SOMERVILLE — When it comes to eating locally, JJ Gonson, a personal chef and owner of Cuisine en Locale catering, is not messing around. When she couldn’t procure locally made wine to simmer Stillman’s Farm shortribs for her brunch menu, she pulled New England cranberries out of the freezer, and added cider vinegar to whip up a braising concoction.
As for her sticky buns, she says, “no white sugar was harmed in the making.” She sweetens them with maple-sugar caramel. Even the salt, oats, and oil (usually sunflower) in her pantry come from a Maine organic farming cooperative. “We make no exceptions,” says Gonson.
Brunch is a big step for Gonson and her catering company. These are the first regularly scheduled meals coming out of her new kitchen, in the former Anthony’s Catering Hall on Highland Avenue. In a neighborhood quickly filling with young families, Gonson saw the need for a space where parents could eat restaurant-quality food with their kids, have a cocktail or two, and enjoy live music.
A mother herself, to Oliver, 12, and Ruby, 10 (whom she refers to on social media as “the boy child” and “the girl child”), Gonson could relate to wanting to spend time out as a family, and of course, not having to hire a babysitter. “There are a lot of people here with kids who are young, they are kind of creative, they don’t want a dance club, but a place they can get good food and see music,” she says.
Food and music are two things Gonson knows something about. As a teenager in Cambridge she worked as a line cook, and at 18 started managing and photographing bands. Eventually she made her way to the West Coast, to manage acclaimed singer-songwriter Elliot Smith, take photographs of her friend Kurt Cobain, and take a job as an executive for Virgin Atlantic.
But the corporate life did not suit her. Since returning to Boston around 2000, she’s focused on getting people to eat unprocessed, locally grown food. After marrying and having kids, she became “a baby personal chef, who went to the local farmers’ markets and brought that food into people’s homes.. That grew into Cuisine en Locale, which shared kitchen space at Kitchen Inc. in Union Square, Somerville. Now she says, her “adoption of an ancient crumbling dance hall seems like the appropriate next step for the gypsy cooks.”
She will use the Anthony’s space to cater, and cook the weekly meal subscription service ONCE a Week, (ONCE stands for “one night culinary event”). It works like a farm share, but for prepared foods. Gonson gets deliveries from local farms on weekends, and on Mondays she and a rotating team of cooks turn them into meals. Each share is $145 and includes 8 to 10 mixed heat-and-eat dishes. On Tuesdays, subscribers pick up shares at a predetermined location, or have them delivered to their doors. If you fall within the pedal-bike delivery range, the drop-off is free; if not, there is a $20 charge.
“We would like to be feeding a lot more people in the city with our meal program,” says Gonson, “especially people who have kids. And it’s great for people who work all the time, and frequently eat lunch at their desk. You can get it delivered to your office, and eat it there.”
Gonson’s ONCE dinners, which started as roving pop-up parties, now also have a home in the former Anthony’s space. The next event dubbed ONCE (We Were Slaves) will be held on the second Passover Seder, with dinner ($85 for leg of lamb, $65 for vegetarian, $50 to skip the entree and graze on gefilte fish, matzo ball soup, haroset, and other traditional favorites).
She does not keep a kosher kitchen, but will adhere to the Passover dietary laws and exclude any verboten ingredients for the meals. For her, that also includes anything sourced outside of New England.
Cuisine en Locale , www.cuisineenlocale.com.Catherine Smart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.