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Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street | Milk Street Faces

Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street | Milk Street Faces

The stories of the people who feed us
  • Oji Abbott, Oohh’s and Aaahh’s, Washington, D.C.

    “Soul food is really intrinsic to America. It’s also as American as apple pie. Since... read more
    “Soul food is really intrinsic to America. It’s also as American as apple pie. Since the beginning when they had slaves working in people’s kitchens, what do you think they were cooking? They were cooking soul food,” says Oji Abbott, chef-owner of Oohh’s and Aaahh’s in Washington, D.C. He combined formal culinary training with lessons from his grandmother and great-grandmother to open in 2003, landing on a name that represented a universal feeling. “When you like something, you take that first bite and say, ‘Oooh, that’s good.’ Then you take that last bite and you’re fully satisfied, you let out that exasperation, ‘Ahhhh!’ And I believe every person on the planet does that, not separated by language or culture or lines of demarcation. It’s something everybody does.” Abbott has remained positive despite these troubling months, and he recently witnessed the power of how food can bring people together. One day after a protest, a police officer and a young protester struck up a conversation while waiting on their orders. “They came to an agreement that if everybody is treating everyone fair, then it’s all good. ... The common ground there was, if there was more time for discussion, and obviously waiting on some food is a good time, then when they see each other on the street, they’re going to have a different understanding for one another.” — Oji Abbot, Oohh’s and Aahh’s, Washington, D.C., as told to Albert Stumm. ... less
  • Geo Lambert, M&M BBQ, Dorchester, Massachusetts

    “People don’t realize how far their voice can go and how their following can really... read more
    “People don’t realize how far their voice can go and how their following can really affect different people,” says Geo Lambert, who runs M&M BBQ in Dorchester, Massachusetts. “I’m a Dorchester native born and raised, so I was excited to see breweries and distilleries flourish in the neighborhood. I’m also a big craft beer drinker,” he says. Lambert’s grandparents founded M&M Ribs, originally a food truck, in 1982, and Lambert took over 15 years ago. In January, he partnered with Dorchester Brewing Company, where M&M now has its first permanent home. In response to the death of George Floyd, the partners are teaming up to donate to the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute. “They help a lot of people affected by homicides, especially in the inner city, so it plays real close to me. I’ve lost friends and family to homicide, so I know where it can help. I thought it was pretty cool that Dorchester wanted to be a part of that as well,” Lambert says. “It’s uncomfortable definitely, but the more we talk about it and deal with it front on, we can actually move forward.” Geo Lambert, M&M BBQ, Dorchester, Massachusetts, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Eric Clark) ... less
  • Abdirahman Kahin, Afro Deli, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Minnesota

    “When suddenly the government shut down restaurants, it took me a few moments to rethink... read more
    “When suddenly the government shut down restaurants, it took me a few moments to rethink what we will do, because I had about 40-some employees that didn’t know where to go,” says Abdirahman Kahin, owner of Afro Deli, a pan-African restaurant that has four locations and a catering kitchen in the Twin Cities. “I have always been a community organizer and the first thing I thought of was where the elders and people with disabilities would go to eat. So I started giving food to elders in public housing and people with special needs. ... Since April 1, we’ve been giving 1,200 meals a day. We are now a community kitchen.” A week in, they needed funding to continue donating meals, so Kahin connected with Meals on Wheels, which now supports their outreach. Afro Deli also works with Frontline Foods to help feed healthcare workers and more recently, people cleaning up after protests. “Now we’re doing more business than we did when we had seatings, because of the amount of support we’re getting from the community. It is a hard time, but luckily we have overcome by doing community work and we see the rewards.” Abdirahman Kahin, Afro Deli & Grill, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, @afrodeli as told to @alison_spiegel (Photo credit: Abdirahman Kahin) ... less
  • Rose McGee, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, Golden Valley, Minnesota

    “I just had this calling to make sweet potato pies and bring them down there... read more
    “I just had this calling to make sweet potato pies and bring them down there, so I did,” says Rose McGee, who drove 30 pies to Missouri in 2014 to give to protestors following the death of Michael Brown. “I was getting frustrated with what I was seeing in Ferguson ... somewhat similar to where we are right now. That’s what inspired me.” That inspiration eventually became Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, a project in which McGee bakes pie and hosts conversations to strengthen community and provide comfort. “Since the first time we did it, I’ve taken pies to other places around the country—Charleston, Standing Rock and Pittsburg at the Tree of Life Synagogue ... But those were not here,” she says, referring to her home in Golden Valley, a suburb of Minneapolis. “This is right here, it’s burning now, so you’ve got to act now.” While her usual baking and discussion groups are on hold due to COVID-19, McGee is encouraging people to bake in their own kitchens, and to give pie to anyone who might need it. Last week, she also did two Facebook Live events. “One lady got so excited making two pies the other night, the gratification that she got from taking them to where she did and the way they were received, she got home and made four more. I’m estimating we’re making close to 200 pies a day, across the country and here locally.” — Rose McGee, Sweet Potato Comfort Pie, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Sweet Potato Comfort Pie)
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  • Hussein Castillo, Garifuna Flava, Chicago, Illinois

