, full of energy and looks younger than his 46 year. He attributes his looks and energy to his diet, which follows Rastafarian practices. The Rastafarian diet, known as ital (from the word vital) is vegan and salt-less.

Ital restaurants are scattered throughout Flatbush. The business gives cooks and owners a chance to make a living from the daily lives of the Rastafari. In areas with shifting populations like Flatbush, it also attracts a secular community who come just for the healthy eating.

“We got a lot of white folks, we got a lot of Italian folks, we got a lot of Chinese folks,” said Gordon. “In 2003, 2004 you see one type of crowd coming in but now at this moment today we got a variety of peoples coming every day.”

Rastafari is not an highly structured religion and is considered by most followers to be more of a lifestyle. It began in 1930s Jamaica by proponents of African repatriation, most notably Marcus Garvey. For its followers, it’s a way for African descendants around the world to spiritually connect to their homeland. Jah is the word for God and is considered the equivalent to the Christian God. While Rastafari are careful to say they are not a sect of Christianity, their followers worship Jesus and the Holy Trinity.

The Four Seasons’ wood-paneled walls reflect the restaurant’s spiritualism. They are lined with pictures of the 1930 Coronation of Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s Emperor who Rastafarians believe descended from Biblical Kings. A magazine rack sells books about black nationalism, spiritualism and healthy cooking. All these things connect to each other under the umbrella of Rastafari. According to Vivaldi Jean-Marie, a professor of philosophy and African studies at Columbia University, Rastafarians believe that “vegetarian diet makes one light and healthy and gives… a connection to African ancestors and the great prophets of the Bible.“

The itali diet, which is void of meats, diary products, salt and preservatives, is derived from biblical rules. “The book of Genesis describes a vegetarian diet… and the book of Leviticus is very specific about certain things that man should not eat,” said Anthony Merritt, a professor at San Diego State University and Rastafari priest.

According to Merritt, it’s customary to say impromptu prayers when gathering food and preparing it. It can be anything from psalms from the Bible to praise from the heart. Gordon prefers to say whatever comes to mind.

One a recent day, customers who walked into Four Seasons said they come for health reasons. Sarah Blute, a teacher at Erasmus High School across the street, is a regular at Four Seasons. Blute said that she comes for the kindness of the staff, a two dollar teacher discount and to get some energy.

“They make a lot of healthy fruit juices for us,” said Blute. “So when I feel like I’m out of energy Andre has a perfect mix to boost my energy.”

Many Rastafari will preach the health benefits of ital food. Jarvis Hall, owner of Italfari Juice Bar in Crown Heights, says meat, sugar and sodium contribute to high obesity rates in the United States and views ital food as an alternative. Studies, including a recent report from the Center for Disease Control, confirm that an increase in salt is responsible for high blood pressure in young adults.

But not everyone thinks that ital food has health benefits. Lisa Cohn, a nutritionist and owner of Park Avenue Nutrition in Manhattan, says that the ital diet’s health value depends on how the food is made. Restaurants like Four Seasons that saute fresh foods with healthy oils but then leave them out in heated pans compromise the health value of the food.

“Oils are oxidized by the heat and can activate carcinogens that can be harmful to the body,” said Cohn. “Just because its vegan doesn’t mean its healthy.”

After cooking, Gordon puts together a plate for himself and a neighborhood friend to take outdoors for lunch. He wraps his arm around her shoulder and waves to everyone he leaves, delightfully greeting them and always smiling.

Health and spirituality are intertwined in Rastafarian culture and Gordon’s constant good mood is a reflection of that. Regardless of how the food is cooked, he swears by the spiritual and health benefits. He doesn’t even have to eat the food to feel a connection.

“Just holding the onions and the garlics and the spinach and the pumpkin, everything that comes from the earth,” he said. “Just holding those things make you feel so good.”

Click to read the transcript

Andrew Parsons: You may not realize it, but salt is trying to kill you.

ABC news report

Parsons: Now consider Ital food – the diet of the Rastafari religion.

Ambience: Sizzling of food.

Parsons: Ital food is made without meat but also without salt or preservatives, those culprits of high blood pressure. Andre Gordon is the chef at Four Seasons in Flatbush, Brooklyn. He says that ital food is good for the body and the spirit.

Andre Gordon: “When you eat Ital food after a certain period of time, your spirit becomes light, you just got a nice vibe. I cook the food and I say thank you Father, praise you, I cook with clean hands and clean heart.”

Parsons: Rastafari is about being one with God, the earth and humanity and this extends to the food. The components are locally grown and are fresh. The food is meticulously cleaned and is absent of chemicals. Prayers can be said during preparation. All this work forms a connection with mother earth. Vivaldi Jean-Marie is an associate professor of philosophy and African studies at Columbia University. He says the cuisine has Biblical roots.

Vivaldi Jean-Marie: “Veggie diet makes one light and healthy and given a connection to African ancestors and the great prophets of the Bible.”

Parsons: Back at Four Seasons, Chef Gordon is working with his fresh produce.

Ambience: More sizzles.

Parsons: He says it’s expensive to buy fresh. Of course, the 2008 economic crash hurt the restaurant as well. Last week, Four Seasons was cited for various health violations and was given a B grade by the New York City Health Department. This could also be out of compliance with Rastafari. Achieving vitality is not always easy.  Andrew Parsons, Columbia Radio News.

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