The Down South, Big City Chef

There were 130 banquet attendees, a line of customers coming to visit a restaurant, and one woman at the center of it all.

Sarah Wade, an Oklahoma native, had gotten her first sous-chef job at the Renaissance Hotel in Charlotte, NC when disaster struck. The main chef had gone on vacation so she was in charge of running the hotel’s restaurant as well as running the banquet that was set to take place that night. Fortunately she wasn’t alone; there was another cook on duty. Wade planned to take care of the restaurant while her fellow chef would do a carving station for the banquet. When that chef decided that she “didn’t want to do it” and walked out, it was all up to Wade.

“The hardest part about being a chef is keeping a very even attitude,” Wade said. “ You have days where someone can call out, days where the meat guy doesn’t send you what you need for dinner that night and it makes you want to yell and you do yell.”

But time and time again Wade has had to go against her first instinct to start yelling and instead enter the kitchen as the “calm mom”.

“If I freak out everyone freaks out,” she said, “but if I’m cool about it everybody is cool about it.”

Seven years and four restaurants later, Wade is now the executive chef of Lulu’s Allston, whose southern comfort food has quickly become popular here in Boston. She left the corporate hotel world behind for her current position at the gastropub where she is, for the first time in her life, in charge of the menu.

When she worked in the hotel industry she was often just following whatever menu or instructions were given to her.

Wade heard about the job through a craigslist ad placed by the owners of the restaurant: Justin Dalton-Ameen and Josh Culpo. After a preliminary phone interview, Dalton-Ameen and Culpo went to Connecticut, where Wade was working as an executive chef at the Hyatt Regency, to meet her and do a taste test.

“Cooking in hotels is a very different kind of cooking and food service,” Wade said. “I was kicking around with the idea of getting out of Connecticut and going to a big city.”

Wade put together a tasting menu for the pair to try and met them at a friend’s hotel so that her hotel wouldn’t know that she was trying to leave behind the corporate lifestyle. She let her southern flair shine through her creative choices.

She created items like Mama’s fried chicken, smoked wings, and short rib mac & cheese, all of which are still on Lulu’s menu today.

Dalton-Ameen and Culpo were happy to find a chef who was “the total package”.

“It’s rare to find someone that you can just click with right off the bat,” Dalton-Ameen said.

If you were to travel back in time and tell Wade that she would become a chef, she probably would’ve laughed.

“I had no desire to be a chef,” she said, “it was just something I enjoyed.”

Her mom bought her a cookbook when she was 11 and when they would cook together Wade was given most of the control. She would pick out the recipes herself and make dinner.

“Sarah’s a very bright person,” her dad Lindel Hutson said. “She could’ve been anything she wanted to be, we’re happy that she’s doing what she’s doing.”

Hutson couldn’t stop listing off Wade’s accolades including winning a Latin award in high school, being invited to join the national honor society, and being named the outstanding graduate of her college senior class.

While in high school she worked at a coffee shop and fell in love with it. She decided to get her bachelor’s degree at Oklahoma State University in Restaurant Management; the plan was to own her own coffee shop one day.

The plan changed when she attended the chef series dinner, a dinner the university puts on where the food is prepared by chefs from around the world. Wade was required to work a dishwashing shift there and was introduced to a new world. It was “the coolest thing” she had ever seen.

In the back of her mind she always knew that she had to leave home to pursue her dream. Right out of college she got a job in Texas, 395 miles from home, and then got the job in North Carolina, 1,199 miles from home, before landing the job in Connecticut, 1,376 miles. And now she’s the farthest she’s ever been: 1,716 miles.

Wade had come to terms with the lack of good restaurants in Oklahoma and was prepared to go wherever she needed to in order to advance her career.

“I didn’t learn to become a chef to stay in Oklahoma,” she said. “I knew that I had to move.”

Through her menu, she brought a little bit of Oklahoma here with her. Lulu’s serves southern “comfort food with a creative twist” which is hard to come by in the New England area with the domination of seafood. As the saying goes, ‘You can take the girl out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the girl.’

Dalton-Ameen fondly remembered hanging out with Wade at his family’s beach house in Rhode Island before the restaurant opened and how she was still the same Oklahoma girl.

“We were trying to start a fire after it rained and she had this country attitude about it,” he said. “She said ‘I just need one match, doesn’t matter if I’m at the swamp or the beach, just one match and I could get the job done’”.

Wade is still amazed at how far she’s come, literally and figuratively, from the corporate chef lifestyle she got accustomed to. Today she cooks for 300-400 people daily, oversees 16 cooks and dishwashers, and creates her own new dishes. While she’s far from her real family who she sees a few times a year, she now has a family away from home consisting of her coworkers and customers.

“It’s awesome,” Wade smiled. “I’m the luckiest girl in Boston.”

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Cambridge City Council moves forward with order for Non-Citizen Voting

11/21/16

The Cambridge City Council voted to send a policy order created to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections to the solicitor general at their meeting yesterday.

