Friends of Cookie Till, the chef-owner of Steve and Cookie’s By the Bay in Margate, were surprised to hear what she most needed to get her restaurant back in business after Hurricane Sandy.
“Believe it or not, I need someone to cook for me,” Till told Valerie Grossman-Cross, of Linwood.
So Grossman-Cross, a former caterer, signed up to make lunch for Till and her work crew of 20 to 25 people, while they do demolition and construction work on the Bay Avenue eatery. Last Wednesday she made pulled pork and a fruit salad that included pomegranate seeds and raspberries and took it to the restaurant. She also brought lots of jalapeno peppers as condiments.
Her daughter, Julia Grossman, worked in Till’s kitchen a few years ago. Julia told her she had to have something hot and spicy for Till’s largely Hispanic kitchen staff who would be helping. Julia, 25, now lives in Manhattan and is a culinary assistant to chef Scott Conant, owner of Scarpetta restaurants, Grossman-Cross said. Julia considers Till her friend and mentor.
Grossman-Cross is one of about 40 people and businesses who are making daily lunches for Till’s cleanup and rebuilding crew of workers from Richmond Brothers Builders, of Linwood, and from her current and past restaurant staff.
“This is the best thing that ever happened,” said Kevin Bradley, of Ventnor, as he approached the lunch table. He’s a solar systems salesman for Richmond Brothers who was pitching in with carpentry. “Every day (someone) brings something in that’s fantastic. Usually we have to pack our own water and lunch and be self sufficient.”
Shane Smith, of Northfield, is usually a host at the restaurant, but was doing manual labor Wednesday and was thrilled with Grossman-Cross’ choice of main dish.
Most Atlantic City casinos have signed up to make the lunches, as have friends and customers such as Jess and Bob Blumberg, of Margate; Pat Smith, of Linwood; Alan Hoffman, of Philadelphia; and Hank and Annie Rouvillard and Leslie Steinberg, all of Margate.
Steve and Cookie’s server Barb Farrell has signed up, as has liquor supplier American BD and AtlantiCare Foundation Board President Dee Kasis. Till serves on that board, and the foundation itself is also providing a lunch, she said. Restaurant host Lisa Biondolillo brings homemade snacks and chili regularly.
Area restaurants supplying lunch including Margate’s Bocca, Mays Landing’s Sugar Hill Inn, Atlantic City’s Wonder Bar and Tony Baloney’s, and Ventnor restaurants Hanna G’s, Sacco Subs, and Sage, as well as Egg Harbor Township’s Jah’s Creation Organic Farm.
It’s a fitting tribute to Till, who supports numerous nonprofit and community groups, said Grossman-Cross. In addition to the AtlantiCare Foundation Board, she is on the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Board and runs her own nonprofit called A Work In Progress, to educate children about food choices and nutrition through gardening and cooking.
The workers have ripped out the bottom four feet of drywall and insulation and are beginning to reconstruct the restaurant, Till said. She has been at the Bay Avenue location for 16 years and it never flooded before, she said.
In addition to current workers and the contractor’s staff, friends and former workers are helping. They all want to help to Till.
“She’s an awesome, great person,” said former busboy Oscar Castro, 23, of Ventnor. He is now a bartender at Revel, but took the time to help Till for four days last week. “I’m doing construction — whatever she needs.”
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