Archive | November, 2009

A tour with Meals on Wheels in Washington Heights

A tour with Meals on Wheels in Washington Heights

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No more bake sales for public schools in the city

No more bake sales for public schools in the city

By SONYA REHMAN

In a bid to get children in New York City to start eating right, the Department of Education, which has already moved to make only healthy beverages available from school vending machines, has prohibited bake sales from public schools.

“We understand the need for parent groups to raise funds at school gatherings. However, we are doing schoolchildren a disservice by using these events to distribute and promote foods that contribute to obesity,” said an Oct. 7 press release by the Health Department, responding to the Department of Education’s initiative to curb childhood obesity.

William Havemann, the media spokesperson from the Department of Education stated: “We don’t track how often schools have bake sales but schools are now permitted one bake sale per month during school hours, and after 6 p.m. on weekdays they can have as many as they want.”

The ban “makes me very angry,” says Liza Campbell, a teacher at the Bushwick School in Brooklyn. “It’s a traditional form of fundraising where kids can bake stuff with their families. It brings families together.”

Caitlin Duffy, who teaches at the MS 245 Computer School in Manhattan, says she is disheartened by the reasoning behind the ban. “The actual reasoning seems ineffective,” she said. “Minimizing their sugar intake is definitely not the effect. The amount of baked goodies students can buy with what money they have on hand is hardly enough to cause them a lot of harm unless these bake sales have a daily frequency.”

Photo illustration by Sonya Rehman

Photo illustration by Sonya Rehman

Cassandra Dillenberger, a concerned parent, doesn’t think the bake sales will curb childhood obesity. She says, “Better lunch meals provided at schools and better home nutrition are better places to develop good eating habits. Bake sales are fundraisers for class/school activities for which no alternative school funding is available. These are for enriching activities such as school trips, graduations and things like that.”

The Health Department release made no suggestions how to replace the bake sales. Duffy says that some of her teacher friends are unsure how to raise money for extracurricular activities without bake sales, “They can’t possibly get funding through Parents Associations or their budgets or fundraising programs purchased by the school,” she says, “So they are stuck without means for extracurricular activities where they might want to quickly raise a registration fee, the cost of T-shirts, or other simple club needs.”

Merril Zgar, a parent of four, thinks the ban is misguided. “Banning bake sales won’t teach children anything,” she says, “They can snack across the street on Twinkies at a bodega. As a parent, it’s important for me to limit my child’s sweet intake and that comes from parental discipline. It’s not about having no sugar. It’s about moderating your sugar intake and if you eliminate something entirely, it only causes the child to want it more.”

Lana Ajemian, vice president of the New York State Parent Teacher Association, says the group “strongly encourages innovative ideas and alternatives to providing high sugar, fat or salty foods for classroom celebrations.”

This sentiment is echoed by Mary Jane Detroyer, a nutrition and exercise consultant, “If they want to initiate change, why not have allow the bake sale and provide healthier recipes for options to sell, like muffins using less fat and some whole grains, zucchini bread or banana bread or carrot bread, or homemade granola bars, etc.”

“I think our government is truly hypocritical when it talks about the obesity epidemic,” Detroyer says, “They do not fund money for gym class and they provide high fat, processed food for lunch. The children need to learn how to eat at home, also. I think a better idea than getting rid of bake sales would be for each district to have a registered dietitian on staff that could visit the schools and teach the children how to eat properly and work on recipes for the cafeteria and offer education to the parents.” The cost, she said, “would be well worth it for what it is going to cost down the road to pay for the health care for these children.”

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The tricks and tips of food styling

The tricks and tips of food styling

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell carefully brushes sauce on to lamb chops about to be photographed for Departures magazine. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell carefully brushes sauce on to lamb chops to be photographed for Departures magazine. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

By JOEL MEARES

Food stylist Brian Preston-Campbell has some words of comfort for those struggling to get their Thanksgiving turkeys looking as plump and brown as the birds in their cookbooks. Those birds, he says, “are still fairly raw on the inside.”

The shiny brown birds that dominate magazines and books every fall are often the work of a food stylist’s paintbrush, one of the many tools Preston-Campbell carries with him in a metal briefcase to studios across New York. He also takes butter tweezers, a scalpel and a butane torch.

