5 Black Figures You Need to Know in the Westchester Food Scene
These restauranteurs, chefs, and food biz pros are making waves in their communities.
Photo courtesy of Abyssinia Campbell
The Private Chef: Abyssinia Campbell
Abyssinia Campbell has been in the kitchen since she was 9 years old. A personal chef and caterer based in Westchester, she specializes in Southern and Caribbean cuisines with a healthy spin, and she can do it all, including baking, private dinners, meal prep, cooking classes, and even finding time to model on the side. With more than a decade of experience in hospitality, things weren’t always easy. “It was tough,” says Campbell of her time in restaurants and hotels, leading up to her decision to go solo. “I was always either the only female or the youngest on the line.”
Campbell likes to get clients involved as much as possible, from planning menus to the very last bite. She also has a knack for accommodating various dietary needs, and a you can follow along with her dinner parties on Instagram.
Photo by Sibylla Chipaziwa
The Vegan Advocate: Jolo Moise
Jolo’s Kitchen, 412 North Ave, New Rochelle; 914.355.2527
If you’ve ever walked past Jolo’s Kitchen in New Rochelle, you’ve definitely caught a whiff of the delicious aromas that are wafting through the air. Perhaps you’ve also spotted owner Jolo Moise at local farmers’ markets, grabbing a cardboard box or two of fresh produce. Eleven years ago, Moise opened Jolo’s Kitchen because he was fed up with the state of vegan food, recalling a “vegetable” soup in which he could still taste the meat.
“I started cooking for myself and slowly but surely, [I saw] that Mother Nature has so much to offer,” says Moise about going vegan. “I’m still a student of nature, and it’s amazing.” At the time Jolo’s Kitchen opened, Moise was a pioneer of the movement in Westchester, but he says he never viewed veganism as a trend. “Some of the strongest animals on the planet eat a plant-based diet,” he says. “I cook for everybody, and I enjoy what I do.”
The Culinary Gatherer: Giovanni Green
As founder Giovanni Green puts it, the main mission of Break Bread not Hearts is “cooking up community.” The idea was born at his 25th birthday party, where guests gathered as strangers over food and music, but left as friends.
Don’t let the name of this business confuse you; Green is not just a baker. He also teaches food literacy in cooking classes, having done after school and summer programs for children. “Advancing people’s knowledge of food and overall health promotion is the core of everything I do,” he says, with an emphasis on providing access to lower income communities in Westchester and NYC.
Delicious and sustainable is the name of his game, using locally sourced ingredients. (If you’ve ever been to the White Plains or Pleasantville farmers’ markets, you’ve likely seen Green sauteing in his woks.) He enjoys being able to move around. “Whatever format I’m preparing food in, that human-to-human connection always has to be there,” he says.
Photo by Sibylla Chipaziwa
The Immigrant Restaurateur: Mimi Wieland-Tesfaye
Lalibela, 37 S Moger Ave, Mount Kisco; 914.864.1343
Mimi’s Coffee House, 37 S Moger Ave, Mount Kisco; 914.864.1646
Selamawit Wieland-Tesfaye was just 16 years old when she moved to Mount Kisco from Ethiopia to live with her sister. At the time, Westchester didn’t have an Ethiopian restaurant. In 2010, Wieland-Tesfaye, or Mimi as regular patrons call her, opened Lalibela in Mount Kisco. This January, she expanded to open Mimi’s Coffee House next door to the restaurant.
At Lalibela the food is authentic to what Wieland-Tesfaye grew up with. “I don’t want to cook to accommodate people from here,” she says. “The dishes that are spicy, I want to be spicy. I want it to be truly Ethiopian.” She says the support of the Mount Kisco community has been a big part of her success, although the first few years were hard as the diners weren’t familiar with the cuisine. “I’m somebody who came from another country and had nothing,” explains Wieland-Tesfaye. “I was able to accomplish my dream, and you can only do that in America. I am very grateful to be here.”
Photo courtesy of Shaheer Brewster
The Wine Obsessive: Shaheer Brewster
Apricots & Honey, 673 E Lincoln Ave, Mount Vernon; 914.664.3107
Vino newbies know that wine can be intimidating, and having a place where you can feel comfortable to ask questions and walk around can help one’s appreciation grow. That’s something Shaheer Brewster says he has learned a lot about as owner of Mount Vernon wine store Apricots & Honey. “I think everyone enjoys the store,” he says. “I’ve had three years to [get to] know what people are looking for, so I can now make adjustments, make the store a staple… and be of service to the community.”
The name of the store was inspired by the tasting notes of the Italian wine that spurred Brewster to get into the business. “For the most part, I’ve been embraced by the wine community,” he says about his experience so far. “All you need is a love for wine, and once that is understood, everything else goes out the window.” His goal: to make his customers, who are mostly black, feel comfortable shopping for wine. “You can go to a wine shop, and not feel you will be judged on what you know and what you don’t,” says Shaheer. “There’s a human touch to the shop.”
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