What is that vehicle meandering down the road? It’s a traveling restaurant! It’s a classroom on wheels! It’s a disaster relief kitchen! It must be the Foodie Bus; aka the Help Bus; aka Loretta!
The Westchester personal chef Jennifer Cook bought a 40-foot school bus, lovingly nicknamed her Loretta after a very special donor and repurposed her to resemble a barn complete with rustic beams, a tin roof and a long, wooden table which seats 8-12 inside and many more outside. The bus also has two distinct identities. The Foodie Bus offers private dining parties in various gorgeous settings often with views of the Hudson River, at farms or in the location of your choice. The HELP Bus which symbolize’s the ability to (Heal, Educate and Liberate People) is a 501c3 non profit with the mission to empower individuals with education and awareness in everything food and sustainability.
THE HELP BUS
“As a young girl growing up with a single mom, team work was a significant part of our daily routine, learning how to choose what to eat and how to prepare it. This was a survival skill and a family bonding time that was a tremendous gift our mother gave us. Now I want to spend the rest of my life sharing this opportunity with as many people as I can reach,” said Cook.
After Hurricane Sandy, Cook drove to the Rockaways and set up her MobileBrick oven and started making pizzas. She also drove for days to reach New Orleans after Katrina in order to hand out food and water. “I wanted to let the victims know they were not alone,” said Cook.
Locally, Cook has partnered with Feeding Westchester, whose mission is to end hunger in Westchester County by networking with more than 300 partners to source and distribute food to area towns. Their Mobile Food Pantry brings fresh protein, dairy, produce, and grains directly to areas where people congregate such as libraries, schools and community centers. All the mobile truck requires is a parking lot or open space to create a distribution site that is easy to access for their clients. Many of the clients are children, and Cook will be doing food demos, sharing culinary tips and giving out samples of yummy, healthy food.
Cook’s grandmother was a foster child and never got to participate in the kitchen to learn how to cook during her childhood. In a loving tribute to her grandmother, Cook hopes to partner with Graham Windham and other foster programs whose mission is to provide every foster child in New York with a safe, loving family and the tools they need to thrive in school and life. Cook will be teaching culinary skills to the children throughout NY. “I want these children to learn culinary skills that will be with them for the rest of their lives,” said Cook, “not only for survival skills but to hopefully create future careers for them.” There’s also a plan to distribute backpacks chock full of culinary tools and easy, nutritious recipes so that kids can have a stress free time cooking with a parent or foster family. “Food brings people together!” Cooking classes and farm education will also be a part of the mission of the HELP BUS.
THE FOODIE BUS
As a private chef for over 10 years, Chef Jen counts herself blessed to have cooked for celebrities like Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Donna Karan and Keith Richards. Rave reviews included Martin Scorsese telling her, “I’ve eaten shrimp and pork dumplings all over the world, but these are the best I’ve ever had!” This experience of preparing foods for celebrities on a movie set inspired Cook to take her talents on the road, literally!
When the bus transforms from a HELP bus to the Foodie Bus, another kind of magic begins. The rustic elegance of the interior of the bus can be extended by bringing in lawn furniture, outdoor carpeting and flowers to create an indoor-outdoor experience. Tarrytown potter, Connor McGinn, is creating handcrafted dinnerware to enhance the culinary adventure. “We want to give that farm to table feel — just on a bus. That means we can show up in Croton Park by the river and be on the water or pull into a farm and have a view of the field while eating dinner. If a client wants to gather a group of friends for an Asian-themed meal overlooking the river, I can create that. Or, if they’d prefer Mexican at a farm or Italian near the beach, I can do that, too,” said Cook.
On May 4 there will be a private Farm to Table dinner for 8 on the scenic Hudson River at Croton Point Park, and on May 17 an evening featuring small plate appetizers including crispy pulled pork bites with a scallion & lime zest sauce. “ Both events will be Farm to Table Mobile Culinary Kitchen experiences.
For many years, Cook has been cooking sous-vide style—a method developed in Europe and now employed by famed culinary artisans worldwide. The food is vacuum sealed in a plastic pouch (PCB-free, of course), then cooked in a circulating water bath at precisely-controlled temperatures. The resulting meal is cooked to perfection, deliciously moist and imbued with flavors and spices the chef added to the pouch.
Cook is busy planning an event at Fable Farm in Ossining where guests will enjoy appetizers followed by a tour of the Farm while sipping a lemon, ginger, honey “mock-tail”. The evening will culminate in a farm-to-bus-to-table dinner. Cook is also working on creating a freeze dried product for the beverage industry that she will sell at farmers’ markets. Her current food passions are development of dumplings and Asian/Mexican fusion. “I recently made a sweet pea and celery root dumpling which was scrumptious.”
Cook’s dream is to take Loretta on road trips stopping in places like Nashville to visit farms and firehouses. Her draw to firehouses comes from the years she spent as a volunteer firefighter in Chappaqua. Throw in a celebrity chef or two and her dream starts to take shape. “I would love to develop a TV show showcasing the great outdoors that connects food, people and adventure with a pinch of compassion, hope and encouragement,” said Cook.
“There is nothing like the camaraderie and laughter you find in a kitchen. People share their stories and their dreams for the future.”
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