The trick with turkeys, he explains, is to roast it quickly at a high temperature. Then, brush the skin with a mix of water, soap and the supermarket-bought browning agent, Kitchen Bouquet. The bird might be Jell-O inside, but its outside is golden, moist and ready for its close-up.

Behind every great, stomach-teasing picture of food, there is a great food stylist and photographer. As models must be primped for the flashbulb, slabs of steak, gourmet cupcakes and martinis must be styled for food magazine pages, billboards and their own packaging. And just as with fashion, there are tricks to the trade.

“People eat with their eyes,” says Preston-Campbell, 38. “One of the first things they teach you at culinary school is that presentation is the first impression on someone when you’re preparing food for them.”

He started styling food a decade ago after 11 years working as a chef. His last kitchen job was as chef de cuisine at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill in the Flatiron District, and he found the work grueling. “I had 18 employees and they were a pain in the arse,” he says.
The difference between presenting food to eat and food to be photographed is that “you need to think of how the camera will view the food,” he says.  An overhead shot is styled evenly, he explains, while a shot taken from 45 degrees above the dish, the angle at which most people view their food, will be less even.

On a trip through Chelsea Market, shopping for the ingredients for a chicken hash and lobster bisque he will be styling for the New York Times magazine, Preston-Campbell describes his job. “You’re more or less shopping for, preparing and cooking idealized food for the media, whether it be magazines, newspapers, TV shows, commercials, or anyone else who needs food in their production,” he says.

For a job like that the New York Times shoot, a stylist is booked for “shooting days” and “prep days.” The client sends through recipes and the stylist offers feedback. The stylist then shops for the food, stores it at home or the photographer’s studio – most food photographers have studios with large kitchens, tables and refrigerators – and cooks and presents the dishes to be photographed on the day of the shoot.
“I think what differentiates a food stylist from a prop stylist or a wardrobe person is that we don’t just go and buy the thing that’s being photographed,” he says.  “We have to buy the raw materials, prepare it properly and make sure that it looks good – usually with only one chance to get it right.”

What looks good in food styling is always changing.

Romulo Yanes, for the last 26 years the only staff photographer on the recently closed “Gourmet” magazine, says magazine food was styled in a “very commercial way” in the 1980s. “It was lit and styled to look in the past more plastic,” he says over the telephone from his home in Morristown, N.J.

Preston-Campbell describes the old look as “over stylized, as if everything’s placed exactly and you can tell there’s been five meetings for each carrot stick placed on the plate.”

In a nod to all things organic, local and slow, food is styled today to look unfussy and realistic. Preston-Campbell calls it “making it look accidental when it really isn’t accidental.”

Ingredients are laid out on Preston-Campbell's prep table. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Ingredients are laid out on Preston-Campbell's prep table. (Photo: Tom Schierlitz)

Kirsty Melville, head publisher at cookbook publisher Andrews McMeel, says photographers are increasingly using natural light. A native of Melbourne, Australia, she says Down Under cookbook queen Donna Hay’s simple, natural photography is having an influence on current US styles. “It’s brighter, with strong colors, but still very natural,” she says.

Hay, in an email from her office in Sydney, says she strives to create food that the reader can easily reproduce. “The way we style at the magazine is straight from the kitchen to the plate,” she writes. “We’re not about reviving cold food for a shoot – we work fresh and fast and we don’t use tricks, paints or colors.”

Yanes likes the move towards reality. “When I am most successful in photography is when I can make a dish come to life for people, like it’s sitting on your kitchen table. One of my biggest things is to have the food be believable and natural so someone doesn’t look at the food and say, ‘It looks so good, it’s fake.’ That would not be a compliment to me.”

The change has been far-reaching. “The other day I passed McDonald’s and they had photography of hamburgers that actually looked good,” says Yanes. “It wasn’t those pristine, perfectly placed lettuce leaves, and the buns, and the super, super juicy burgers that were beyond real.”

Melville says a publisher is ultimately looking for the style of the photography to match the food in the recipes. “Photography is an expression of the style of the food, which is in turn an interpretation of the voice of the chef or food writer,” she says. A particular challenge for her was Andrews McMeel’s book, “The Amish Cook At Home.” Melville wanted pictures reflecting Amish family life, but could not show faces. Instead, she and the photographer decided to use hands, rolling dough and cutting vegetables, in the images.

