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Let’s Talk Food! Chatting with River School’s Mr. Tony

As many of you know, I am a teacher at River School in NYC. I have been lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to write this food blog, and am so grateful to share my knowledge and love of all things edible… But I am certainly not the only teacher from our school who has professional food industry experience. In fact, our very own Tony G, aka “Mr. Tony” of the NYC location, used to own two restaurants in Manhattan’s East Village! Recently, I got the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Tony and ask him about his restaurant days, what got him there, and his advice for parents trying to promote healthy eating habits with their children. Speaking with Mr. Tony was truly a pleasure… He even provided a recipe for his favorite salad! Bon appetite!

 

Katie: Mr. Tony, you have quite the food background! Tell me about your experience in the food industry, and what got you there?

Mr. Tony: I come from a large family with nine children… My father and uncles were the ones to teach me how to cook, so [in spite of the time] I never believed it was something only women should do. By the time I was 12 or 13, my father was a single parent and had to work hard to provide for us kids, so I helped out by cooking most of the family meals at home. I loved to cook! Cooking my whole life developed into my eventually having my own restaurants.

Katie: Amazing! What can you tell me about your restaurants?

Mr. Tony: First I opened a Southern-influenced soul food restaurant [in the East Village] called, Mr. Tony’s Soul Kitchen. It featured Southern classics, like sweet potatoes and fried chicken. It did quite well in the East Village… It even made the NY Times’ “$25 and Under” column [in September, 1996]! I did everything at Mr. Tony’s Soul Kitchen… I bussed tables, cooked, shopped… Eventually, I took on a business partner. My second restaurant, Raga, had business partners from the start. Raga was a French and Indian fusion, also in the East Village. We had a chef trained in both French cuisine and Indian technique. All of the spices came from India but the recipes had a French base.

Katie: What are you cooking now, Mr. Tony, and what are your foodie ambitions?

Mr. Tony: I cook just for fun now, and focus more on healthier fare. I love cooking for myself! The seasons dictate what I cook… Baking and roasting in the winter, and a lot of salads in the summer. I love salads because they’re limitless… You can put anything in a salad! As for my ambitions, I have written a cookbook of Southern soul food recipes, Mr. Tony’s Soul Kitchen, but it is currently unpublished. It’s more of a self-satisfying project, however, and I’m not sure I’ll ever want to publish it. It was illustrated by my friend, William Rand, who encouraged me to start Soul Kitchen and write the book.

Katie: Impressive! Mr. Tony, do you have anything else you’d like to share with our readers, or any family food tips for our parents?

Mr. Tony: Sure! I believe that parents can help their kids develop positive eating habits by presenting cooking and healthy eating as a positive, fun way of life. Present it as a creative outlet. We have to look at cooking and eating not as a chore, but as part of a learning process, just like going to school (but life-long). I wish food nutrition and cooking were part of school curriculum. My father and his father were farmers, so I was around fruits and vegetables my whole life. Given the chance, I think kids could appreciate and have fun with healthy foods. I think it starts with conversations with kids… Asking them, “What are some of your favorite fruits and veggies? What are some of your favorite foods?” Then turning those favorites into a salad. I always tell my kids to try new foods… The opportunities are limitless!

Mr. Tony’s Favorite Mixed Green Salad

Ingredients for Salad:

  • 1 head of red leaf lettuce
  • 1 head of romaine lettuce
  • ½ bunch fresh parsely
  • ½ bunch fresh dill
  • ½ cup walnuts (optional)
  • 1 avocado, diced

 

  • Chop all of ingredients and combine in a large bowl. Toss with dressing (recipe below). Serve immediately.

 

Ingredients for Dressing:

  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup champaigne-based balsamic vinegar
  • 1 TBSP dijon mustard
  • Lemon juice, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients inside a small mason jar and seal with a lid. Shake vigorously until combined. Serve with salad, and ejoy!

 

Do you have a question for Katie, or something you’d like to share with the River School community on the blog? Feel free to email her at kidslearn@theriverschool.com!

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