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 2015, and thanks for your good work.
Maria Tisdall, Proprietor
Maria Tisdall was a chef for more than 20 years, but never wanted to open her own restaurant. With four kids at home, “I didn’t want to work eight days a week,” she says. But after running a gourmet counter in a wine store, Tisdall realized a new passion—for cheese. “The history, the breadth of variety, it really intrigued me,” she says. Tisdall immersed herself in cheesemaking classes in Manhattan and Vermont and soon became an expert in both domestic and international varieties. Her family encouraged her to open Cheese…Please!, where she would be able to share her love of cheese with customers.
Much like wine, cheese can be intimidating to those who may not know their Gruyère from their Gouda, but Tisdall’s warm, inviting manner quickly assuages fears. “We give customers about 45 seconds before we start talking to them, asking what kind of cheese they’re looking for, what they may like,” she laughs. “We encourage sampling. We do a lot of tasting and touching the product. We don’t want you to be afraid of it.”
Cheese…Please! is always rotating its products, which hail from all over the world, as well as New Jersey. She typically stocks 50 to 70 different varieties at one time and always has a wheel from Cherry Grove Farm in Lawrenceville.
Tisdall clearly enjoys interacting with customers. “The people who come in, we remember their names, their kids’ names. I love talking to people and finding out what they’re here for,” she says. It was exactly that kind of conversation that led Tisdall to expand her offerings. Despite her refusal to install a stove when she opened in 2010, the store has slowly morphed into a café. “I didn’t want to have a restaurant, but people began asking for soup first, then sandwiches, and now salads, and of course cheese plates. It’s become a nice spot for lunch.”
26 Eastman St., Cranford
The Pig & Prince
Michael Carrino’s dream was to attend the Culinary Institute of America, but his high school grades precluded acceptance. “I tend to live by a credo that says if you tell me I can’t, I’ll show you I can,” he says. He eventually made it to the CIA, where he graduated at the top of his class and served as the commencement speaker.
A native of Nutley, Carrino found success at various restaurants along the East Coast and as the first champion of the Food Network’s “Chopped” cooking show. He returned to New Jersey when his father became ill and opened his first restaurant, Passionné, which closed in 2011. He always planned to open another restaurant, but when a friend in real estate showed him Montclair’s dilapidated Lackawanna Terminal, he finally knew where. “It was more than a diamond in the rough,” he says of the historic rail station that first opened in 1912 and was designed by William Botsford, who died aboard the Titanic. Though it was structurally amazing, Carrino says the terminal “needed love” and was located in an overlooked, highly commercial part of town. “I wanted to bring back a portion of the community,” he says.
Carrino did just that, opening the doors to The Pig & Prince in August 2012. The 50-foot vaulted ceilings, original floors and even an original waiting- room bench define the casually sophisticated space. The Pig & Prince has garnered high marks for its fine dining, excellent service, commitment to using local produce and warm atmosphere. It’s exactly what Carrino was seeking. “I want to be your favorite restaurant. Not the place you come twice a month, but where you come twice a week.”
Carrino’s passion for local extends beyond produce and products to people. “I love Montclair,” he says, but it’s not just his patrons who benefit from his culinary chops. Whether he’s cooking Thanksgiving dinners for the Salvation Army or mentoring students in the culinary program at Montclair High School, Carrino proves that you don’t have to be a blue blood to be a prince.
The Pig & Prince
1 Lackawanna Plz., Montclair
Brant Braue & Krista Haley
Jersey Artisan Distilling
It sounds like the beginning of a joke—a divorce lawyer and an electrical engineer walk into a bar—but actually it’s how Jersey Artisan Distilling was born. Krista Haley, the divorce lawyer, and Brant Braue, the engineer, met at a local brewery. As their friendship grew, they soon shared hopes and dreams for new challenges and inspirations. That included Braue’s dream of opening a distillery.
“Designing the machines fulfilled the technical side for me, but ultimately it’s about having a tangible product at the end of the day,” Braue says. “A product that makes people happy and that makes me happy.” Haley’s interest was piqued when she learned that New Jersey hasn’t been home to a distillery since before Prohibition.
“Antiquated laws and red tape meant that distillers had to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars in equipment before they even got a license,” she explains. Before long, Haley and Braue knew they were on to something and they set about opening the first distillery in New Jersey since Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
The pair spent the better part of 2011 hatching plans, meeting with lawmakers and learning how to distill liquor before gaining their license in 2013. Their first batch of Busted Barrel rum was served in March 2013. Housed in a warehouse that once manufactured airplane parts, Jersey Artisan Distilling currently produces craft rum in three varieties—light, dark and silver. Beginning this summer, Haley and Braue will introduce flavored rums using seasonal and local fruits. Plans for gin using local botanicals and whiskey using Jersey sweet corn are also in the works.
Haley put her legal prowess to use again recently, lobbying successfully to change the law to allow tours and sampling at their site. Jersey Distilling now runs tours every Saturday from noon until 5pm. No reservations required.
Were the legal battles and hard work worth it? The pair says yes, especially when they’re at a party and someone brings along a bottle of something they’ve made or they hear a bartender pushing their product instead of Bacardi. “Everyone told us we were crazy to leave behind successful professional careers, but they’re all on board now. My mom even calls the rum her grandchild,” laughs Haley.
