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Natural Woman: Jesse Cool's new takeout business will serve all-organic food in reusable containers.

Chill Out!

Food pioneer Jesse Cool gets even cooler with the opening of her new catering café

By Christina Waters

WOULD YOU BELIEVE an all-organic catering company? If anyone can do it, it would be Jesse. Anybody who's been paying attention to the chef/owner of Flea Street Café knows that. This week Jesse Cool unveiled her latest brainchild--another bit of seduction by which she hopes to continue educating taste buds and guaranteeing a deliciously sustainable future. I'm talking about JZ Cool Eatery & Catering Co., holding down its colorful purple-and-terracotta slice of Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. Deep pockets helped line the long, narrow space with state-of-the-art kitchen equipment--not designer, expensive stuff, just sturdy, strong cooking tools. "I told the contractors everything had to be really sturdy," Cool told me last week on a preview visit. It's not only sturdy, it's sleek, ready for holiday action and all-organic. From its Niman Ranch short ribs to its broccollini from Cool's longtime legion of local growers, this catering company is the first all-organic business of its kind in the Bay Area. Probably in the country.

Her new business card says it all--"organic, seasonal, sustainable." Cool is a tireless supporter of handmade foods raised without chemicals, grown in ways that replenish the land and harvested in season. Most restaurateurs wouldn't touch this sort of challenge.

Energized by a new henna bob and red cowboy boots, Cool showed me around. Butcher-block tables and hardwood chairs--even old-fashioned school desks--line a small portion of the interior, where locals can come to feast on an abundance of salads, soups and specialties like hot roast pork loin and spicy slaw sandwiches, or succulent pot pies made with free-range chickens. Ovens, freezers and counters form an endless backdrop of glittering stainless steel. Birds sizzle on their spits. Everything is new and ready for action.

"We'll have lots of wines for sale in the central aisle," Cool explained. "All the best organic ones." She envisions the new store as "both retail and take-home, with a little seating. But mostly it will be to-go and corporate catering."

In addition to the all-organic concept, Jesse Cool has made another commitment that fits her eco-friendly agenda. Pulling out sturdy ceramic bowls and mugs from her gleaming shelves, Cool tells me with a grin that take-away items will be packaged in restaurant serving pieces, not plastic containers. "We're encouraging people to bring back the bowls, to reuse these containers." Cool admits that she's been forced to make some minor concessions. "We have to use some plastic," she moans. But don't expect to find the ubiquitous throwaway culinary practice at JZ Cool.

Sampling at random from recipes-in-progress, I succumbed to the Cool magic. Using down-home recipes, hormone-free meats and plenty of slow cooking, her kitchen has come up with a menu that includes potato salad, red flannel hash, pot roast, chicken pot pie and short ribs. From the more California cuisine side of things, I sampled a vibrant potato dill salad and another made with chicken, raisins and almonds. "We'll have a daily blue-plate special," Cool promised, feeding me salmon salad with tarragon. "Lots of homey food, like macaroni and cheese. And blintzes." Beets with ginger thrilled me, green beans slathered with pesto delighted. But it was a forkful--OK, three forkfuls--of a sensational pickled slaw of purple and green cabbages spiked with chiles that had me going crazy. Imagine that over rotisserie-cooked pork loin. I can. But I can do even better. I can call ahead and have an order waiting for me. So could you.

JZ Cool Eatery & Catering Co. is located in Menlo Park at 827 Santa Cruz Ave. Phone: 650.325.3665; fax: 650.325.3669.

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From the November 24-December 1, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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