Voices in Focus: Tapenade, Tamales, Jerk Chicken and Wage Theft

Wednesday is food section day in the newspaper world, and we found plenty of food stories from the ethnic and community press today:

* The food writer Leah Koenig offered a thoughtful postscript to the battle over boycotting Israeli products at the Park Slope Food Co-op. In her column for The Jewish Daily Forward, she investigated the background of a product she has purchased at the co-op, Meditalia green olive tapenade, which she enjoys spread on toast with eggs. Meditalia, she found, is a label under PeaceWorks Foods that produces its jarred sauces and spreads as a collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians.

This green olive tapenade is the product of a co-operative effort by Israelis and Palestinians. (Photo by Leah Koenig)

To that end, Meditalia spreads are produced in an Israeli factory south of Tel Aviv, using olives, basil and other fresh ingredients grown by Palestinian farmers in both Israel and the West Bank. The company also sources sun-dried tomatoes and glass jars from Turkey. These partnerships are possible, in part, because Yoel Benesh, an Israeli who owns the factory where Meditalia’s products are made, has strong ties with Hani Jashan, a Palestinian olive grower working in Israel. Their relationship stretches back a generation, to when their fathers traded with each other.

Koenig argues that the nuances of this cross-cultural business relationship were lost in the debate over Israeli products, in which “the moderate voices on both sides of the debate tend to get drowned out by more extreme views.”

The blanket boycott on Israeli goods proposed at the Park Slope Food Coop did not take into account gray-area products like Meditalia. And that is unfortunate. Perhaps moving forward, co-op members — and consumers everywhere — should focus on rewarding those companies that choose to defy the status quo, putting peace (and really good tapenade) over profit and politics.

Guadalupe Galicia posed with other honorees and her daughters after receiving the Bootstrap Entrepreneur Award. (Photo via El Diario)

* El Diario La Prensa declared the Bushwick tamale stand operator Guadalupe Galicia New York City’s “Queen of Tamales” after she was awarded the Boot Strap Entrepreneur Award by the Business Center for New Americans and the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs:

Galicia, who immigrated to the United States in 1996, established a tamales stand that became an indispensable reference for aficionados of this traditional Mexican dish. Through the business she founded with her brother, the single mother managed to feed the dreams of her family and satisfy the hunger of New Yorkers desperate for an authentic version of this dish.

Galicia was also a finalist for the Vendy Awards last year, and describes her tamales in this video.

* Manhattan Times offered a mouth-watering review of the Jamaican restaurant Gold Star Jerk Center on 219th Street and White Plains Road:

Jamaican curry chicken at Gold Star Jerk Center. (Photo via Manhattan Times)

“Sometimes we create a dish, and we sell out in an hour,” explained Jackie Cowan, manager at Gold Star. “Dishes don’t last long on the board, because there are always people here.”

As it favors island ingredients like coconut, mint, papaya, and curry, the locale has a faithful clientele with lines that can start around the corner.

“The curry crab, the red snapper, and the jerk chicken – these are all my favorites, especially for dinner,” said Njeri Archer who has been eating at Gold Star for a little over two years.

“Everything here is great. You can’t go wrong, and the seafood is certainly worth it,” she added.

* Lastly, a less delicious story from DNAinfo: a young aspiring chef is suing the upscale Lower East Side gastropub Spitzer’s Corner, alleging that the restaurant’s former executive chef, Sung Park, used an “apprenticeship” to exploit his labor, paying him as little as $2.91 an hour.

Edward Kim, who worked at the Rivington Street eatery from March 2010 to January 2011, alleges he was misled about his duties, believing he would receive a first-rate culinary education but instead performing menial tasks while working up to 90 hours a week.

“I worked for them as hard as I could, sometimes 19 hours a day, because I was promised I would be trained by as skilled a chef as Chef Park,” said Kim.

“I never even took a day off. Now I realize they exploited me to get basic kitchen labor for next to nothing, for as long as they could. I gave up so much time and energy. I feel like they’ve set me back on my dreams.”

The Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the suit on behalf of Kim against Park, as well as the restaurant’s owner and general manager.

“Chef Park and Spitzer’s Corner misused the apprenticeship label to pay a young worker poverty wages and deny him an accurate accounting of all the hours he worked,” Shirley Lin, AALDEF staff attorney, said in a statement.

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