October 1, 2022

Moosewood, the Beloved Vegetarian Restaurant, Prepares for Its 2nd Act

ON A Heat evening previously this summer months, 16 of the 19 former entrepreneurs of the Moosewood Cafe in downtown Ithaca, N.Y. — greatly acknowledged to be the country’s longest-operating vegetarian restaurant — sat close to three tables in its freshly renovated major eating place and feasted on a flurry of household-model dishes. To begin, there ended up boards loaded with nearby cheeses, pickles, Bing cherries and housemade crackers, bites from which had been loved with glasses of cold glowing wine from Lakewood, a nearby vineyard. Wafting from the kitchen area was the odor of sautéed onions, saffron and tomatoes, the makings of a chickpea stew that was served more than seared panisses alongside with plates of white bean and clean pea hummus garnished with edible flowers. The electricity was jubilant — while most of all those in attendance experienced been functioning together for decades, they hadn’t collected as a team like this in years — and the music, “The Bowie Variations” (2011) by the pianist Mike Garson, was just correct.

Moosewood was opened by 7 meals-loving vegetarian close friends in a little storefront in just a previous schoolhouse in 1973, a yr in which America was pulling out of Vietnam, Nixon’s presidency was slipping aside and Roe v. Wade came into law. The region was also in the midst of a back again-to-the-land movement that noticed droves of young persons move from cities to rural regions to experiment with communal living and for which Ithaca and the rest of the Finger Lakes area were being a hub. The restaurant was an outgrowth of the impulse to make new units and communities, all the much more so immediately after the primary seven house owners decided to go after other careers in the late ’70s and the cafe’s focused workers stepped in and turned Moosewood into a hierarchy-free collective. “We wore T-shirts that said ‘worker managed, worker owned,’’’ recalled Wynnie Stein, who came aboard in 1984. “Anyone who was a regular staff and eager to get on all the work had the chance of becoming a member of.”

A selection of the members also assisted observed Lavender Hill, a close by homosexual and lesbian commune, and designed a position of fostering a similarly inclusive environment at the cafe. “Moosewood was always a place where by you could be oneself,” reported David Hirsh, an early member of Moosewood who even now lives at Lavender Hill. Eliana Parra, a different longtime member, arrived in Ithaca as a political exile from Chile. But just due to the fact it was a area that lived by its values does not imply it wasn’t also a rigorous a single. “We weren’t a bunch of hippies cooking vegetables. We were performing really hard and innovating the marketplace,” said Stein.

Members took turns collecting, cooking and tweaking recipes for dishes from their very own backgrounds, as perfectly as from the cuisines of nations that inspired them — nearly anything from zucchini-feta pancakes to a Cuban black bean soup. “It usually came down to two issues: Each dish had to be genuinely tasty and genuinely comforting,” reported Stein, who investigated and experimented with a quantity of recipes from her Jewish friends and relatives users. She also led initiatives to make a Moosewood-branded line of frozen foods produced with balanced elements — lengthy before it was de rigueur, the collective believed strongly in supporting area farmers. Inevitably, they created Sundays at Moosewood, a dining collection whereby each individual celebration featured a menu influenced fully by just one country, which ongoing for much more than 30 several years.

Awareness of the cafe unfold through term of mouth and by “The Moosewood Cookbook” (1974), its now-iconic address that includes a handful of necessities (a leaf of kale, a slice of orange, a one radish) illustrated by its key creator, Mollie Katzen, a further early collective member. It incorporates mouth watering and sometimes dairy-hefty recipes for eggplants stuffed with mushrooms, onions, brown rice and Cheddar cheese custardy popovers curried butternut squash soup and much else. And it stays one of the best-10 ideal-selling cookbooks of all time, owning marketed far more than two million copies due to the fact it was first released in 1974. (If you have experienced a mushroom moussaka or a cauliflower-cheese soup anytime because the mid-70s, it’s possible that the prepare dinner was indebted to the guide.) At a time when most common dining establishments were being serving steak and potatoes or heavy French delicacies, and when most home cooks did not even know what tahini or tofu was, Moosewood marked a true change. As Christine Muhlke, a New York-based food stuff writer and advisor, suggests, “They altered the way Individuals believe about foods and introduced a great deal of ethnic recipes and components into the country’s repertoire. It’s a seminal American cafe correct up there with Chez Panisse.”

THE Bodyweight OF the restaurant’s historical past isn’t dropped on Danica Wilcox, who, along with her spouse, Nicholas Woods, and their pal and company companion Eric Rosenfeld, is one particular of Moosewood’s new owners — the trio threw the modern dinner at the cafe to celebrate its earlier and long run. Wilcox’s mom, Kathleen “Kip” Wilcox, became a member of the collective in 1983 she begun out washing pots and pans and ended up a person of Moosewood’s dessert cooks. For a time, Kip rented an apartment upstairs. So Danica put in much of her childhood at the cafe. “My mother breastfed me in the kitchen area,” she mentioned with a laugh. “And when she was recipe tests, I experienced pissaladière in my college lunch for three months straight.” She says her reminiscences of the area — “the scent of my mother’s brownies, Ned [Asta, an early member] singing together to the Indigo Girls, arranging wildflowers in little ceramic vases for the tables” — are what roused her to take over. In 2019, with most of the users nearing or past the age of retirement, she commenced trying to aid Moosewood obtain a customer, one who would be faithful to the restaurant’s rules, right until it occurred to her, right after a prospective successor dropped out throughout the pandemic, that she was in all probability the greatest applicant. So she and Woods, who had been residing in Mallorca at the time, packed up and headed to her hometown.

They’ve been performing nonstop considering that taking about at the get started of this yr. In the spring, they oversaw the restaurant’s renovation, ripping up the carpeting and polishing the concrete floors them selves. Woods, an artist who grew up in Spain, intended a lot of the lights, which include the sculptural standing lights of brass and marble, and the partitions are now hung with various of his dreamlike paintings. In the previous, the restaurant hosted rotating exhibitions of operate by community artists, but, partly simply because there are now just 3 house owners — “If we decided to companion with anyone else, it would be with a farmer or a winemaker,” Wilcox mentioned — and partly simply because “the local weather crisis is so critical,” she and Woods have made the decision to concentrate on the foods and on “encouraging persons to transfer toward nearby sourcing and vegetarianism the two for environmental and well being good reasons.” Not that this should be a tricky market. As Muhlke put it, “After 50 decades, the world has caught up to Moosewood.”

Unsurprisingly, then, the restaurant’s food items philosophy and choices will continue to be considerably the exact, albeit with far more vegan dishes. Wilcox, who has labored below and there in catering and invested one summer season as a personal chef, and Woods have brought on Adam Shafer, formerly of Greens in San Francisco, a different landmark vegetarian restaurant, to function as a consulting chef alongside the chef Tim Mooney, who’s been at Moosewood for 16 yrs. Irrespective of the growing fees of almost everything from electricity to elements, the workforce designs to proceed the longstanding conference of providing a day by day lunch distinctive of soup, salad and bread. Past week’s alternatives bundled corn chowder and quinoa with preserved lemon.

Just after the dessert study course of the group dinner — a sourdough strawberry shortcake and a violet-hued taro cheesecake — some of the attendees started to dance to salsa tunes. “Moosewood is not just a cafe,” Parra stated over her shoulder as she taught Asta and a couple of other folks some moves. “It’s a loved ones.” Ultimately, the group submitted out just one by one, but not in advance of packing leftovers into takeaway containers. “It’s a Moosewood tradition,” stated Wilcox. “Anyone could get leftovers from the cooler at the close of the night time.” It’s one more just one she intends to uphold.