"Home of the Jersey Clam"

Sustainably delicious

Steve and Cookie's Slow Food Feast

Executive chef Kevin Kelly, left and Steve and Cookie’s owner Cookie Till and sous chef Warner Christy prepare menu items for the Slow Food South Jersey Winter Feast, which will be held Sunday at the Margate restaurant. Photo by Ben Fogletto

Sustainably delicious

by MARTIN DeANGELIS, Staff writer


Cookie Till is happy to host this year’s Slow Food South Jersey Shore Winter Feast on Sunday at her popular Margate restaurant, Steve & Cookie’s by the Bay.

She’s happy because she supports the worldwide slow food movement and its principles that “food should be tasty, seasonal, local, fresh and wholesome.” Steve & Cookie’s prides itself on serving locally produced food, and Till believes so strongly in helping local farmers that she hosts a weekly farmer’s market that draws crowds of buyers to her parking lot all summer.

She’s also happy because she knows there’s a market for these kind of dinners. Slow Food USA claims the global movement has 150,000 members in 150 countries, and the national organization has 170 branches, including the South Jersey Shore chapter in Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland counties.

Till did the winter dinner for the local chapter a few years ago, and “we did well the first time,” she remembered. “We had like 90 people here. This time, we have room for 75 – and we’re starting to fill up.”

The dinner, which costs $55 for Slow Food members and $60 for non-members, starts with a cash bar featuring local wines from Amalthea Cellars and beers from Tuckahoe Brewing. The dishes go on to include locally grown – and seriously fancied-up – “potato salad,” and then a course of “stir-fried Bilko Napa cabbage with smoked tofu,” and a selection of cheeses produced at Cherry Grove Farm, outside Trenton.

“They’re our farthest farm away” on this menu, Till says. “But it’s still not 150 miles.”

Still, as much as she admires what Slow Food is all about, she also admits it’s risky to create a menu in advance for that kind of crowd based on local, seasonal foods – in New Jersey, in the winter.

“I’m planning this, but doing a slow-food dinner in January could be a challenge because of the weather,” Till says. “So the menu could change at the last minute.”

For instance, take the main course created by her chef, Kevin Kelly, and his staff: It shows up on the Winter Feast menu as “butter poached Clam Daddy’s clams and Viking Village scallops over a mess of greens, (with) crispy turnips.”

Till likes everything about that dish. Clam Daddy’s, from Brigantine, and Viking Village, from Barnegat Light, are two of her farmer’s market regulars all summer, and she’s a big fan of their products. But here’s where she could use an asterisk on her menu:

“As long as we don’t get that kind of freezing where the bay freezes over – you can’t get any fresher clams than Clam Daddy’s,” she says. “And it’s the same with Viking Village.”

Pat King, of Cape May, a leader of the local Slow Food chapter, said the group is “absolutely” looking to draw some new members and new interest with this winter dinner.

“If you’re someone who cares about your community and the environment you live in, if you care about the people who produce your food and the people who bring it to your table – there are really a thousand reasons why you’d want to join Slow Food,” King says.

“And a big motivation for many of us is that we enjoy the camaraderie of others who also enjoy good food,” she adds

King laughs when she’s asked about how long a dinner specifically named “slow food” lasts.

“I always enjoy myself so much that I lose track of time,” she said. “But certainly, it would be a few hours – although ‘slow food’ doesn’t necessarily mean we’re slow eaters.”

King, a real-estate agent and landscape designer, has enjoyed slow food in all sorts of environments since she moved to Cape May from North Jersey.

She loves her local restaurant scene now. And she fondly remembers a Slow Food South Jersey Shore dinner last fall right on the farmland at Jah’s Creation, an organic farm in Egg Harbor Township that’s supplying all the vegetables for Sunday’s dinner at Steve & Cookie’s.

And if something on the menu has to change because conditions change, she says the Slow Food crowd is fine with that.

“Somehow,” King says, “people did survive in New Jersey before refrigeration and supermarkets.”

(For more information on the local Slow Food chapter, see slowfoodsouthjerseyshore.org.)

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