In the olden days — e.g. before March 2020 — most restaurateurs would throw a friends-and-family night before their opening, offering a sampling of the menu to rev up the kitchen, energize staff, and reward investors and family members.
Not very socially distanced. Or, as Scott Calhoun, David Feola, and Gianna Spatoulas were thinking, not terribly socially responsible.
So on the eve of Dec. 29′s opening of Ember & Ash (1520 E. Passyunk Ave.), they have turned the kitchen into the staging area for Christmas meals for about 250 Philadelphia families.
Calhoun and Feola — the Jean-Georges alums who chef at the rustic restaurant, whose specialty is what they call “worldly peasant food” — are making smoked chicken, roasted vegetables, mashed potatoes, dinner rolls, and apple crisp. Bunny Hop, a West Philadelphia mutual-aid organization, will do the distribution this week as part of its own mission that will see food donations from Southwark, Mission Taqueria, Franny Lou’s Porch, Pie Baby, Snatched Kitchen, and Jezabel’s Cafe.
Calhoun said the giveaway stemmed from conversations the partners had with their families “about not doing Christmas gifts and just taking the monetary value that we would spend on family and donate it somewhere.”
“That kind of sparked something in my head, and I got on the phone with David and said, ‘Hey. Why don’t we just run whatever kinds of donations [we can] through an organization. Have some fun with it, and cook out of the restaurant.’ We’ve got this huge space that we can’t do anything with now, so we might as well do some good and serve the community.”
They kicked in $2,500 and hope to raise an additional $2,500 via the Venmo page Ember-Ash. They say they have two generous donors who will match each donation dollar for dollar. Any donations in excess of the goal will go directly to Bunny Hop.
As for the regular menu at Ember & Ash, which is replacing Brigantessa: Feola and Calhoun will be cooking nose to tail, with such mains as roasted chicken, trout oyakodon, salt-roasted cauliflower, beef shin, and an entree salad.
Feola is a Syracuse native whose Philly kitchen highlight so far has been sous chef at Vernick. Calhoun, who grew up in Lancaster, met Spatoulas, the manager, while working at Osteria; he also previously was chef de cuisine at Parc and executive chef at Spice Finch.