Giving local and gifts for foodies

More and more people are making an effort to eat local and support locally made and sourced products. And the holidays provide a great opportunity to continue that trend, and introduce loved ones to some of your favorite local restaurants and artisans. 

For one stop shopping, try the new Merchants Market in Legacy Village.  The shelves are stocked with things that will please a variety of tastes.  My friend Dane Wujnovich, of  Brucato Gourmet has an incredible Sicilian pizza sauce, in two varieties, that would be a great addition to a gift basket.  The artisan sauces and cocktail mixes from Pope’s Kitchen make for perfect hostess gifts, as would the sweet offerings from Fear’s Confections.  Craft cocktailing fans can stuff stockings or mix up holiday party bevvies with bar ware and mixes from Happy Hour Collection.  Or satisfy the coffee lovers with some beautiful beans from local small-batch roaster, Six Shooter Coffee.

Toast to your health and the New Year with a bottle of Cleveland Whiskey, or a premium rum from Portside Distillery.

Or send a little piece of Cleveland to someone who can’t get home this holiday, with a gift crate full of local goods, artfully packed in a salvaged apple crate from the Cleveland Crate Company.


Put the flavors of your favorite Cleveland restaurant under the tree, with products developed by a number of local chefs.  Try Chef Doug Katz’s line of recipes and spice blends, Fire Spice Company.  Chef Zack Bruell also makes retail products, including a trio of sauces, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a line of coffee blends.

I’m a big fan of giving the gift of an experience.  For the foodie on your list, send them on a local food tour, like Taste Cleveland Food Tours.  They offer Tremont, Little Italy and West Side Market options.  Cooking classes are a fun way to connect and bond over what we all have in common, food!  I love the variety they offer at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking.

And take advantage of restaurant gift card deals this time of the year.  Many establishments, like Pranzo, in Willoughby are offering a bonus gift card of $10 or $20 when you purchase $50 or $100 in gift cards.  People who like to eat out frequently will love The Deck from Cleveland Independents.  The organization of locally owned restaurants produces this yearly collection of discounts (average savings of $10 on a $30 purchase) to nearly 50 restaurants.  Or get gift certificates to their member restaurants at a significant discount (like $35 for a $50 gift certificate).

Marriott International Cooksmart Culinary Challenge

What is it they say at the beginning of an Iron Chef competition? “So now America, with an open heart and an empty stomach, I say unto you in the words of my uncle: ‘Allez cuisine!'”  The phrase calls the chefs to the culinary battle.  And what a battle it was at the Marriott International Cooksmart Culinary Challenge.

I felt like a distinguished Food Network judge (along side Eric Williams and Tricia Chaves), sitting atop an elevated stage, ready to sample the hard work of up and coming sous chefs from Marriott properties all around the region.

I thought I’d be walking in to a generic corporate ballroom modestly put together to accommodate the competition.  But I grossly underestimated the production value of this event!  There was staging, and lighting and music, a live video feed of the action on large screens (thanks to Rock the House), and a real Iron Chef America Judge, Mario Rizzotti.

Eight talented and up and coming Marriott chefs advanced from hotel-level cook-offs, to compete here.  These are hourly associates and supervising chefs, at the top of their game.  They were tasked with a pretty daunting challenge: make something delicious, in 45 minutes, incorporating four mystery ingredients.  Those were lamb liver, monk fish, pickled green tomatoes and coffee.  I don’t know about you, but those don’t sound like an appealing group of ingredients to me.

When the clock started, the judges were encouraged to walk around the room, not only to chat up the chefs about what they were making, but also to take notes on how they kept their stations.  In previous competitions I’ve judged, we been tasked with ranking them from 1-5 or 1-10 in categories like taste, texture, presentation, etc.  But in this competition the scoring was far more intense, and including things like mise en place and sanitation.

And as if the pressure wasn’t intense enough, Mario was walking around the room interviewing the chefs as they were working.  But everybody seemed to handle the pressure like champs.  When the clock wound down, the chefs presented their dishes on stage and explained how they incorporated all these seemingly incompatible ingredients.

Most admitted they’d never worked with liver before and struggled with the cook on it.  But some used it wisely and flavored things like gravy, sauce or couscous with the sometimes off-putting protein.

When the scores were tallied, it was a unanimous decision to crown Courtney Nielsen, of the Renaissance Hotel in Columbus, as the victor.  She cleverly made a spin on dirty rice with the liver, made coffee and used it for the liquid, pan seared the monk fish and whipped up a pickled veg salad.  To me, it was the most harmonious off all the entries.