Jersey Artisan Distilling
32B Pier Ln. W., Fairfield
Cathy Snyder, Founder
Rolling Harvest Food Rescue
Lambertville, NJ & Lumberville, PA
It began six years ago, when Cathy Snyder volunteered at Lambertville’s Fisherman’s Mark Food Pantry. A farmers’ market across the river in New Hope, Pennsylvania, had just opened and Snyder had an idea. Why not drive the big red truck she won in Louisville (at Churchill Downs, of course!), fill it with nourishing leftover produce and deliver it to the food pantry? After speaking with farmers, she soon learned she was going about it the wrong way—the best place to find leftover produce was at the farm itself. “I realized that the farmers wanted to share their surplus, but we needed to make it as easy as possible, so we started going directly to them,” she says.
Before long, Snyder, a former television advertising executive, was collecting surplus from 25 farms across Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and Hunterdon and Mercer Counties in New Jersey. “It’s all about relationships,” she says.
The surplus product is delivered to 45 hunger relief sites throughout the region. Depending on the item, Snyder determines its destination. “If it’s something that needs to be cooked right away, we’ll deliver it to a shelter or soup kitchen where it will be cooked that day,” she explains.
Rolling Harvest is truly on the front lines— the day of the interview Snyder received a call that 70 pounds of spring mix was available. Like the head of an organ transplant team, Snyder quickly dispatched one of her volunteers (there are 75 who do everything from gleaning to driving). In addition to produce, organic meat is also part of Rolling Harvest’s offerings (partner Applegate Natural and Organic Meats donated 120,000 pounds of healthy protein last year). “When I know that a family [in need] can have a meal of fresh vegetables and organic steak—that’s justice,” says Snyder.
“These people are your neighbors,” she adds. “Any one of us is a foreclosure or job loss away from needing help.” From the parents who are now able to cook something nutritious for their families to the farmers who are delighted that none of their food goes to waste, Rolling Harvest is a win-win. “We get more hugs in a given day than most. We get paid in hugs,” says Snyder with her trademark infectious spirit.
Rolling Harvest Food Rescue
Lambertville, NJ and Lumberville, PA
Debveda Berry-Moore’s father was famous for his sweet potato pie. “Everywhere he went, people begged him to bring one of his pies,” she says. When he passed away in 2006, the pie-baking baton was passed to her. But when her family asked her to bring one of “Dad’s pies” to Thanksgiving, she was up against a wall. “No matter how many times I asked, he never wrote the recipe down,” she chuckles. Luckily, her daughter, Janelle, had grown up in the kitchen with Pa-Pa, and together the two women recreated this little taste of home from memory, along with a healthy dose of experimentation.
“I started playing with toppings—pecans, caramel, cinnamon chips, coconut and rum-soaked raisins,” she says. And the result? “Magical.” Her customers seem to agree. What began as a hobby has grown into a fullfledged business as demand has increased. Berry-Moore quit her job as a meeting planner and began devoting herself full-time to Lumpasugah in 2014. While she doesn’t maintain a storefront—opening a shop remains one of her goals—her pies can be ordered in advance and picked up in two locations: her church in Elizabeth or the commercial kitchen where she bakes in Englewood. They can also be shipped overnight.
Berry-Moore takes pride in her sweet potato, nut and seasonal fruit pies, making everything from scratch with all-natural ingredients. Despite what the name implies, these pies are not overly sweet. “The natural sugar from the fruit is the only sweetness they have,” she says. Lumpasugah refers to her father’s favorite term of endearment. “He used to say to everyone, ‘Aw, you’re just a lumpasugah.’ ”
For many, pies represent a meaningful culinary memory. “Customers often tell me when they take that first bite that it reminds them of their mother’s, grandmother’s or aunt’s,” Berry-Moore says. “When you eat one of my pies, I want you to go to whatever home represents to you.”
School Lunch Organic Farm & CSA
Margaret Noon has always appreciated good food. Originally a graphic designer, she fled the advertising world for a culinary career, training at the French Culinary Institute. For many years she headed the Northern New Jersey chapter of Slow Food USA. But she never envisioned herself working on a farm.
“I never set out to be a farmer, but young people need to be encouraged to farm,” Noon says. “I wanted to create a place that not only grew really good food but also served as an education center.” Noon bought her 70-acre farm in northern New Jersey in April 2012 and harvested her first crop that summer. The farm now grows about 150 varieties of fruit, vegetables and herbs and has about 85 members in its CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. “We really grow a rainbow of colors,” she says.
While School Lunch Farm does employ a few seasonal workers, it is run largely by members and volunteers. “It’s amazing the people who rally around a farm,” Noon says. “We even have a man in his 70s, related to the original owners, who can restore machinery and tractors to like-new condition.”
The farm is certified organic, which translates to extra work. “It’s more time-consuming, but it’s better for the land, the bees and us,” Noon says. The farm is also a classroom of sorts, as she regularly invites teachers to visit to learn how to grow gardens at their own schools. She particularly enjoys getting kids involved. “When kids have that interaction, they learn how to eat better.”
Noon is a firm believer in bringing everyone to the organic table and has donated her surplus since the farm’s first day. She estimates that she has probably donated 10,000 pounds of vegetables to the Hackettstown food pantry, which picks up the surplus weekly during the season.
Noon may not have planned for this farming life, but she’s certainly embracing it.
School Lunch Organic Farm & CSA
69 Stephens State Park Rd., Hackettstown