Lakewood's Own "Food Network" Served A La Cart

Kiwi Wongpeng, chef and owner of award winning restaurant, Thai Thai.

Photo Credit: JoAnn Larsen/SLA Video Productions

Attention fans of TV cooking shows! Did you know that Lakewood has its own "food network" of sorts? Well, yes!

A year ago, the Lakewood Community Services Center, headed by Executive Director Trish Rooney, determined that free, live cooking demonstrations would be advantageous to low income seniors receiving emergency food distributions through LCSC. The Cove Community Center (formerly Cove United Methodist Church) was about to open, and it welcomed the idea of hosting the presentations as a way to increase attendance for their new facility. Lakewood's Three Arches Foundation provided funding for the program through grants.

The series title, "A La Cart," is in recognition of the inanimate star of the show, the "Charlie Cart," which makes it logistically possible. The Charlie Cart can best be described as a "kitchen on wheels" and is used to teach basic cooking techniques. And, stationed behind the Charlie Cart each month at Cove is a chef from one of Lakewood's eclectic eateries!

Although devised to assist older adults in the preparation of wholesome meals, A La Cart, as stated in the inaugural demo by Melt Bar and Grilled's Matt Fish, is "geared toward seniors but really geared toward everybody." Now, chef-inspired menu items from some of your Lakewood favorites can become part of your personal repertoire! Observing the process step by step, accompanied by simple directions and tips, makes it easier to try at home.

Once visitors are seated within the Cove Center, the featured guest prepares a dish from their establishment right before your eyes. The action is simultaneously filmed, and a screen above the demo offers a bird's eye view of what's happening directly below (via Akron Drone Services). Questions from the audience are welcomed, and recipe cards are handed out (also to keep) so you can follow along. Soon you will experience enticing aromas and observe as mouth watering dishes come into being. At the conclusion, samples are offered.

What if you are not available once a month on a Tuesday afternoon at 2pm? No problem. This is where Lakewood's "food network" comes into play. The episodes are taped and broadcast on Cox Community Channel 45. Not a subscriber? Go online to and search for A La Cart. The venue is locally based and produced by SLA Video Productions, airing not only the A La Cart series, but a whole host of viewing options. You can select from a variety of individual features or talk show style interviews showcasing mostly Northeast Ohio based citizens and organizations. If you choose the latter option, you can watch A La Cart on demand from whatever personal device suits you, as often as you like. 

Aside from the food preparation aspect of the A La Cart series, chefs sometimes share backstories about their careers or businesses. It is a way to learn about our local professionals, such as Ross Keller from Italian Creations (primarily catering).  He does parties representing "every aspect of life" and has had pro sports figures as clients. Ben Bebenroth (Spice Hospitality Group, including Boom's Pizza) grows produce on a farm that has engaged several student volunteers.  For them, planting rows of garlic became a math lesson, and they're also learning the importance of healthy eating. Ben revealed, "this really is my life's calling. I am determined to change how people interact with the Earth."

Here's some of what this cornucopia of culinary talent has brought to the table so far:

Gregg Korney of Georgetown prepared "Chicken Veggie Rice Bowl." He declared, "cooking is fun so just make this as fun as you want!"  "Sesame oil rocks!" was the reaction from one audience member. 

Emily Kichler from The Root Cafe concocted a "Vegan Taco Salad," which used nuts in place of meat and cheddar. She acknowledged that this recipe reflected the work of Root's former staffer Nicole Rheinberger who studied raw foods.  

International flavors are included too. Beyond making "Chicken Tikka Masala," Ramesh (Sonny) Sharma of India Garden fielded inquiries about where to locate ingredients found in Indian cuisine. Another culture was represented by Kiwi Wongpeng of Thai Thai.  Kiwi shared her own dumpling recipe which she also makes at home with her kids.

Ruth Kostadinov prepared risotto emphasizing the virtues of using leftovers. She owns Gingham Market which sells a variety of artisanal and gourmet foods. Takeout items are also prepared on site at adjacent Gatherings Kitchen where themed cooking classes are taught.

With autumn now upon us, Pumpkin Gnocchi, which may sound complicated, was made to look relatively simple by Rachelle Murphy formerly of Rood Food & Pie. She described that blending and working all the incredients for the gnocchi, and rolling it out, was like "going back to Play-Doh days." If you love bacon, see what is done with it on the sidelines!

Clearly there's something for everyone. What's noteworthy is that those participanting in these demos donate their time, expertise and food. Matt Fish was influential in the evolution of the partnerships between these restaurateurs (and LCSC) during past Lakewood End Hunger events.

The audience couldn't help but chuckle when Matt was "busted" while sharing how to make his "Roasted Garlic Tomato Soup." In response to an astute observer, he confessed, "You caught me! I should have taken that bay leaf out before I pureed it." 

How many suburbs can boast having their own "food network" which not only refers to the informative, viewable segments but also represents the intersection and collaboration of multiple individuals and entities. By combining their vision and desire to serve others, they created the A La Cart Nutritional Chefs Series. These menu items are now accessible to everyone, and the demos show us that healthy eating doesn't have to be boring or that hard to do.

Ruth Kostadinov later shared that the live experience was a "great forum for reaching the community." Hopefully this unique exposure will result in continued support for these individuals. Plus, if those beyond the 44107 zip code watch A La Cart via available media options, it may motivate them to visit Lakewood to appreciate its considerable food scene first hand.

Reservations are not required for the next A La Cart presentation scheduled for November 14 at 2pm.  Once again, it will feature Matt Fish from Melt. He will be preparing homemade peanut butter and peanut sesame dressing. To mark the one year anniversary of the series, a complimentary collection of the recipes from featured chefs will be available to attendees.

Why not be part of the fun? As Emily Kichler teased in her promo, if you don't come in person, "you'll miss the taste test!" So, join in or tune in. Bon Appetit!

If you are a chef that would like to be considered for a future A La Cart segment, email Trish Rooney at To learn about future demos, go online to the Lakewood Division of Aging Newsletter, Facebook posts on LCSC's site or ads in "The Lakewood Observer."

Cove Community Center is at 12525 Lake Avenue (at Cove). Parking lot is in the back along Clifton.

Adelaide Crnko is a Lakewood resident who loves all kinds of food!

Adelaide Crnko

Lakewood resident who loves all kinds of food!

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Volume 19, Issue 21, Posted 9:45 AM, 11.08.2023