Hay agrees that the image must match the story. “Each story we do is thought out from the theme to the color palette, background and story,” she writes. “And because food is one dimensional on the page – you can’t touch it or smell it – it needs to have what we call ‘yum factor.’”

Glossy or gritty, the job of the stylist and photographer is to make food look good – no matter what – and photographer Yanes has his own turkey story to share.

Shooting outdoors in upstate New York, Yanes and his team discovered that the oven they were supplied with was not large enough to fit the turkey they had to cook. Luckily, they had one they prepared earlier: a shriveled bird cooked three days before to use as a stand-in.

The team “doctored up” the ageing turkey, already stinking in the July heat, and singed the skin with a butane torch to get rid of wrinkles. “The skin just kind of perks up right away,” he says, laughing. “You would never have been able to tell in the photograph and it wasn’t retouched or anything.”

The only other time Yanes has ever faked it was while shooting a mango rice pudding on a beach in Hawaii for “Gourmet”. Missing the bottle of cream he needed to finish the dish, he substituted sunscreen.

Such substitutions are common in styling. Steam, difficult to capture on camera, is commonly faked with cigarette smoke; garment steamers with a hose attached to steer the vapor and, notoriously, soaked tampons, microwaved and placed behind the dish to be shot.

There are even those who devote themselves to such fakery. Tom Trengrove, who sells everything from fake sushi to blackberries made from resin from his Trengrove Studios Web site, says his company has developed “products that make photographing transitory kinds of things, like ice and foam, more stable.”

Preston-Campbell used carved acrylic ice cubes from Trengrove, for a recent Grey Goose print campaign. The shop’s most popular products are ice, ice powder (used to put a frosty surface on a can or glass) and “Foam Booster,” added to beer to keep the foam from going down. You can even buy a small droplet of solid water for $12. “In this business, reality is defined by whoever’s paying,” says Trengrove.

But stylists, photographers and the mad scientists who assist them, have increasingly fewer reasons to use their tricks. While cookbook sales are up, with many economists suggesting people are cooking at home, magazine sales are down and people like Yanes and Preston-Campbell are finding work scarcer. “It’s much easier and cheaper to get it on the Internet than to go and buy a glossy magazine for $6,” concedes the stylist.

Yanes says the closing of his longtime home, “Gourmet,” which defined food styling trends since it launched in 1941, is devastating. “I think it was a mistake,” he says. “They were the first American publication to cater to gastronomy and it just seems like a terrible loss. You don’t close “Vogue”, “Vogue” is fashion. “Gourmet” is food.”

Preston-Campbell stays hopeful. “There will still be a demand for food stylists in the future even if all the editorial content and food advertising move to the web,” he says. “Food imagery still needs to be created regardless of the medium.”

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Mozzarella Secrets

Mozzarella Secrets

By WINNIE ANDREWS

Ninety-one-year-old Georgiana de Palma knows how to make good mozzarella. She learned to make the cheese at Tedone Latticini Diary Products, the store her parents opened in Brooklyn in 1922. But she’s not ready to give up her cheese making secret to just anyone.

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At Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, food is therapy

At Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, food is therapy

By CAROLINE SHIN

On a recent Friday afternoon at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, a petite Arlaine Bruce cut up slices of homemade apple, sweet potato and pumpkin pies for the Harvest Moon Ball. There were also sugar-free oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies for the diabetic patients and cups of ginger ale for all. Guests kept rolling in. Many needed help with their wheelchairs; a few wheeled themselves in. Even fewer walked.

At Mary Manning Walsh, food plays multiple roles in the lives of its residents—the more than 350 patients are 80 years old on average (and a lot are waiting to get in). The Upper East Side nursing home organizes special events such as the harvest ball, where food is used for socialization and normalization among its patients. Generally though—whether special events or regular meals—it is about “trying to get them to be happy with what they’re eating,” said Joanne Gaffney, 61, clinical nutrition manager. “Trying to feed them what their mother made them.”

Food and nutrition make up just one part of the nursing home’s comprehensive services, which also include 24-hour nursing, physician, laboratory and even, religious services. Arlaine Bruce said most of the residents are covered by Medicaid and Medicare and a few pay out of pocket.

Bruce, 46, director of recreational therapy, organized the harvest ball: a show with two lithe dancers, a keyboardist and a singer. She often uses food to get her patients to socialize. At the start of the show, one elderly lady, smartly dressed in an autumn leaves pattern, waved to a friend and wheeled herself over to the table where they chatted amid bites of pie and sips of ginger ale. Most of the 120 patients, however, stayed quiet, eating and responding to the show with occasional applause. They could not be identified nor interviewed, according to the nursing home’s policy.

