by Carol Colitti Levine
Stories and Favorite Recipes of the People Who Created
a Dining Paradise in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts
Still available from third party sellers on Amazon.
REVIEWS & PRESS
Off The Shelf
Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly
Off the Menu, by Hugh Robert
“If you’re looking for a great winter read, Carol Colitti Levine has written a book that’s sure to be of interest to anyone who’s familiar with the region’s restaurant scene. Table’s Edge is billed as anecdotal history of Northampton’s rise to prominence as a dining destination. To that end about half the book is given over to a series of character sketches describing those who’ve established, owned, or run restaurants in the Meadow City.
In putting Table’s Edge together, Levine interviewed people like Gail and Dan Yacuzzo of Eastside Grill, Claudio Guerra of Spoleto and Del Raye, and Martin Carrera of La Veracruzana. The book also lays some historical groundwork, describing the influence of men like Lewis Wiggins, Wiggins Tavern; Jim Wolff of Beardsley’s fame; and Roger Kirwood, who opened Fitzwilly’s, one of the region’s earliest fern bars. Originally conceptualized as a collection of recipes from the city’s best restaurants, the book morphed into a ‘Who’s Who’ of Northampton dining as Levine pursued her research.
Kitchen secrets nonetheless remain a part of what makes the book special, and readers will discover that Levine has procured the secrets of area favorites like John Sielski’s Chocolate Pots de Creme, Green Street Cafe; and the Ginger Chicken Kadai served at India House. In all, the book incorporates dozens of recipes contributed by various Northampton landmarks. The book itself is a high quality production, attractively illustrated and handsomely bound.”
– Offthemenuguy © 2005
Eateries Book Focuses on People, by Denise Favro Schwartz
Springfield Republican Sunday Magazine
When your hobby is dining out at the trendiest restaurants, as Carol Colitti Levine writes in the forward to her book about the people behind the city’s vibrant dining scene, it makes sense that her desire to own a restaurant would be as sweet and fat as creme brulee. Having enjoyed careers in international banking and teaching, and having moved from Springfield to New York, then fourteen years in San Francisco, and back home to Western Massachusetts to raise her son near family, Levine found herself still dreaming of fine food and the establishments that served it. New to Northampton, she resumed her hobby of searching out the best places to dine.
It didn’t take long to realize she had moved to “the Valley of Great Dining.” In the back of her mind was the thought of opening a place of her own. On a visit to Manhattan with her husband to have dinner with old friends, she reconnected with Joy Simmen Hamburger, who had published a cookbook of recipes from restaurants in Tribeca. With marketing instincts on overdrive, she used friends as focus groups, answering their questions about what she wanted to do with her life now that she had left corporate life behind. Her answer? A cheerful, “I want to open a restaurant. “They all told me I was crazy,” she said, over coffee in one of Northampton’s busy bistros, just a few weeks before the publication of her book. They cited the long hours, financial risks, employee turnover, small kitchens, she said. She wondered why anyone would ever want to own a restaurant if it was so bad. So she did other things with her life. Time went by. Her former boss called and asked Levine to act as Managing Director of the Dutch Bank in Boston, suffering the two-hour commute, each way, for years. Finally, she said “bye-bye, bank” for a final time…
She reasoned that if it was too crazy to open a restaurant, she could write a book about the crazy people who had. Northampton’s rich menu of dining spots offered great material. And she was ready to tell the stories. Levine examines the Hotel Northampton, as well as the Wiggins Tavern and Coolidge Park Cafe within it, Fitzwilly’s, Eastside Grill, Spoleto, Pizzeria Paradiso, Del Raye Bar and Grill, Spoleto Express, Mulino’s, Brasserie 40A, Bishop’s Lounge, Green Street Cafe, Circa, La Veracruzana, India House, the Great Wall and Curtis and Schwartz Cafe. She is careful to point out that her book is not a cookbook or a book about restaurants. While a delicious selection of recipes occupies the back of the book, its main courses are the tales of the people who made the eateries happen.
