Co-Founder, Queens Together
What do you experience when you dine at a restaurant? For most of us, it is the dining room, the meal and the service. At its best, we are immersed in the owner’s or chef’s vision of their homeland or an experiment in something new and bold. The dining room sets the stage and anticipation of the meal to come. The service brings comfort and assurance. The meal itself is a symphony of flavors, contrasts and a feast for the eyes.
In a place such as Queens, this experience is very often global yet personal in nature. My borough of Queens is home to over 150 nationalities and cuisines from around the world. For many Queens residents, these restaurants are more than a meal. They are a connection to their homes and heritages, reminders of things past and familiar foundations to build on moving forward. Very often, the only items of real value people bring with them to America are their traditions, recipes and maybe some tools from the kitchen.
The Queens Chef Project gives us an opportunity to see beyond the dining room and learn what 50 chefs have in their kitchens to keep them connected to home, wherever it may be. As a chef, and one of the 50, I was excited to share my own story that connected me to a valued culinary memory.
I was super excited to learn what the other chefs wanted to share and why. People rarely get to see into the kitchen, let alone what makes a chef smile or share something cherished. Spoiler alert! It’s not sexy gadgets or awards. Very often, it is something simple like Adda’s own Chef Chintan Pandya’s metal skewers that are both functional and nostalgic. Or chef Kymani Runcie from Pan-Ash Eurosoul and his journals, used for collecting ideas and stories that help shape menus and events.
This project brought a lot of joy to so many and after two years of Covid. We really needed it. Our restaurants lost loved ones and friends, shut down for good or suffered extreme financial loss. On a positive note, many of these 50 restaurants worked side by side with community organizations and volunteers to feed neighbors and hospital workers struggling to survive this crisis. They are community heroes and we thank them for their service.
A favorite pandemic story, if you can say that, took place during Ramadan in the spring of 2020. Queens Together was hiring local restaurants to prepare Iftar, the evening meal, for people out of work or unable to cook. Out of all the restaurants hired, everyone's favorite meal was from a family owned Italian restaurant. The restaurant was honored to hear this and were happy to prepare the last Iftar meal of the Ramadan celebration.
In a recent interview for The New York Times, I was asked “what is the silver lining of Covid?” My response was to talk about the thousands of restaurant workers and every day people who stepped up to help their neighbors and the restaurants that fed them.“The Queens restaurant industry was slammed by Covid-19, but now it’s recovering because we’re a borough of family-centered communities where the restaurants take care of their own.”