Music therapist Sue Dennis, 40, says the food also normalizes things for the residents. “It might orient them a little,” she said. “It’s fall. We’ve got pie.” For Christmas, there are cookies, eggnog and hot chocolate, and the Passover seder presents its usual menu. The food reminds the patients of “what they would normally be doing.”

Bruce has also organized Saturday morning Doughnut Hours in which she and her patients talk about the news and play trivia around doughnuts and coffee. At monthly birthday celebrations, Bruce hands out cake and ice cream. The nursing home also hosts Travel Club meetings, in which a country and a typical regional food would be presented. Those who had visited that country would start reliving how good the food was there. Both Bruce and Dennis mentioned the apple strudel and sweet plantain, which have been featured in past meetings.

“They get together, eat and talk,” said Dennis. “It’s stimulating. They start reminiscing.”

For regular meals, Gaffney said the nursing home’s food service is not that much different from a restaurant’s. “We do cater to the needs and preferences of the residents.” The nursing home provides balanced meals that contain all food groups, adjusting the dishes or giving alternate sustenance for the patients with liquid restrictions, tube feedings or controlled carbohydrate diets. But she emphasized that, unlike a hospital, the nursing home does not adhere to a specific therapeutic diet. “You want to strike a balance,” she said.

Patients have individualized menus that adhere to their taste preferences and dietary needs. The menu, which varies daily, is planned weekly at the dietitians’ office. Breakfast usually comprises orange juice, oatmeal and a hard-boiled egg. Lunch and dinner include an entrée, starch and vegetable sides and dessert. All three meals come with bread and butter and coffee or tea with milk or creamer. The dinner menu that included beefaroni or tuna salad, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach and apple cobbler. There are additional off-the-menu dishes such as honey soup. Crab cakes, goulash and Philly cheese steak appear on the menu for upcoming weeks.

Gaffney added that food provides oral stimulation for some patients who are not tube feeding, and “for people that are seriously, terminally ill, we are more liberal with their diet because it’s one of the few things they can enjoy.”

Every day, it’s up to Andrea Reid, 58, assistant director of food and nutrition, to supervise the kitchen’s tray line: One person calls out the resident’s dinner selection — “two scoops, no mash” — and places a dish on a heat conductor plate, alerting the next two people on the hot or cold foods sides to place food and beverages on the dish. One person then adds coffee or tea, and the final person checks for accuracy. Beefaroni, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach lay steaming in baking pans. Tuna salad lay cold and yellow digital thermometers stuck out from roasted chicken.

After stacking up the trays of food, the staff members cart the meals to the nurses, who then deliver the food to the residents’ rooms. Some patients elect to eat at the dining room, where they have assigned seating. “They’re territorial,” said Bruce.

At the monthly Food Committee meetings, the nursing home allows its patients to issue complaints — most concerned cold food and a desire for new food.

Gaffney said the staff tries to remedy the issues the best they can. “You want to keep people happy here. This is their home.”

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Athletes mind their diets as they age

Athletes mind their diets as they age

Peter May, 48, ran the New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours. Nov. 1, 2009. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

Peter May, 48, ran the New York City Marathon in about four and a half hours. Nov. 1, 2009. (Photo: Daniel Woolfolk)

