By Sabina Mollot
As part of a new program launched by Manhattan chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud, on Tuesday, nearly 50 seniors in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village had gourmet meals delivered to their doors that were prepared by five well-known, Manhattan-based chefs.
The residents were all recipients of meals that are regularly delivered by Citymeals-on-Wheels and on Tuesday, a handful of those meals were not only prepared by but delivered by two of the chefs, Ryan Hardy, who owns the restaurant Charlie Bird, and Scott Conant, owner of Scarpetta.
The visits by chefs were part of a citywide, monthly event that was launched in January by Boulud, who’s also come to Stuyvesant Town to bring meals to homebound seniors. Boulud’s visit to the community was in the days before Christmas in 2012 and was done in partnership with Citymeals, which is an organization that delivers meals to seniors who are physically unable to shop or cook for themselves. In Stuy Town, there are 40 recipients of Citymeals deliveries; in Peter Cooper, there are seven.
According to Beth Shapiro, Citymeals’ executive director, who also visited a few of those residents along with the chefs, the average age of those receiving meals, citywide, is 83 and more than half of those people are living at or below the poverty level.
“We have people who have to decide between cutting a pill in half or eating,” said Shapiro. “These are the people we’re feeding on a regular basis, and in neighborhoods you wouldn’t think of, like the Upper East Side.”
Income doesn’t factor into eligibility for getting meals though and Citymeals’ work is mostly privately funded (with just 10 percent of its budget coming from the government). Primarily, its mission is to feed New York’s homebound seniors on days when the city’s Department of Aging, via senior centers, does not, which are weekends and holidays. Boulud, who owns several restaurants, is also a co-president of Citymeals’ board of directors.
For Hardy and Conant, the delivery trip to Stuy Town was a first, but both indicated a desire to return to deliver again.
Conant, armed with a bag full of takeout trays of pasta with sausage ragu and focaccia bread and ricotta, said, “I’m happy to help people in need. I have two little girls and as they grow older I think they should see how important it is.”
Alongside him was Hardy, who’d brought trays of roast chicken with farro salad.
The first stop of the day for the chefs was the apartment of Mary Petrone, who told them she’d lived in Stuy Town for 50 years. After making a point to warn them that she would not be eating anything with white rice because it was her least favorite food, the 86-year-old woman then had them breathing a sigh of relief with her next statement. “I love Italian food,” she purred, “because I’m half Italian.”
“We both own Italian restaurants,” Hardy said in response. “You should join us,” Conant added.
However, that didn’t seem likely after Petrone informed them that she had arthritis, which was getting worse and was also still recuperating from a cancer-related operation she got two years ago as well as glaucoma in her right eye. Still, Petrone said she still exercised faithfully every day and tried to get outside for appointments.
The conversation managed to turn to travel when she mentioned she’d been to Italy more than once. Conant said he had as well, and Petrone revealed she’d also been to 16 different countries over the years. But, she added, “My favorite place is right here in Stuyvesant Town. There’s no place like the good old U.S.A.” She then told the chefs, “I give you fellas credit. Opening a restaurant in New York ain’t easy.”
The chefs didn’t argue and soon they were heading off for their next delivery at the apartment of another resident in the same building, Catherine Sweeney.
Once inside the chefs commented on a photo of Leonardo DiCaprio that was tacked up on the wall outside the kitchen.
“He’s a family friend,” she replied, before noting the entourage of Citymeals employees and reporters in her living room and adding that it was “nice to see smiling people.”
There was also no shortage of smiles during the last delivery of the day for the chefs when at the apartment of another resident, Catherine McCloud. McCloud had also been to Italy, she informed them, having studied there for conservatory “in the beginning of time,” she joked. “The 50s.” While there she also found that though she’d complain of being sick of “pasta and red sauce every damn day,” whenever she went home to cook, that’s what she’d instinctively end up making. “I couldn’t do without it,” said McCloud with a chuckle.
In her case, she became a Citymeals recipient after getting cancer. She’s also had a husband, an actor whose picture was opposite the couch on the wall, who suffered a bad stroke. When she told him about her own illness, she recalled how his response was to be “annoyed” since he would no longer get to be the center of her attention.
“The types who like to be on stage like to be on stage all the time,” she joked, adding that she wanted to thank the chefs “for bringing me goodies.”
McCloud also noted that she thought an important part of life was eating well.
“When you get to my age, some of the pleasures of life are no longer available to you,” she said, “but you can still get a good meal.”
Including the aforementioned residents, 425 seniors living throughout the boroughs got meals on Tuesday prepared by chefs such as Marc Forgione of American Cut, Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern and Amanda Freitag of Empire Diner, along with Hardy and Conant. Since January, different chefs have lent their talents to Citymeals on the first Tuesday of each month.