    “A lot of businesses went under, every single one on our block except ours. In... read more
    “A lot of businesses went under, every single one on our block except ours. In black and brown communities, we get hit hardest and take longest to recover,” says Hussein Castillo, co-owner of Garifuna Flava, a Chicago restaurant that opened just before the 2008 recession. Garifuna cuisine is a product of the mixture of West African slaves and Arawak Indians who were exiled from British and French Caribbean islands and settled in coastal Central America in the 1700s. Castillo understands the frustration that triggered the protests, though he doesn’t condone the rioters. “Clearly, a vast majority of people were protesting things that hadn’t been handled for a very long time, maybe ever. At some point, things were going to boil over. I was speaking to some elders in the community about the ’68 Democratic Convention here and it was something similar. Each situation of injustice created protest, but through the years it’s building and building and building, and this last situation just exploded. When one aspect of society has people that aren’t treated justly or fairy, eventually we’re all going to feel the affects.” — Hussein Castillo, Garifuna Flava, Chicago, Illinois, as told to Albert Stumm. ... less
  • Sharon Richardson, Just Soul Catering and Reentry Rocks, New York City

    “Life is on its head right now. There’s so much happening all at once that... read more
    “Life is on its head right now. There’s so much happening all at once that it does make your heart feel heavy and the tears constantly run down your face,” says Sharon Richardson, executive director and CEO of Just Soul Catering, which hires only formerly incarcerated women, and Rentry Rocks, her nonprofit for the same population. “I’m a formerly incarcerated woman. I spent 20 years inside for a domestic violence case. I love cooking and I love people and I often say, you put those two things together and you get my catering company.” COVID-19 derailed her work, so instead she has focused on providing free meals for people in need. “We’ve fed Mount Sinai, New York Presbyterian, kids of essential workers, East New York and Brownsville community centers… You want to do so much, but being on the front lines means that you’re in a place where your life can be taken from you. And for us, as formerly incarcerated women, our lives were taken in a way that can’t be explained. Now we’re involved in a company that I created and we’re back on that front line again. But at the end of the day, it feels so rewarding to just be a part, and I think the world needs to hear that formerly incarcerated people are involved, too. We want to be honest. We want people to know we’re here. We’re present and we’re women.” Sharon Richardson, Just Soul Catering and Reentry Rocks, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Sharon Richardson) ... less
  • Douglass Williams, Mida, Boston, Massachusetts

    “Most people don’t know, but there’s a reason Wendy’s burgers are square. It’s because Dave... read more
    “Most people don’t know, but there’s a reason Wendy’s burgers are square. It’s because Dave Thomas doesn’t cut corners,” Douglass Williams, chef/owner of Boston’s award-winning Italian restaurant Mida, says of lessons learned at his first job. “It’s symbolism. That taught me that what you stand for can translate into the food in many different ways. And it stuck with me. I’ll never forget that,” says Williams, who was just named one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs. “So for the last 20 years, working in Paris at the best restaurant in the world, working in New York at another best restaurant in the world, I’ve been trying to hold onto those values and bring that to Mida.” Williams’ values speak for themselves in his food and also in his team. “My staff, who’s made up of every culture—Irish, Dominican, Colombian, Jewish—they came to me with this sign [that says ‘Proud to be a Black Owned Business'], and they said, ‘Chef, this is what we did,’ and they put it up. I didn’t tell them to. But right now, in this time, it was great timing on their part. And people are going nuts over it in the best way. I couldn’t be more proud of them for doing that.” Douglass Williams, Mida, Boston, as told to Alison Spiegel. (Photo credit: Chris Churchill) ... less
  • Ty Brown, The Bergen, Brooklyn, New York