By DANIEL WOOLFOLK
Peter May walked down the street to his apartment in Chelsea wearing a metallic marathon cape, shorts, a medal and a huge smile, the kind of smile a 48-year-old man would have right after running the New York City Marathon.   He ran it in four and a half hours.
For the past 20 years, he’s been running “sometimes serious, sometimes not so serious,”  And the past two years have been serious.
“In order to do this race, I really, really had to focus on my diet,” said the Sydney, Australia, native who works in New York as an accountant. The bean counter doesn’t count calories, but he has been watching his portions. “I had to drop a few pounds as well so I can do the race,” he said.
That’s one of the biggest challenges to athletes as they age, said registered dietitian Marissa Lippert.  For every decade  after 30, a person loses 1 to 2 percent of their rate of metabolism, she said.
Another big challenge is calcium, Lippert said.  As athletes age, they become more prone to broken bones. It is especially true in women.
That’s why Carl Taeusch, 64, eats yogurt every night with his wife, Chizuko, 64.  He also takes calcium supplements.   The lifelong rower gets on the water about three times a week with the New York Rowing Association on the Harlem River during the warm season.  As it gets colder, he rows indoors and at the gym.
This type of physical activity can take a toll on a person’s body over time, Lippert said, so the body needs to recover.  A well-balanced meal with plenty of whole grains is the way to do that.
Taeusch is very aware of what he eats, partly because he is a borderline diabetic.  He’s the athlete, but his wife takes care of the diet.  She meticulously plans his meals and makes sure there is always water on the table.
When he’s not running, May eats a lot of fish and chicken combined with “really good veggies” such as broccoli and carrots.  He makes sure to eat brown rice, which is whole grain.
Aside from limiting his sugar, May’s diet hasn’t changed a whole lot in the past two decades.
“The big change is about awareness really,” he said. “I just wasn’t really aware of what I was eating 20 years ago.”
That’s typical, according to Lippert, the dietitian.
“At that age, most of us are more cognizant to what we put on our plate,” she said.
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Controversy calms for Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant

Controversy calms for Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza restaurant

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Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza in Harlem renamed its restaurant after President Obama after he was elected. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

By VADIM LAVRUSIK

The bright red signs reading “Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza” still hang proudly atop the fried chicken store in Harlem, while inside, the new name is written on tape covering the original name,  “Kennedy Fried Chicken.”

For those not from the neighborhood, it’s still a sight to see, said Mamadou Diallo, manager of the store at 116 Street and Nicholas Avenue.

“Tourists driving by always stop to take pictures in front of the restaurant,” the 32-year-old said.

But after causing a stir last spring by renaming the fried chicken restaurant after the first black president, people in the neighborhood have gotten used to the new name and questions of cultural identity have faded away.

“Things are pretty quiet now,” Diallo said.

After President Obama was inaugurated, several New York City establishments renamed or began naming products to pay homage to him. In Brooklyn, a shop opened named Obama Beauty Supply; the Sixpoint Craft Ales brewery named a beer after Obama; and then came Obama Fried Chicken in Harlem and Brownsville.

The Harlem restaurant was tied into an uproar with community leaders in Brooklyn, including Councilman Charles Barron and the Rev. Al Sharpton, who held rallies protesting the name as being stereotypical and degrading toward African-Americans.

Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken, which operates under a separate owner from the Brooklyn location on Rutland Road, took its signs down for about a month, said Diallo. Then other members of the community complained, he said. But after checking into possible legal issues with having the name, the signs went back up. The Brooklyn owner kept his signs up because they cost $5,000, according to a New York Times report. Diallo said his signs cost only $500.

“You’re never going to make everyone happy,” Diallo said.

Apparently, many who were offended by the signage at first have warmed up to it.

Stopping into the restaurant recently, Ebony Brown, 26,  said she thought the name was ridiculous at first.

Though the signage outside the restaurant have been updated, inside the old "Kennedy" in Kennedy Chicken is taped over. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

Though the signs outside the restaurant have been updated, inside the old “Kennedy” in Kennedy Fried Chicken is taped over. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

“Everyone was excited with Obama’s win, naming their kids after him and all sorts of stuff. But when I saw this, you know, naming a chicken spot after Obama just reinforces stereotypes of us black people,” said Brown, who lives in Harlem. “It’s passing by now, though.”

In a New York Daily News poll, readers were asked whether the shops should be allowed to use Obama’s name. A 68 percent majority selected the option: “Sure, it’s capitalism.” Others are indifferent. For Calvin Bowers, good food is good food, he said. Bowers works as a super across the street from Obama Fried Chicken and said he’s been going there “for five months straight, every day.”

Bowers said that as a black man, it doesn’t make a difference to him who it’s named after and what stereotypes people think it puts off.

“I am just trying to get something to eat,” he said. “You can’t beat it.”

Some African-American cultural sensitivities aren’t always as obvious to business owners from other parts of the world. Diallo, who emigrated from Guinea, Western Africa, in 2000, said the owner simply liked the new president because of his African heritage. As far as connecting fried chicken and a black president, Diallo said in his country many tribes are associated with different foods. His tribe, for example, is associated with eating lots of yam.