As the winner, she’ll be sent to Marriott HQ and test kitchen in Washington D.C. where she’ll get to rub elbows with corporate chefs and VIPs.  The brass behind this event say it was created to recognize their young talent and support sous chefs and cooks who do a lot of the heavy lifting in the kitchens of their properties, and while it’s only regional for now, they expect this Farm to Fork Culinary Challenge to be a national event come next year.


What an honor it was to serve on this panel (get my first….and second-eighth tastes of lamb liver!) and help support talented, creative people like these chefs.  They rose to the challenge.  Days later, I still can’t imagine what I would have done with a mystery basket like the one they were presented with.  What would you have made?

Six Shooter Coffee: Brewing a fine neighborhood blend

If you’ve noticed some enticing smells coming from the Waterloo area lately, you’ve got Six Shooter Coffee to thank.  The new coffee shop opened at 16021 Waterloo Road this past weekend, and because of them the neighborhood is actually buzzing now.  They aim to further the coffee culture in Ohio through their locally micro-roasted beans.  Barista, I’ll have another!     

I stopped in this weekend and was pleasantly surprised to find the place already a neighborhood favorite, busy, and working like a well-oiled espresso maker. Here’s a bit of my Q&A with proprietor, Pete Brown.

Jen: What’s your background and experience in the industry?

Pete: I got my first coffee shop job when I was 16. And I have worked in different coffee shops in different cities ever since then. I didn’t really start to become aware of roasting until I worked at Stauf’s in Columbus in 2013. So I’ve been in the industry for a decade and been learning about roasting for about 3 years. Sarah (manager) and my wife, Tara, have also been in the industry for around a decade, so we have a ton of experience between all of us.

 Jen: Why Waterloo? What do you see for the future of this neighborhood?
Pete: I chose Waterloo because I wanted to do something bigger than coffee. I have a degree in education because I’ve always wanted to be a part of a community and something positive. Waterloo and Collinwood afforded me that opportunity. We are hiring people from the neighborhood and people from LEAP in an effort to affect positive change. In the not so distant future I see a total revitalization of Waterloo and E. 185th. These will have an immense impact on the entire Collinwood community. 
six shooter menu
Jen:  What will you offer? How about your specialties?
Pete: We have three things that I think are pretty special. We will have 46&2 hopped coffee on tap. We will also have Bearded Buch Kombucha on tap. We also feature a Cuban espresso. It’s just sugar and espresso, but it’s delicious and not many companies feature it.
Jen: What can you tell me about your beans and how they’re roasted/prepared? 
Pete: Our beans are from all over the world. We have specific countries and farms that we source them from. However, coffee is just like any other crop, so our offerings will always be changing. When I roast the beans I just try to roast in such a way that accentuates the origin. In essence it is somewhat like wine where territory is a huge part of the flavor profile.
Jen: Where else can people get your coffee?
Pete: Our coffee can be found at the Good to Go Cafes (those are Downtown and in Tremont), The Grocery OHC (Lorain Ave.), The Local and Slow Train (Oberlin), Wash Perk (Denver, CO) and Athens Uncorked (Athens, OH). We also sell coffee at the Crocker Park Farmers Market and Platform Beer Co. on Lorain Ave. has a Brewers coffee with 6SC on Tap.
six shooter pastries
Jen: What kind of food accompaniment will you serve? And from what vendors?
Pete: We will have fruit, yogurt and granola, muffins, cookies, bagels, strudel, bread, and cookie dough balls. The bagels are from Cleveland Bagel. The bread and cookie dough balls are from Poison Berry. The strudel is from Lucy’s Sweet Surrender. All of these are local people. The rest of our stuff is from the grocery store on Instant Whip Akron.
Jen: Who are your customers?
Pete: Our customers are everyone! We have people from the neighborhood, and we have people coming in from Hinckley, Oberlin, Westlake, etc. It’s incredibly humbling seeing all of the support.
Once the weather breaks they’re even planning a weekly cigar club for those who are so inclined.
Six Shooter is located a stone’s throw from the E. 156th St. exit of the East Shoreway.  If you’re passing by, in the neighborhood, or even if you’re not…it’s worth stopping in.  And if you’re a native to the Waterloo area, this should be welcomed news that people are investing again, creating again and continuing to breathe life into this revitalized area.  You can support and sample Six Shooter Coffee online.  They ship their beans! Shop here.