When Princeton’s Terra Momo Group of restaurants decided to take over the café at Princeton’s YMCA, the idea was to build upon the organization’s theme of healthy living. Instead of chicken nuggets and fries, current customers might find kale salads and gluten-free pastries in the light-filled eatery now known as Terra Learning Kitchen, where a roster of cooking classes for adults and children is available.
But the focus on freshness and nutrition doesn’t mean a restrictive menu of sprouts, nuts, and berries. “We’re trying to bridge the gap,” said kitchen manager Tiffany Baldino one morning this week. A group of women chatted and sipped coffee at one table, while another customer nibbled a gluten-free muffin at another. “We want to serve people who have special dietary concerns but who still want a burger now and then,” Ms. Baldino continued. “It’s that middle ground. I think our small victory is that in this café that used to do pizza and nuggets and French fries, people are open to trying kale salad. You have to make healthy food taste good, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Terra Learning Kitchen, or TLK, is open Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ms. Baldino and the Momo brothers are hoping that members of the local community, as well as patrons of the Y’s classes and programs, will be stopping by for meals or picking up take-out dinners after work.
“No pun intended, but why not?,” Raoul Momo said of the café in the Y facility. “What a great resource this kitchen is. And since the town allowed us to put a walk-in cooler outside, signing off on it quickly, that gave us the opportunity to bring in the concept of fresh food.”
Mr. Momo noted that none of the kitchens in the other Terra Momo Group restaurants — Eno Terra, Teresa Kaffe and Mediterra — have windows. “Just to have this light coming in is wonderful, he said. “With the cooking classes, the concept is interactive. We’re getting people from the community to understand what a resource we have here. We want to welcome everyone.”
The small café has been open for years, in various guises such as the Orchard Café and Da’s Thai. “The Momos wanted to do something different,” said Ms. Baldino. “They wanted to create more business in this location, and they wanted to make people learn to eat better. The idea was to do a lot of classes as well as run the café, and this fit in with the Y’s mission.”
Educational offerings at TLK include a Mini Chef School for children, a Parent/Child Chef School, and sessions led by Dorothy Mullen’s Suppers Program on seasonings from throughout the world. As part of a week-long Open House, Ms. Mullen will give a free short version of her classes tomorrow (January 9) at 2 p.m. On Friday, Tracy Sipprelle will lead a workshop on healthy eating.
Ms. Baldino has been testing various recipes during recent weeks, using Y staff members as tasters. Before taking the job at TLK, she owned a small meal delivery service, preparing healthy dinners in conjunction with Griggstown Farm. She heard about the concept of TLK from Carlo Momo, whom she knew from the gym.
Ms. Baldino is interested in partnering with a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, which would allow fresh fruits and vegetables to be delivered to TLK, to be picked up by members. The kitchen is already preparing take-out dinners, including recipes of Ms. Mullen’s. “There’s a lot going on,” Ms. Baldino said. “For the price of a pizza and a bottle of soda, people can get a roast chicken and side dishes that have been freshly prepared.”
A grand opening celebration for TLK is Friday, January 17 in conjunction with a salsa dance party in the studio next door. Hors d’oeuvres with a salsa theme will be served starting at 7 p.m., followed by dancing and instruction by Hot Salsa Hot at 8 p.m. Visit www.princetonymca.org for more information.