    “When we shout, ‘No justice, no peace,’ what you’re seeing today is the no peace... read more
    “When we shout, ‘No justice, no peace,’ what you’re seeing today is the no peace part of that mantra. Because there’s been plenty of examples of no justice,” says Ty Brown, owner of The Bergen, a wings-and-burgers takeout spot in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. A lifelong activist, Brown became a youth organizer for the Rev. Al Sharpton at age 15 and later ran youth centers. Just weeks after opening The Bergen, the pandemic shut him down. “Covid changed a lot of stuff. But troubleshooting is my thing. Whatever it is, I’ll figure it out. Right away, we started a free lunch program (for the community). We did lunch bags with peanut butter jelly sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, chips and juice.” A few weeks later, he was diagnosed with COVID-19, but the free meals continued, even while he was hospitalized. Now recovered, his mind is on the protests. “This is what you get,” he says. “Police brutality, police misconduct is out of control. It’s out of control against one particular race of people. It’s out of control and it goes untouched and untalked about. Our new direction has to be toward lawmakers.” And he’s been urging people to use tools like ballotpedia.org to learn who represents them. “This is how we can move from rioting and talking to action.” Ty Brown, The Bergen as told to Alison Spiegel. (Photo credit: Renita Leonce) ... less
  • Luis “Beto” Robledo, Cuantos Tacos, Austin, Texas

    “I saw people going to drive-thru restaurants like McDonald’s and other chains because it’s feasible... read more
    “I saw people going to drive-thru restaurants like McDonald’s and other chains because it’s feasible to serve people with very little contact,” says Luis “Beto” Robledo, chef and owner of Cuantos Tacos food truck in Austin, Texas. He closed for a week in late March, but knew immediately that wouldn’t last. “I realized I wouldn’t be able to survive this. This is my only income and I have a wife and daughter.” So Beto reopened with a new feature for his truck—a drive-thru window. “I already had a little roof extending out from my trailer and, after clearing away chairs and tables, extra space for cars to drive up. So I covered the front, where the roof ends, with clear plastic roofing and turned it into a drive-thru window.” Luis “Beto” Robledo, chef and owner of Cuantos Tacos, Austin, Texas, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo by Taylor Elliot).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen. ... less
  • Maiko Kyogoku, Bessou, New York City

    “This is the death of what was,” says Maiko Kyogoku, owner of Bessou in the... read more
    “This is the death of what was,” says Maiko Kyogoku, owner of Bessou in the NoHo neighborhood of New York City. “The economics have always been based on really slim margins, but it depends on factors like packing in a small space, cramming tables in, making sure to turn the dining room at least one and a half times. That’s not going to happen for a while.” She initially planned to reopen for takeout after the first two weeks of quarantine, but her workers weren’t willing to come back. “It’s a combo of fear about catching the virus but also right now in New York at least, the unemployment is a really good payment plan. Everyone is getting $600 a week on top of whatever they claimed, so they’re making more than what they were before. That’s something not really discussed. … I can’t incentivize workers to come back unless I can match the unemployment.” — Maiko Kyogoku, Bessou, New York City, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Melissa Hom).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Vivian Howard, Handy & Hot and Benny's Big Time Pizzaria, North Carolina

    “Our entire business model is based on communal eating and hospitality—putting your hand on someone’s... read more
    “Our entire business model is based on communal eating and hospitality—putting your hand on someone’s back and ushering them to their table or pouring a bottle of wine,” says Vivian Howard, North Carolina chef and restaurant owner, and star of “A Chef’s Life” and “Somewhere South.” “If we reopen and we’re at 30 percent capacity, whether it’s because of Covid guidelines or because of the economy, there’s not enough revenue or tips,” she says. “What I don't want to happen is all of us go away and what emerges are just more big box chains. In so many situations, mom and pop restaurants are the backbone of the community, and we may not realize it right now, but they will be missed.” — Vivian Howard, chef-owner of Benny's Big Time Pizzeria, Wilmington, North Carolina and Handy and Hot online store, currently operating out of Chef & the Farmer, Kinston, North Carolina, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo by Baxter Miller).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • David Ayotte, The Fenn School, Concord, Massachusetts

    “This is what all those science fiction writers write about all the time,” says David... read more
    “This is what all those science fiction writers write about all the time,” says David Ayotte, kitchen manager at The Fenn School, an all-boys private middle school in Concord, Massachusetts. And it leaves him wondering how his world has any chance of returning to normal. Before this, he and his four staff members prepared from-scratch lunches daily for 400 students. Now they are furloughed, waiting for unemployment to kick in. “I’m concerned about what, after this, the market is going to look like. We have a full salad and deli bar and everything is just out there under sneeze guard. Is everything now going to be, I have to package everything? Am I going to spend an extra 15, 20 percent on paper goods so it can’t be grabbed by bunch of kids with dirty hands? I see 133 boys at the biggest lunch and (they) sit right next to each other, is that going to change? All these dynamics, what’s going to change?” Ayotte’s employer is a massive food services company with more than 200,000 workers across the country. “Nobody knows what this is going to look like when it’s over. I’m a small account, but if it’s just prepackaged, kind of Pret a Manger style, they don’t need those extra people. We’ll just have cleaners and set up, and that cuts catering in half.” — David Ayotte, The Fenn School, Concord, Massachusetts, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by David Ayotte).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Alexis Katsilometes, Nopalito, San Francisco, California

