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Northampton Senior Center cafe reopens with help of jail’s program

  • Eugenio Negron, left, William Gardner, Lt. Ian Howard, chef Francesco Dell’Olio, Robert Curran and Torin Traynor prepare meals in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch for the grand opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Robert Curran cuts sun-dried tomatoes in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch at the grand opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • William Gardner grills chicken in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch at the grand opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • William Gardner grills chicken at the Northampton Senior Center for the grand opening of Mary’s Bistro, Tuesday. Behind him are Eugenio Negron, left, Robert Curran and Torin Traynor. The four are inmates at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Corrections who have completed a cooking certification program. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • William Gardner checks the temperature on chicken prepared in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch for the grand opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Robert Curran, left, William Gardner and Eugenio Negron prepare meals in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch at the grand opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chef Francesco Dell’Olio, left, checks a customer's lunch order with Northampton Senior Center Assistant Director and Volunteer Coordinator Heather Cahillane and Joe Lafond, right, of the Hampshire County Sheriff's office, who were helping to expedite meals to the dining area during the grand re-opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Volunteers take lunch items out to customers during the grand re-opening of Mary's Bistro at the Northampton Senior Center on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chef Francesco Dell’Olio, left, and Torin Traynor prepare a grilled veggie panini in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch at the grand re-opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Torin Traynor prepares a grilled veggie panini in the kitchen of the Northampton Senior Center for lunch at the grand re-opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Patrons of Mary’s Bistro enjoy lunch during the grand reopening of the cafe located inside the Northampton Senior Center on Tuesday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Chef Francesco Dell’Olio, left, chats with Hampshire County Sheriff Patrick Cahillane and Northampton Senior Center Assistant Director and Volunteer Coordinator Heather Cahillane during lunch at the grand re-opening of Mary's Bistro on Tuesday, October 3, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING



@ecutts_HG
Tuesday, October 03, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — Hours before Mary’s Bistro reopened inside the city’s senior center Tuesday, a small group of men in the kitchen were getting their chance to cook for the community.

Trained in culinary arts and industry safety certified, the four men learned their kitchen skills at the Hampshire County Jail and House of Corrections. And for the first time, the novice cooks were putting the techniques they learned in the program to work in the outside world.

The idea for the Northampton Senior Center and the jail to collaborate came from Heather Cahillane, the center’s assistant director and volunteer coordinator. After learning about the inmate cooking program through an article in the Gazette, Cahillane thought it could be a way to solve the center’s lunch problem. The bistro hasn’t been able to make enough money to stay afloat, and over the years has opened and closed a few times, Cahillane said.

“It seemed like a really crazy idea,” she said. “We wanted to do something that was fresh so I threw out the idea of trying to partner with the jail and everybody loved it.”

After getting approval from the center’s board and food committee, Cahillane said the conversation with Sheriff Patrick Cahillane, who happens to be her father, was easy.

“The nice thing is — it is a win-win for everybody,” she said. “It gives our seniors a way to have affordable, fresh healthy lunch available at the senior center and it’s giving the men a chance to practice their skills and put something on a resume and really be ready to go out into the work force again.”

Preparing to open

As he prepared autumn bisque and chicken noodle soup in the kitchen Monday in advance of Tuesday’s opening day, William Gardner was both excited and nervous to be cooking for people outside of the correctional facility. Until now, the men who have gone through the culinary arts program at the jail have cooked for graduation and other events within the facility.

“It’s good job experience, good structure and good to give back to the community,” said Gardner, 37, of South Hadley.

“What an opportunity for us to show off our skills,” said Torin Traynor, 31, of Andover. “I’m excited. We have the tools. We’re going to do awesome. We’re going to knock it out of the park.”

Mixing batter for chocolate chip cookies Monday, Robert Curran said he was feeling some pressure for the opening but felt like the preparations were going well.

“We’re all working together to get it done,” said Curran, 28, of Grafton.

Standing in the kitchen, Eugenio Negron said he hopes to open a restaurant after he finishes his sentence. Being able to put his skill to use at the senior center was a big opportunity.

“I feel great,” Negron, 39, of Springfield, said Monday.

Being able to take the class and receive the certification allowed Negron to work on improving himself and gain new skills while giving back to the community, he said.

Opening day

Hours before the bistro was set to open Tuesday, the men arrived from the jail to prepare for the first meal service. They turned on ovens, looked over to-go containers and assessed bread and wrap options. As they began to work, the kitchen was mostly silent save for a few quick questions back and forth.

While the men worked, one of their instructors looked on impressed with his students.

“It feels great,” chef Francesco Dell’Olio said. “This is the time for them to show what they know.”

Dell’Olio worked with Heather Cahillane and some of the seniors to come up with a menu for the opening days. The chef then worked to gather his recipes to keep at the bistro.

“We came up with a great menu today,” Dell’Olio said.

On the menu was an award-winning autumn bisque, chicken noodle soup, a turkey bacon, lettuce and tomato wrap, grilled veggie panini and two salad options. The restaurant is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. for seniors and the general public and features a small seasonal menu of soups, salads and sandwiches.

Even before the restaurant officially opened the tables began to fill up with seniors, community members and jail staff.

Sitting among her colleagues, Assistant Deputy Superintendent Melinda Cady at the Hampshire House of Corrections said it took no effort to convince the men to participate in the partnership.

“This is a great opportunity for people to see they know what they are doing,” Cady said. “They really walked into an empty kitchen and pulled this together from the get-go.”

The inmates are volunteering their services to the senior center, which helps the café save on labor costs.

Nearing 11:30 a.m. Cahillane welcomed those who had gathered in the bistro and spoke a little about the effort that went into its creation. On hand as well was Sheriff Cahillane, who credited elected officials across the city with making the partnership possible.

“The group of people back here, are getting second chances,” Patrick Cahillane said, referring to the four men in the kitchen. “We should be about second chances in this life because probably everybody in this room is on their second chance, including myself. There are no perfect human beings and we understand that everyday we go to work.”

Lunch is served

Robert Montague, a member of the Senior Center’s board of directors, loves the new collaboration. Having finished his autumn bisque Tuesday, Montague was waiting for his turkey BLT to come out from the kitchen.

“I’m very happy,” Montague said of the partnership.

Sitting in the bistro’s back corner, Ellen Dickinson and Elisabeth McNally ate the soup.

“I want to support this endeavor,” McNally said.

For opening day, prices at the bistro ran from $4 to around $7.75. While some of the seniors in attendance felt the meal was a little expensive, McNally said it may be possible once or twice a month for some.

“I can do it once a week,” McNally said, bouncing the idea off Dickinson. “When you utilize a senior center, you use it for free. … I want to give back.”

Dickinson, who leads walks Tuesday and Thursday mornings, said she was considering helping out as a waitress after the restaurant gets more settled.

Opening day was not without a few hiccups. A last-minute trip from an electrician was needed Tuesday morning so the panini press could be plugged in. A plate was dropped and broken in the kitchen. An order or two was mixed up in the immediate opening rush and a few, like Donald Moran, left the cafe dissatisfied.

Moran has been coming to the center since 1997 and has seen a number of lunch services come and go. Finishing his panini, Moran said he didn’t like the lack of choices and thought the price was too high for a senior center.

Overall, many who were seated at the tables and working in the kitchen were smiling. Sitting a few tables away from Moran was the center’s maintenance worker, Bob Kies. With a laugh and a smile, Kies said it was great to have lunch back again as he would eat lunch at the previous restaurant as well.

“The guys are doing a great job, being the first day,” Kies said.

 Editor’s note: This story was updated on Oct. 4 to correct typos and a title.