The menu for the 2012 President’s Dinner honoring top volunteers for Gleaners Community Food Bank featured seafood-stuffed mushrooms, spice-rubbed seared pork with fresh apple salsa, and barley risotto, topped off by blood-orange flan.
The catering company? It might surprise some to learn it was the Capuchin Soup Kitchen. For the past five years, executive chef and site manager Alison Costello and her crew have done the catering for this particular event. “And it’s gotten better every year,” says Suzette Hohendorf, special events manager for Gleaners. “I’ve had people call for her recipes. They love her salads and her garlic green beans.”
Costello’s principal duty, of course, is to feed the hungry and homeless who depend on the monastery on Detroit’s Mt. Elliott Avenue for sustenance. And she devotes as much care to those meals as she does to the fancier fare at events like Gleaners’ dinner, corporate meetings, garden parties, and weddings.
She’s been the executive chef and site manager for 12 years, after getting “burned out” working in the food industry for restaurants, including downtown’s Money Tree and Pronto! in Royal Oak, and for Whole Foods, where she was in charge of the prepared foods and juice bar.
The University of Michigan fine-arts major, who veered into the culinary world after graduation, took the job at the soup kitchen with the philosophy that “fine food is for everybody.” Her first act was to go through the kitchen and throw out much of what she found there, including too many processed and pre-prepared foods. She instituted a scratch kitchen with fresh vegetables and herbs and found better sources for ingredients, some of which come from Earthworks Urban Farm, the first certified organic farm in the city of Detroit, right outside her large, well-maintained kitchen. “I’m very proud of the fact that we have been ‘green’ before it became trendy,” she says.
“Some people feel that the folks that come to the soup kitchen don’t deserve good food,” Costello says. But that’s completely contrary to the view with which she approaches her work. She takes that same approach with the Capuchin catering arm, which sprouted organically from monastery parties and volunteer events.
“The people attending the meetings loved the food so much, they just contacted me and it went from there,” she says. All the profits help support the work at the soup kitchen, which is funded strictly by donation and receives no public money.
Each year at the annual Support Our Capuchin Kitchen fundraiser, Costello’s cupcake and chocolate parties are auctioned off. “I do dinner parties for benefactors, [too], if need be,” says the hard-working chef who starts her days at 6 a.m.
There’s no brochure spelling out the catering possibilities, although one is in the works. For now Costello meets with each prospective client and works with them individually. “We do upscale to meat-and-potatoes fare,” she says. “We do rentals, the whole bit, including floral.
“And remember, fine food is for everybody.”