Café, Capuchins team up for Earth Day meal

By: David Wallace | Farmington Press | Published April 6, 2011

 Chef Jeffrey “Hoffa” Hoffman prepares food in the kitchen at Café Cortina April 2. Hoffman will cook for an Earth Day fundraising event at Café Cortina April 19 with chef Alison Costello of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

Chef Jeffrey “Hoffa” Hoffman prepares food in the kitchen at Café Cortina April 2. Hoffman will cook for an Earth Day fundraising event at Café Cortina April 19 with chef Alison Costello of the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.

Photo by Andrew Potter

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FARMINGTON HILLS — Food might not be the first environmental issue people think of on Earth Day, but Café Cortina and the Capuchin Soup Kitchen’s Meldrum site in Detroit plan to stress slow food and locally grown ingredients at an event April 19.

The Earth Day event takes place at Café Cortina, 30715 W. 10 Mile Road, east of Orchard Lake, at 7 p.m. April 19. The café and the soup kitchen chefs will do the cooking.

“This is a really lovely fit,” said Alison Costello, the soup kitchen chef, whose background is in fine dining.

“We’ve been farm chic since ’76,” said Adrian Tonon, the owner of Café Cortina in Farmington Hills.

It’s something the organizations have in common. The Capuchin Soup Kitchen operates the Earthworks Urban Farm in Detroit.

“I use a ton of produce, of course, from what we grow here,” Costello said. “Even our guests help participate in the planting and harvesting.”

Café Cortina has an Olympic swimming-pool-size garden on its property where it grows produce, including peppers, zucchini, eggplant, pumpkins, tomatoes and more.

Tonon’s parents emigrated from Italy and had a restaurant in New York before moving to Farmington Hills.

“My father was a farmer in Italy, a farmer and a baker,” Tonon said.

So growing a garden was a natural. He said they have heirloom tomatoes that go back 75 years.

“It’s how we are as a family,” Tonon said.

Many of the dishes they produce are “peasant food,” he said, earthy dishes that use simple ingredients.

He said they practice a sustainability by catching rainwater to irrigate the garden and using bat guano instead of chemicals to fertilize it.

“It’s kind of a way of life,” Tonon said.

At the soup kitchen, Costello acquires her ingredients locally, shopping at Eastern Market and using local farms.

“I call myself a scratch kitchen,” she said. “I’m very proud of what we serve here.”

She likened urban farming to the victory gardens grown to sustain people during World War II’s lean years.

Tickets to the event at Café Cortina cost $75. There will be a cash bar, and Earthworks Urban Farm outreach coordinator Shane Bernardo will be a featured speaker.

The money will benefit Chefs Collaborative, which networks chefs to support local food, seasonality, diversity, traditional practices and the local economy while educating the public about the benefits. The event also benefits Earthworks Urban Farm.

Farmer-owned cooperative Organic Valley is matching donations up to $10,000 for Chefs Collaborative, and Slow Food Detroit is also involved.

“We haven’t planned the menu yet, but it’s going to be seasonally inspired,” said Tonon.

“We do a lot of lamb down here (at the soup kitchen),” Costello said. “I love to braise lamb shanks.”

She buys lamb from a Michigan farm where the lambs have the dignity of being raised and slaughtered well, she said. She is against factory farming.

Tonon said the restaurant does a lot of outreach.

“We’re big Michigan advocates,” he said.

Those interested in the Earth Day event can purchase their tickets from the café, which can be reached at (248) 474-3033. Organizers ask that people reserve their spots by April 16.

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