“If you go to a Hispanic area of town, you’re going to see a lot of tortillas, and that sort of thing,” Diallo said. “Well, then what’s the big deal?”

A lot of the criticism also came from people saying the restaurants were exploiting Obama’s name for profit. But Diallo said the Harlem business has stayed the same.

He also points to the many other products that took on the Obama name after he was elected, like Change Hot Sauce, which bears a drawing of Obama and was made as a limited product by Garden Row Foods in Illinois. The company sent the restaurant a sample, saying it could make more if the restaurant wanted to buy it.

"Change" hot sauce was send to Obama Fried Chicken and Pizza after they renamed. The company would not say whether they have sold the product or not. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

“Change” hot sauce was sent to Obama Fried Chicken & Pizza. The company would not say whether it has sold more of the product. (Photo: Vadim Lavrusik)

A worker at that company, who would not give his name, said Garden Row makes lots of different hot sauces for different occasions and this was no exception. He would not disclose whether they had sold any of the Change hot sauces or not.

But even though Diallo said business is the same, it at least draws some new customers.

Amin Nuani, 32, came into Harlem’s Obama Fried Chicken after seeing the name.

“Wow, it was the first time we saw something with Obama’s name on it like that,” Nuani said. “I think something with his name on it will definitely draw people in, especially in Harlem. But why not, he is our president.”

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Day of the Dead starts at the bakery

Day of the Dead starts at the bakery

By DANIEL WOOLFOLK AND NUSHIN RASHIDIAN

Mexican bakeries all over New York City are preparing pan de muerto, Spanish for bread of the dead, for the Day of the Dead celebration on Nov. 1. But Panaderia Caotzingo on 76-11 Roosevelt Avenue in Queens is anything but dead during the week before the holiday as customers bustle in and load trays with pan de muerto fresh from the oven. Baker Sergio Rodriguez, 22, makes 270 pieces of dome-shaped ‘’dead bread’’ each day, sized as small as the palm of a hand for $1.50, or bigger than a grown man’s face for $12. The sweet, cinnamon-infused bread is decorated with bits of cooked dough shaped like bones.

Day of the Dead (El Dia de los Muertos) has been celebrated by Mexican Indians for centuries. To them, it is the day the dead come back to visit the living–friends, relatives, and loved ones. Often, Catholic families make offerings at the graves of their loved ones, leaving them their favorite food, or even their favorite vice, be it cigarettes or alcohol. But they always leave pan de muerto, says bakery worker Yessica Rodriguez, 23, who is originally from the 300-person Southern Mexican town of San Jose Chilipa.. Rodriquez’s grandmother on her mother’s side died six years ago; each year, her family back home takes the 25-minute walk to the local cemetery.

When they arrive at the cemetery, located between mango trees and a cornfield, they make a velvet shrine and lay offerings of bean and chicken tamales, chocolates and purple flowers—any kind, as long as they’re purple. Her late grandfather gets a single Marlboro Red cigarette. When Rodriguez dies, she says she would like to have an offering of bean and chicken tamales, just like her grandmother. But she’s too busy to think about death right now—she must finish a sale to Cristian Moran, 26, from Guerrero, another state in Southern Mexico.

Moran has lived in the United States for six years. His grandfather died one month ago, but instead of going to Mexico, he sent $200 to relatives back home. He said people don’t celebrate Day of the Dead in New York City as much as they did in his hometown.

Bakery manager Sergio Najera, 54, agrees. Most Mexicans who die in New York City have their remains sent home, he says, so there is little reason to celebrate in local cemeteries. Adults tend to honor the dead privately, and children have another tradition to enjoy: Halloween.

Zeltzin Rosendo, 10, is excited for the 31st of October.

“They give you candy on Halloween and you get to get dressed up,” she says, standing next to the window displays that shows off piles of pan de muerto to people who walk past. She is not a fan of putting food on graves.

“That kind of creeps me out a bit,” she says.

Her brother died in the womb this past year, and this will be the first time they lay an offering to him. They will leave him pan de muerto.

Some people prefer neither Halloween nor a Day of the Dead in America. Queens resident Enrique Jimenez remembers his childhood experience with pan de muerto as he makes a quick visit to the bakery.

“I would buy the bread when I was little, or my mom baked it, but not too much anymore,” he says.

This year he will gather with his cousins and his brother, who is bringing pan de muerto from Mexico.

“This bread has a different flavor,” he says. “The original flavor is from Mexico.”