“It’s about people,” she said. Claudio Guerra is one of them. The owner of Spoleto, Spoleto Express, Pizzeria Paradiso and Del Raye Bar and Grill, Guerra said, “‘The book was a great idea,'” according to Levine. “I spent two hours hearing his life story.” She was intrigued… Levine said that although she had an idea of where she wanted her book to go, she “let the process” guide the way. “I was naive about everything,” she said, except marketing. “That’s what I did professionally.” She had a marketing plan and started to do homework regarding publishing. She began to interview restaurant owners or managers, many of whom she learned about from other restaurateurs. She was fascinated by how the stories of one person linked with another, how “their paths had crossed.”
Altogether, Levine interviewed 20 past and current movers and shakers in Northampton’s restaurant scene. “It was like herding cats” trying to reach them, she said. From these experts in the field Levine loved, she said she learned “that it was even harder to run a restaurant than I’d thought. And it’s not very glamorous. When I had thought about owning a restaurant, I’d had this image of sitting on a stool at Elaine’s (in New York) hanging out and enjoying the life. It’s not like that at all.” From her conversations, Levine realized that the reasons people went into the restaurant business – their love of cooking, fresh food, and gardening, their creativity, and their own stories about their connections to the family kitchen – were the things she wanted to write about. “I have to tell everybody’s stories,” she said. “The book is people’s life stories. The recipes are the bonus at the end.”
Making Book On Dining Out, by Pat Cahill
Springfield Republican Food/Living
“A former banker turns to the business of food. In 1994, Springfield native Carol Colitti Levine gave up her job as an international banker in San Francisco, said goodbye to her British nanny, and moved with her physician husband and young son back to Western Massachusetts.
Levine wanted her child to grow up near relatives. But the transition wasn’t easy for her. After years of “making hundred-million-dollar deals,” she had gone from having a chauffeur to being one. She decided to write a book about food. Levine loved to eat, she loved to cook, and she was surprised to learn that Northampton, where she was living, had become a “dining mecca.” …“I’ve always been a restaurant-hopper,” says Levine, who has dined at “the best restaurants in San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, New York, Washington, Paris and Amsterdam.” She had even considered owning a restaurant herself. She had never written a book before. She enlisted a designer and a printer. And she got to work interviewing and writing about the people behind Northampton’s restaurants. They include Egil Braathen and Mansour Ghalibaf of Wiggins Tavern, Roger Kirwood, Jim Wolff and Fred Gohr of Fitzwilly’s, Danny Constance of the former Beardsley’s, Gail and Dan Yacuzzo of Eastside Grill, Linda Schwartz of the former Curtis & Schwartz, and Claudio Guerra of Spoleto, Pizzeria Paradiso, Del Raye Bar and Grill and Spoleto Express. Also John Sielski of Green Street Cafe, Dane Boryto and Liz Ferro of Circa, Martin Carrera of La Veracruzana, Alka and Omi Kanoujia of India House, Clara Li and Ken Cheung of The Great Wall, and Tony Bishop of Mulino’s, Brasserie 40A and Bishop’s Lounge.
Levine is the granddaughter of Joseph Colitti, who founded Joseph’s Clothiers in Springfield in 1918. She graduated from Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham and in 1975 from Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, where she majored in Spanish. She taught at Longmeadow High School before embarking on a multilingual career in finance in New York and later San Francisco. Since moving to Northampton, Levine was lured back to the big leagues of international finance. But, like running a restaurant, she says, constant travel is less glamorous and more exhausting than it looks.”