    “Having a purpose every day is so important to us. We needed to keep going... read more
    “Having a purpose every day is so important to us. We needed to keep going for our staff—our family,” says Alexis Katsilometes, director of operations at San Francisco’s Nopalito restaurant, which is open for takeout, selling meal kits in stores around the city and feeding hospital workers. “There’s a roller coaster of emotions. But I think that for a lot of us, having to-go and delivery has given a sense of stability,” she says. “I’ve never experienced the feeling of family and community like I have at Nopalito. Though it’s really strange to be around these people that I love so deeply and not be able to get close to them. At the same time, it really bonds people even closer.” Alexis Katsilometes, Nopalito, San Francisco, as told to Alison Spiegel (Photo credit: Kyra Kryder).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Gretchen Thomas, Threes Brewing, Brooklyn, New York

    “It’s a weird system we developed, but people are getting their beer,” says Gretchen Thomas... read more
    “It’s a weird system we developed, but people are getting their beer,” says Gretchen Thomas, the events manager of Threes Brewing in Brooklyn, New York. When the brewpubs were forced to close down, Thomas searched for a way to keep her staff tending bar. And they are, albeit from the safety of their vehicles. “Our customers wanted to support us, but since they’re not really supposed to leave home, we hired back some of the bartenders, backwaiters and kitchen staff who have cars and sent them out with deliveries,” she said. “It’s all done with gloves and masks, and we’re leaving things on people’s stoops so we’re checking IDs from 6 feet away. Most bartenders when they’re checking an ID, it’s dark in a bar, so they have their ways to do that in challenging situations. A lot of them have been grateful for the opportunity to keep working and keep busy. … We hospitality people can’t deal with not having something to do. There’s not enough Netflix in the world.” — Gretchen Thomas, Threes Brewing, Brooklyn, New York, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Tobias Prasse)
    Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Heidi Barr, The Kitchen Garden Series, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    “Masks equal the new lipstick,” says Heidi Barr, who until recently made her living supplying... read more
    “Masks equal the new lipstick,” says Heidi Barr, who until recently made her living supplying restaurants with high-end aprons, napkins and towels made from natural fibers and salvaged fabrics. Like so many, last month she was forced to pivot. “So I make masks. I know how to sew and am sitting on a pile of fabric, but sewing is not keeping me sane. I was transitioning out of being a stitcher, but the shop I was working with has shuttered as non-essential. I’m totally a mask factory these days. It’s weird and kind of awful. It’s exhausting. It’s very distracting from my real business, so I have hired someone to help with masks and will likely be posting them on my website. Masks are going to be with us for some time. I have very complicated feelings about that, but survival is good. I am offering them for a sliding scale of $0 to $15, the $15 covers those $0.” — Heidi Barr, The Kitchen Garden Series, Philadelphia, as told to Ari Mille (Photo by @thekitchengardenseries)Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Amelia Eesley, Amelia’s Wood Fired Cuisine and Amelia’s Market & Brasserie​, Tulsa, Oklahoma

    “This is going to change us,” says Amelia Eesley, owner of Amelia's Wood Fired Cuisine... read more
    “This is going to change us,” says Amelia Eesley, owner of Amelia's Wood Fired Cuisine and Amelia's Market & Brasserie, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “What will happen if the industry does not rebound? A lot of people order food and wine, and you have educated yourself on this, so what happens next if it doesn’t come back? I think it is a question that we are all asking ourselves right now.” Eesley was forced to let go 75 employees. The 10 who remain focus on takeout. She focuses on a future that's difficult to plan for. “Is anybody going to come and eat after this is over? Am I going to have to space my tables out really far away? What is going to happen to my staff? I don’t know. What we want to do is to survive and if I was going to say something to future diners, when we are able to step back into our kitchen and invite them back into our dining rooms, their presence will mean more than anything.” — Amelia Eesley, Amelia’s Wood Fired Cuisine and Amelia’s Market & Brasserie, Tulsa, Oklahoma, as told to Halle Frieden (Photo by Halle Frieden). Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Karl Prohaska, Zottola’s Pub and Eatery, Culmerville, Pennsylvania

