Last night I had the absolute pleasure of attending my first Cafe Momentum pop-up dinner, held this time in the sleek and sexy Dee Lincoln’s Tasting Room and Bubble Bar on Cedar Springs Road. Hosting us were the truly lovely Ms. Dee Lincoln, Cafe Momentum co-founder Chef Chad Houser, Oak Cliff Cellars’s JR Richardson, and the guest Executive Chef of the evening, the very talented and charming Chef Juliard Ishizuka of the hosting venue.
I first heard the Cafe Momentum mission when attending the Art and Wine event at Mockingbird Station last month, and was instantly smitten. Having spent most of my adult life working in or with the hospitality industry, I have seen first- hand its potential for changing lives.
Cafe Momentum, a self-sustaining social enterprise here in Dallas, seeks to do just that. The young men greeting us, passing hors d’euvres, preparing our food, clearing our tables, and making the event the success that it was were graduates of the internship-style Cafe Momentum program within the Dallas County Youth Village, a juvenile residential detention facility for nonviolent adjudicated boys ages 13-17. The program was founded by Parigi co-owners Chad Houser and Janice Provost, along with Youth Village Resources of Dallas and the North Texas Food Bank, to equip these young men with culinary, service, and basic life skills, and subsequently with a brighter future.
If you thus far have been unfamiliar with the Cafe Momentum organization, I will resist the urge to scold you and will instead direct you to their website for the full story here. On a personal level I must tell you that they have won my heart with their mission and dedication. The gentlemen serving us were professional and delightful and came across as no different from the men I’ve worked with over the years in restaurants, but knowing their story made an already wonderful dinner all the more special. When you attend a Cafe Momentum dinner, you get the immediate gratification of seeing where your contribution goes, seeing the pride in these young men’s faces and demeanor, the good that this program is doing.
But lest anyone think that all we got from this event was warm and fuzzy feeling of knowing we were helping others, I can assure you that the food was spectacular. Chef Ishizuka and his team of both seasoned culinary professionals and Cafe Momentum graduates prepared passed hors d’oeuvre and a seated four course meal of the quality I have experienced in some of the best restaurants in the world. The white and green asparagus salad with speck and a brown butter and mustard vinaigrette could have been a meal in itself for me, and JR Richardson’s Oak Cliff Cellars 2009 Sonoma Chardonnay complimented it beautifully.
The whole dining room filled with the aroma of the bass steamed with enoki mushroom, nappa cabbage, and fennel when they arrived at our tables still wrapped in the Fata paper like a present with a little string bow. This was paired with Oak Cliff Cellars 2010 Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, poured for us by Mr. Richardson, amiably circling the tables.
After the second course was cleared, Chef Houser announced that our servers would now switch places with the men in the kitchen, and the new front-of-house staff was introduced to us before the next course of braised Pork Belly on apple and fava bean puree with tomato pesto was brought to the tables. The chefs very kindly allowed me to visit the kitchen at this point so that I could observe the precision with which our meals were prepared.
The men all looked so handsome in their chef whites (and I told them so- I love a man in a Chef jacket!), plating each entree and taking pride in each plate that left the kitchen. It was nice to be back in a kitchen again, to feel the energy behind it all. Of course what made timing of my kitchen visit so ideal was the pork belly entree that I enjoyed both in the kitchen and then again when I returned to my table. (I know, sometimes I’m jealous of me too.)
As a wise man said last night, “I never met a pork belly I didn’t like.” And with the Oak Cliff Cellars 2008 “Curtis Ranch” Zinfandel, I couldn’t imagine that the next course could come close to matching this one. But it did. Cornmeal shortcakes with strawberries and Mascarpone was paired with Oak Cliff Cellars 2009 “Firebrick” Zinfandel (my favorite wine of the night) for a truly lovely finish to the meal. I finished this course, which of course won’t help with that extra “Texas weight” I’ve been trying to lose. But it was well worth it.
Overall, a wonderful cause, a spectacular meal, enchanting ambiance, and impressive company as we were fortuitously seated, much to our delight, with Jim and Vicki White, co-founders of the Savor Dallas food and wine festival, and generous supporters of Cafe Momentum.
Please, do yourself and your community a favor and look into this program, and find out what you can do to support them. Or stop by Parigi and ask Chad and Janice directly; see their passion first-hand and be moved by this cause as we all were. The next Cafe Momentum pop-up dinner will be on Sunday, April 29th at Chef Tiffany Derry’s (of Bravo’s Top Chef fame) Private/Social.