Ready for Our Close Up!
Recently Alvin & Friends has been featured on two local TV shows, Restaurant Hunter (FIOS channel 1) and Toni On! New York (WLNY channel 55 and WCBS channel 2). The shows were fun to watch – but as we discovered a lot of work goes into those 2 or 3 minutes on screen!
In the first case, when Theresa, who handles our PR and marketing, heard that Restaurant Hunter was looking for locations in the Lower Hudson Valley she contacted them via Twitter and suggested they come for a visit. They responded that Alvin & Friends was already on their radar — and within days a production assistant sent an email proposing a date for filming in February. The snowy winter weather led to several delays, but finally on February 4th Restaurant Hunter host Rob Petrone and his crew showed up. They spent most of the day at the restaurant, interviewing Alvin, filming Alvin interacting with our lunchtime customers and then shooting Chef Raymond at work in the kitchen.
Restaurant Hunter had asked in advance if Raymond would make one of our signature dishes, Shrimp & Grits, so he was ready with a tray of pre-portioned spices to demonstrate how we create our special house spice mix : Cumin, paprika, celery salt, granulated garlic, granulated onion, black pepper, light brown sugar, cayenne pepper, allspice and Kosher salt are blended by hand. Raymond then began preparing the grits, a time-intensive process because, as Raymond pointed out, “No self-respecting southerner uses instant grits” – we import our stone-ground grits from Oxford, Mississippi. After being whisked with water and milk, they take about 40 minutes to simmer; the result is creamy, says Raymond, not runny or al dente. Next Raymond demonstrated how he creates our Pot Likker Butter Sauce, which requires reducing a quart of the stock used to cook the collard greens down to about a cup of jus; this is then combined with heavy cream and butter. Finally Raymond sauteed the shrimp, adding julienned vegetables and spinach, then plated the dish. But it wasn’t quite as seamless in the kitchen as it appears on film: It took a number of takes before the producer and camera person were convinced that they had captured all the nuances of preparing the dish on film.
The freshly prepared Shrimp & Grits was then served to host Rob Petrone, who had been seated at our community table with Alvin. Rob tasted the dish and carefully described the flavors. “Wow, I’ve had grits numerous times, I actually lived in the South,” he said, “but these grits have almost a polenta like mouth feel to them, they’re a little denser, and they gave a sweetness — it’s almost like eating cornbread in grits form!” The film crew shot him enjoying the dish and chatting with Alvin. “What I love is you’re doing southern food in such a refined, upscale setting,” observed Rob, and Alvin agreed that this was his goal. “What I’ve done is taken the dishes that you find at some of your finer restaurants and incorporated the spices and the seasonings and the flavors [of the Caribbean]”.
But Raymond ‘s work wasn’t done yet : He was also asked to prepare some of our other signature dishes (Jerk Rubbed Duck Breast and Fried Chicken)for the crew to film — and sample. Meanwhile our staff was busy getting ready for dinner service and setting up the rear dining room for a private event that had been scheduled that night. It was a busy afternoon but we enjoyed hosting charming Rob and the friendly Restaurant Hunter crew. You can watch the show by clicking here.
A few weeks later Toni Senecal, host of Toni On! New York, contacted us about featuring Alvin & Friends on her show. Once again the snowy weather forced us to cancel the original shoot and reschedule it for March 10th. The Toni On! crew was running late that day, so they showed up after lunch service to interview Alvin, film the restaurant and follow Chef Raymond into the kitchen.
Because this episode of Toni On! started in Sunnyside, Queens — where Toni talked about the area’s Huguenot heritage — she made that link her segue to New Rochelle and a visit to Alvin & Friends. Once again, Raymond spent time in the kitchen preparing multiple dishes for the crew to film (and taste). Fried Oysters, Jerk Rubbed Duck Breast, Oxtail Stew and Fried Chicken were prepared and plated, but it was the Mac and Cheese that really stopped Toni in her tracks: “Prepared with smoked Gouda and Cajun spices, it is seriously road worthy!” she enthused. But it was Raymond’s preparation of our Seafood Linguine that was filmed most carefully. Raymond sauteed jumbo shrimp seasoned with our house spice mix, then added chunks of mahi mahi, julienned peppers and onions, and Creole cream sauce (shrimp stock, Worcestershire sauce, heavy cream, parmesan and hot sauce). Finally blanched linguine pasta and baby spinach were added to the pan, along with some oysters and their liquor. Chef finished the dish with some lump crab and a sprinkle of our house spice mix. “Layers of flavor!” he explained. Toni, who had been an enthusiastic and vocal audience while Raymond cooked, sampled the dish right there in the kitchen, declaring it “one delicious beast.”
The Toni On! Crew returned that Sunday for shots of our Sunday brunch crowd and our performers, and to film two more of our signature dishes, the Bananas Foster French Toast and a plate of our Chicken and Waffles. Toni and her crew couldn’t have been nicer, and we loved the way they captured the relaxed vibe of our Sunday brunch: You can see for yourself by clicking here.