    “Anyone that’s still open, we’re now competing against each other when generally we didn’t before,”... read more
    “Anyone that’s still open, we’re now competing against each other when generally we didn’t before,” says Karl Prohaska, chef of the Zottola’s Pub and Eatery, an Italian gastropub in Culmerville, Pennsylvania. The mandate that restaurants offer only takeout means that many of the factors that once set eateries apart from one another have been eliminated. “Suddenly, hand tossed, gourmet pizzas are getting put up against $6 pizzas from Papa John’s. This is not the same thing. What were designed for is to have a couple cocktails, see your neighbors, see your bartender, then get that pizza. (We’re) not designed for, ‘Here’s your box of pizza, now go home.’” Prohaska, who moonlights as a comedian, and his sous chef are the only ones working since they switched to takeout-only, focusing on family-style dishes that travel well, like lasagna, chicken parmesan and meatloaf. Sales are about a quarter of normal. Still, he considers himself lucky to still be working. “I’ve turned into a golden retriever. When I ride in a car, I get really excited.” — Karl Prohaska, Zottola’s Pub and Eatery, Culmerville, Pennsylvania, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Annette Prohaska).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Roberto Santibanez, Fonda, New York City

    “The unknown is so terrible. I was talking to friend of mine about what we... read more
    “The unknown is so terrible. I was talking to friend of mine about what we went through during the AIDS crisis when we were very young and it was horrific. I lost most of my friends in that time, but life didn’t stop. It was a humongous crisis, it was brutal and terrifying, but life never stopped. That’s what makes this so incredibly different. This stop has been crazy,” says Roberto Santibanez, owner of three Fonda restaurants in New York City and two other eateries in Washington. “I have to to say, this has gotten to me pretty badly.” He’s had to scale back from about 300 employees to fewer than 30, and revenue from takeout and delivery is about 10 percent of normal. “Some days I feel better than others, but overall I feel in a funk, which is where we all are." His company managed to pay rent on all his locations for half of April, and they’re applying for federal assistance. “But are people going to be confident to come to a restaurant and sit down? How long is that going to take? Really, I don’t know. It’s so complicated.” — Roberto Santibanez, Fonda, New York City, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Sam Horine).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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  • Molly Mitchell, Roses Find Foods, Detroit, Michigan

    “It feels good to still feel useful,” says Molly Mitchell, chef/owner of Roses Fine Foods... read more
    “It feels good to still feel useful,” says Molly Mitchell, chef/owner of Roses Fine Foods in Detroit, a diner that was forced to shut down March 16, laying off 11 workers. After that, she became one of six area restaurants who banded together to feed ER staff at nearby Henry Ford Medical Center. “I have this big commercial kitchen, so it feels good to fit into some kind of niche. You gotta stay busy somehow.” She’s mostly making family-style meals—pasta or chicken stew with slaw and roast potatoes, plus frittatas, focaccia sandwiches and doughnuts. “I’m a one-woman restaurant right now. Every day I’m like, ‘Oh, god!’ … It’s surreal pulling up there because they have the testing center, and they’re fully suited up with the welder shield masks and hazmat suits. I pull up and they bring a wheelchair out, stack the food on the chair and take it inside.” — Molly Mitchell, chef/owner of Roses Fine Foods, Detroit, Michigan, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Roses Fine Food) Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen. ... less
  • Ismael de Sousa, Reunion Bread, Denver, Colorado

    “It broke my heart to see so many people getting laid off,” says Ismael de... read more
    “It broke my heart to see so many people getting laid off,” says Ismael de Sousa, owner of the year-old Reunion Bread shop inside The Source market hall in Denver, Colorado. “Two days after this all started, 90 percent of staff that used to work at this market got laid off. So I thought, how can we help these guys? There wasn’t any other way other than to give them food, or sell it at a super discounted rate. I called a produce vendor and put some boxes together with loaves of bread for really cheap. Many restaurant owners were buying boxes for their own people. That’s how the idea started. Then as things started getting worse, with people being scared of going to the store, we started getting an insane amount of requests. At end of the day we want to help everyone. … I don’t make any money from the boxes, by the way. I do it to keep the staff busy. I’m probably the only one in the hall that hasn’t laid anyone off. My people aren’t making the same hours, but I managed to keep all the staff. So far.” — Ismael de Sousa, Reunion Bread, Denver, Colorado, as told to Albert Stumm (Photo by Alden Bonecutter).Looking for ways to help? We support the work of World Central Kitchen.
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