Danny Constance, Beardsley’s
Jim Wolff, The Williams House
Benjamin & Lewis Wiggins, Mansour Ghalibaf, Hotel Northampton & Wiggins Tavern
Roger Kirwood & Fred Gohr, Fitzwilly’s
Dan & Gail Yacuzzo, East Side Grill
Claudio Guerra, Spoleto, Del Raye, Pizzeria Paradiso
Linda Schwartz, Curtis & Schwartz Café
John Sielski & Jim Dozmati, Green Street Café
Dane Boryta & Liz Ferro, Circa
Tony Bishop, Mulino’s, Brasserie 40A
Clara Li & Kenny Cheung, Great Wall
Alka & Omi Kanoujia, India House
Martín Carrera, La Veracruzana
Chipotle Steamed Mussels
Spinach & Artichoke Dip
Sautéed Balsamic Chicken
Raspberry Chicken Salad
Lobster & Shrimp Alfredo
East Side Grill
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Pecan Butter & Spinach
Roasted Sea Scallops with Pancetta Leek Cream Sauce
Baked Atlantic Cod with Lobster Bisque Sauce
Muscat Trifle Italiano
Green Street Café
Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup
Potato Goat Cheese Ravioli
Classic Pots de Crème au Chocolat
Chicken Roulade with Figs & Brie & Red Onion Jam
Poached Bosc Pear in Red Wine Reduction
Crème Fraîche Sorbet
Pistachio Sable Cookies
Seared Tuna with Wasabi Mayonnaise
Roasted Corn Relish
Asian Slaw with Ginger Vinaigrette
Cumin-scented Basmati Rice
Ginger Chicken Kadai
TEN YEAR JOURNEY TO THE TABLE’S EDGE
San Francisco Book Club Reunion
New York City
As I wove my way through New York’s Penn Station, I spied James, the porter I knew from business trips. He secrets me down the escalator to the Vermonter at gate 7B before everyone else boards. I flip him a five, find an empty row on the train, and take a window seat hoping the seats next to mine will stay empty so I can enjoy the new Pamela Harriman bio in peace.
It had been a serendipitously sweet reunion with my San Francisco book club at the Algonquin in New York. I’d just moved back east from San Fran a few weeks before, but I missed the group already. I began to dive into the juicy story about Harriman, a political hostess recently dating one of the book club member’s father-in-law. Dishy. All of a sudden a rush of motion caught my eye. I looked up to see a trio of Talbot’s women frantically looking for vacant seats. These unlikely Amtrakers would probably leave me alone, but one of them noticed my book and decided she’d sit next to me, the two others taking seats across the aisle.
She introduced herself as Denise, and then her two sisters, and quickly informed me that the only reason they were on the train was that her Chevy station wagon had been stolen in Brooklyn the night before when they were all visiting her daughter. The sisters were laughing and teasing Denise about how she would break the news to her husband. Denise gleefully hoped it might mean a new cooler car for her.
As the train began to leave the station, Denise asked about the book. I told her about my San Francisco book club and how Harriman was related to one of them. I described the group. Four women & me. We were brought together in our late thirties through various connections. The five of us had spent ten years every month having dinner in each other’s homes. Pacific and Presidio Heights. Discussing for at most ten minutes, the designated book. The rest of the time we discussed our families and life.
After complaining about missing the book group, I went on to whine to Denise that I was also stinging from the shock of quitting my international banking career in San Francisco, going from making hundred-million-dollar deals to making hundred dollar purchases at Stop & Shop. And that Sylvia, our beloved English nanny of the past five years, had now been replaced by me. Sensing that Denise could no longer endure any more moaning about myself, I asked,
‘So where do you live?’
‘Northampton’, she replied.
‘Northampton, Massachusetts? Where Smith College is?’ I asked.
‘Yes!’ she sounded surprised that I knew it.
I exclaimed, ‘We just moved there last month. We wanted to raise our son near family. I grew up in Western Massachusetts and went to Mount Holyoke. Blah. Blah.’
‘You’re kidding!’ She seemed happy of the coincidence.
Finally, Denise got her turn to swing into full-tilt. She told me about her family, her husband’s real estate business, his community leadership positions. She asked if I’d like to attend an annual Northampton United Way event featuring celebrity and local chefs, called Books & Cooks. It was being held the next week and I’d be her guest.
As an avid foodie, I said, ‘of course!’ What a great connection.
Books & Cooks
At Books & Cooks, I wandered around to various booths and sampled local fare. I soon realized that the Pioneer Valley had many great restaurants and had become a recent dining destination. Denise introduced me to various leaders of the community. I went over to talk to the celebrity chef, Joanne Weir, about her book From Tapas to Meze. She was San Francisco-based, so we discussed the dining scene that I’d enjoyed for so many years there.
