Volume 78 - Number 46 / April 22 -28, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Clayton Patterson

Anne Apparu, right, with Glen Schiller at a recent event at Homegrown Kitchen.

Bowery bistro puts a new spin on ‘locally grown’  

By Rita Wu

Anne Apparu has her finger in a number of pies.

She runs Alexandre Catering, the 18th Restaurant — a monthly dinner event held at various locations — and Lunch Box Chelsea, a service that provides freshly made and personally delivered lunches.

Recently her energy has been focused on a new project. Homegrown Kitchen is her new restaurant housed in a six-story building on the Bowery. But this isn’t just any restaurant; this is her dream, this is her neighborhood, this is her freedom, a rooftop garden to supply all the vegetables and herbs for her kitchen. She was raised in a self-sufficient restaurant and has always dreamed of having one for herself.

“It’s really about freedom,” Apparu said. “It’s the American dream. Freedom in doing what you dream, what you want, what you love.”

Homegrown Kitchen opened on April 14 in the new Collective Hardware building, at 169 Bowery, started by Stuart Bronstein and Roni Rivelini. The building has an eclectic mix of tenants and uses, from a recording studio to a hair salon, artists’ studios, gallery space and an event venue.

Apparu’s restaurant will be serving, as she put it, “fresh, local food with an international-mama accent — what makes you feel good. It’s a cozy flavor. Very simple food, but then again, with my special spice, special touch of the day. I really created my own form of cooking.”

Apparu cooks what she feels like cooking and is a strong believer in “using what you have,” therefore she doesn’t plan on having a menu. Her food, she said, will be based on “free will and trust,” so her dishes will constantly be changing. She wants diners to trust what she chooses for them. “If you’re hungry, I’ll feed you,” she said with a smile.

Branches stretch across the walls of her open kitchen. She wants to start growing herbs on them so she can just reach up and grab what she needs while she’s cooking. The kitchen will be open from 2 p.m. to midnight, serving late lunch, dinner and snacks. On weekends, it will open earlier for brunch and families. She understands that economic times are tough and wants to make her restaurant as accessible as possible by keeping her prices low, an average of $8 for lunch, $10 for dinner.

But Apparu has an agenda. Through her studies in permaculture — a design system that strives to achieve a mutually beneficial relationship between the environment and man — she realized that the most important thing is to take care of oneself and be self-sufficient. 

“Everyone has stepped away from taking care of their bodies,” she noted. She believes that being self-sufficient can help one be “the most powerful human being that you can be” in the sense that it will “wipe out a lot of the needs that society has built, which are not traditional needs, not human needs; it’s human-created needs or civilization-created or culture-created, by just not being attentive enough to your humanity and what’s around you and the gifts that are all around.”

She wants people to see that it’s possible for them to have their own gardens in their apartments; that it’s not that hard to start becoming self-sufficient. 

“Just regular greenhouse plants, the most common ones, do wonders for us,” she explained. These basic plants and herbs are the easiest kind to grow in a city apartment. They’re cost efficient and help clean the air of toxins, Apparu added. 

Her garden is on two roofs that equal about 2,000 square feet total.

“It’s really like a real farm,” she said. She’s currently in the process of “greening” her garden roofs. First, she is lining the roofs’ sides with sunflower and corn, which acts as a heat and cold barrier and soundproofing. She’s also using recycled wood to build her boxes and planters, instead of going to a lumberyard. There is a worm compost for kitchen waste, and rainwater catchment areas to help water her garden. Scraps from the garden, mulch, dead leaves and cardboard will also be used as compost in the rooftop gardens. It’s all a cycle to her.

In addition to self-sufficiency, Apparu is a firm believer in sharing and working together. 

“I could do it all on my own, but I really want other people involved because it’s not about doing things on your own,” she said. “Many people want to get involved.” 

She has someone coming in to help with the fermenting process so that her plan to have jars of sauerkraut, tomatoes and pickles will be ready for the winter. She also will have someone to help her in the garden and another person who is good with raw food and the dehydration process. 

Apparu learned to cook from her mother, and now she’s passing down her knowledge. She wants to give back to the neighborhood in which she grew up. She wants to bring back a sense of community. She wants to show the neighborhood kids how to grow gardens on their windowsills and fire escapes.

“We really believe in this area and the fluidity of it and really how it is like a nation,” she said. 

  She just wants to share.

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