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Posted in Business, Diversity, Featured, Immigration1 Comment

Fulton Fish Market feels the pinch

Fulton Fish Market feels the pinch

By CAROLINE SHIN

Inside a white room the size of a toll booth, Diana Chicolo slides her window open at the tapping of a seafood distributor’s fingers. The warehouse air, regulated at 40 degrees, wafts in through her heated office, as she glances at the yellow receipt the distributor hands her.

“$186, even. Do you pay by check?”

For 13 years, Chicolo, 38, has been the bookkeeper for Caleb Haley & Co., one of the oldest and largest seafood wholesalers at the Fulton Fish Market. Between sips of coffee she said, “The fish market is not as busy as it used to be. It’s definitely dwindling.”

While it remains the largest wholesale seafood market in the U.S., the Fulton Fish Market has been shrinking in recent years. Four shops have closed since 2005 — a significant number in a market dominated by third-generation businesses — and many wholesalers cite sales decreases of 10 to 30 percent.

Caleb Haley, operating since 1859, is a big name at the market. Like those of the other 30 or so wholesalers, Caleb Haley’s core customers are seafood purveyors who distribute to restaurants and other eating establishments.

Sporting a navy blue baseball hat and jacket, a heavy-set Joseph Serrantonio, 52, oversees tuna and swordfish sales for the family-run business. He says the economic downturn has decreased his sales by 10 to 15 percent since last year. While the Zagat survey recently reported that 157 notable restaurants opened and 102 closed this year, Chicolo and Serrantonio both said the closings have impacted the wholesale business.

One of Caleb Haley’s longtime customers, David Coopersmith, 52, has been distributing seafood for Scandia Seafood for about 20 years. On any given day, he can buy 300 to 1,000 pounds, spending between $3,000 and $10,000, but he said demand from customers, including restaurants, is down 14 percent from last year. The economic downturn is “affecting us a little bit,” he said. “Absolutely.”

Chicolo also said the market’s relocation from downtown Manhattan in 2005 created a barrier for smaller buyers and passers-by. “People from Chinatown used to buy two to three pieces of fish,” she said “Now coming here means a lot of gas, time and parking fees.” The fish market charges $5 for drivers who wish to purchase seafood; those who brave the two-hour subway and bus ride have to pay a $2 pedestrian’s entry fee.

Opposite Caleb Haley, Anthony DeVito, 35, stands behind purple and red nets and white cardboard boxes of clams, oysters and mussels. It is a lot drier here. The third generation owner of the family-run New Seafood, DeVito has been working at the market for 32 years. “With the economy the way it is, business is down a little bit,” he said. He sells 10,000 to 20,000 pieces of shellfish, or about $30,000 a week. “It’s off by probably 30 percent” since last year, he said. He mulled over the number, chuckled and said, “I try not to look at it. You look at it, you just want to cry. The bills are getting paid. I’m happy with that.” He said the decreased demand has particularly hit high-end shellfish such as Maine oysters that require diving to obtain them.

On the other side of the 400,000-square-foot warehouse, Joel Rivera, 28, with a shaven head and solid build, maneuvers his forklift to unload fish onto the floor of Montauk Seafood. Having worked at the market for six years, he said, “I noticed a change in the money that the market was pushing. All the fish that was on the floor, all the fish that was being delivered. And there’s just such a big difference now.” He continued, “It just keeps getting smaller. Guys are getting laid off.”

Pan Sing Long, 35, a fish cutter at Caleb Haley, can certainly attest to that. After the company laid off two workers last year, he has had to double his responsibilities.

Meanwhile, outside the Fulton Fish Market, Restaurant Depot, a private wholesaler of food and supplies to restaurants, delis and grocery stores, has been aggressively growing, with 13 locations in New York and New Jersey. Staffed by former restaurant owners, chefs and food service specialists and offering thousands of food products at each location, the store calls itself the “the low-cost alternative to other foodservice suppliers,” according to its Web site. “A lot of restaurants are going to Restaurant Depot,” Chicolo said. “They buy in bulk,” and can get the seafood “frozen and cheaper.”

A line of purveyors grew outside Chicolo’s window, and, her wavy auburn hair highlighted against her white sweatshirt, she continued ringing up the purchases: $858.25, $4,742.68, $476.19. “It’s Thursday. It’s a busy day,” she said.

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