Joanne was a native of Northampton, and she was surprised to see how the culinary culture had evolved since she left. In the 1970’s only a few local bars, Fitzwilly’s and Packard’s, which were still in business and a seafood diner called Jack August. That was it. Now quite the dining mecca. After the event I set upon trying all of the restaurants in my new home of Northampton.
I also decided to start a new book club. I made Denise my first victim. Then I invited Anne, an old friend from 1970’s teaching days in Longmeadow, Massachusetts and two new friends. So began a new roundtable of dinners at each other’s homes and for at most ten minutes, we discussed the designated book. To shed all of the accumulated poundage from San Francisco’s great dining and my new Northampton finds, I walked around my Childs Park neighborhood every day. Dropped 30. Yay.
Union Square Café Birthday
New York City
I took my new svelte figure, with husband Gary and went to Manhattan for dinner with friends. They knew this up-and-coming restaurateur, Danny Meyer. We met them at his new restaurant in Union Square to celebrate two of our birthdays. Our friend Joy Simmen and her husband lived in a loft in Tribeca. She had just published The Tribeca Cookbook, a beautifully illustrated compilation of seasonal recipes from the new restaurants in that trendy neighborhood in lower Manhattan. She gave me a signed copy. I was intrigued.
We talked about what I’d do now that I’d left the international banking world and was a stay-at-home mom. I always dreamed of owning a restaurant. They all said, ‘Are you crazy? It’s so hard! With a young son in elementary school, too many hours.’
So. Back in Northampton, I began my new life as a school council member, first grade volunteer, and watcher of the O.J. Simpson trial. Family & book club kept me semi-sane.
However, in the back of my mind I kept Joy Simmen’s Tribeca Cookbook as an idea and model. Maybe someday I’d write a Northampton Cookbook. But. It wasn’t meant to be. Not yet.
Back to Banking
Northampton – Boston Commute
As I was cleaning the bathroom one morning with Regis and Kathie Lee blaring on the tube, the phone rang, and a vaguely familiar Dutch-accented voice on the other end boomed,
‘Yes’, I shouted back as I tried to turn down the sound.
‘Lex Kloosterman, here. How are you doing?’
Yikes. It was Lex, the big kahuna from Chicago and Amsterdam, the big, big boss of my old bank, the one I’d just left in San Francisco. Well, I thought, I’m just peachy cleaning my toilet and watching Reege.
He wryly intuited, ‘Aren’t you getting bored yet? We’d really like you to come back to head up the Boston Office.’
I blurted out, ‘Boston is not near Northampton, Lex. They are both in Massachusetts, but that’s about it.’ He didn’t miss a beat. ‘Well, we’ll make you a Senior Vice President & Managing Director.’ ‘Oh.’ There were no women managing directors at this staid old Dutch institution.
So. The next day I got on a plane to Chicago and they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I spent the next unexpected career phase getting up at 4:45 a.m. for the 2-plus hour commute, each way, to Boston. Sometimes drove to Chicopee to get the 6:15 a.m. Peter Pan Bus. Other times with driver Johnnie in a big black car. He’d roll up the driveway at dawn and off we’d go. Client meetings in New England, all over the globe. Grueling, but fun too and very lucrative.
On the Edge
Retired from banking. Again. Regis & Kathie Lee had become Regis & Kelly. Kelly was cute, but I looked more like Kathie Lee. I tried pilates, the gym, drove son to various after school activities and sports. I kept thinking about that Tribeca Cookbook.
I wanted to interview the restaurateurs in town, to ask how and why they came to own or run restaurants. If it was so crazy, why did they do it? Thus began my journey of discovering kitchen secrets and histories of the local chefs with their myriad of motivations and backgrounds. I thought I’d write a different kind of cookbook. Their stories as well as their recipes.
Food Bank Connection
As the project unfolded, one chef-owner I interviewed told me about a cookbook agent who lived just up the road. I met her and she loved my idea. She was also on the board of the local Food Bank. I joined the Development Committee, and we collaborated on my evolving book and a way to contribute part of the proceeds to the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts.
Soon I’d found a publishing company, a graphic artist, an editor, family photographers and many others. The half history, half cookbook Table’s Edge was born, October 2005.
~ Foreword edited & updated 2018