There was standing room only in the Sullivan Chamber as it overflowed with around 50 concerned citizens.

Among the topics discussed during the public testimony portion of the meeting in addition to non-citizen voting were government surveillance of civilians, bike lanes, and reaffirming Cambridge as a sanctuary city.

After a heated discussion, the councilors voted to send the non-citizen voting policy order to the solicitor general to decide the feasibility of it by a vote of 8-1.

The Immigrant Advocacy Group of Cambridge created the policy to “allow non-citizens to vote in City Council and School Committee elections.” The group’s goal is to advocate for representation of the immigrant and refugee communities who live in Cambridge.

The group presented the policy order to the city council two weeks ago and Councilor Leland Cheung chartered the order to give councilors more time to deliberate

“I’m glad it was chartered now because reviewing this order post presidential election, it makes the case even stronger,” Councilor Jan Devereux said during the meeting.

Councilor Craig Kelley was met with opposition after he expressed confusion about the terms used in the order.

“I am not necessarily for or against this, I would like to discuss it in more detail,” Kelley said. “I don’t understand the definitions well enough to say that this is something I want to see.”

Councilor Cheung echoed Councilor Kelley’s concerns about the order being too ambiguous.

“I think there are still a lot of nuances on who this applies to and not,” Cheung said. “I don’t think that having a further discussion in committee is in any way a threat to the process.”

Councilor Nadeem Mazen countered these points and deemed sending the policy to the civic unity committee for further discussion of meanings and terms as redundant.

“I think the naked and obvious delay that is being introduced over on that side is totally unnecessary,” Mazen said. “Sending it to committee is slowing it down, saying you need more information about the word domicile is slowing it down. No one is fooled. No one is confused.”

Mayor Simmons had to continuously restore order in the chamber and encourage councilors to discuss the policy issue instead of taking personal jabs at one another.

Councilor Cheung referred to Mazen as “completely condescending and hypocritical” for being a member who often advocates for debate and discussion during meetings but criticizing other councilors who want to have a discussion.

If later implemented Cambridge wouldn’t be the first city to give non-citizens voting rights. According to the policy order, non-citizen voting is allowed in Chicago and six Maryland towns.

Sylvie de Marrais, a recent BU grad and researcher, and Emmanuel Lusardi, an activist with 30 years of political experience, started the Immigrant Advocacy Group of Cambridge in February and their membership has grown to about 15 members.

De Marrais talked about how the goal of the organization is to help improve the lives of foreign-born Cambridge residents.

“We look at Cambridge based issues and we try to figure out ways to either influence, change or create policy that would better the lives of our foreign born residents,” De Marrais said. “Cambridge has about 30,000 foreign born residents which is a higher percentage than Boston.”

According to the policy order, 28.1% of Cambridge residents are foreign-born and 61% of these residents lack citizenship. 71.7% of Massachusetts’s immigrants participated in the labor force compared with 67.5% of Massachusetts’s natives.

Several members of The Immigrant Advocacy Group of Cambridge testified about the importance of voting rights for non-citizens.

Karan Gill, 28, of Cambridge has lived in the U.S. for six years, and in Cambridge for two years. After he came here for graduate school and found a job in 2014 he had to wait over a year for a work visa, then for his employer to apply for his green card, then nine years to receive a green card and now five years to be naturalized.

“That’s about 15 more years of waiting,” Gill said. “Given that I’ve paid taxes for five years now, I look forward to a full two decades of taxation without representation.”

Carl Rothenhaus, 17, of Cambridge talked about how it makes sense that people his age aren’t allowed to vote but it doesn’t make sense that immigrants who are more informed about issues than he is can’t vote either.

“Until this policy order goes into effect you’re not representing all Cambridgians because you do not represent these Cambridgians,” Rothenhaus said. “These Cambridgians should have a voice in government and a government that represents them.”

The proposal to send the policy order to the civic unity committee for further deliberation about its meaning failed by a vote of 6-3.

Councilors instead voted to send the policy straight to the solicitor general so that she can decide whether the order can be implemented.

“There’s no better person to answer the questions Councilor Kelley has than the solicitor general. If we send this to the solicitor it cuts out the middle man,” Vice Mayor Marc McGovern said. “Passing this tonight is not going to end conversation on this.”

Massachusetts’ Voters Strike Down Question 2

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“Yes on 2” and “No on 2” signs in front of Jackson Mann Elementary School

Elijah Greene is a fourth grader at William Monroe Trotter Innovation School in Dorchester, MA. Greene has always been passionate about music and the arts but the music department at his public school is one of the several things he and his mom Judi Orloff dislike about it. Due to the negative experience Orloff and her son have had with the Boston Public School system, she voted yes on Massachusetts’ Ballot question 2 yesterday.

Voters struck down the proposal, which would’ve allowed for up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions of existing charter schools to be approved each year.

“Yes on 2” supporters gathered in front of Jackson Mann Elementary School yesterday donning Yes on 2 apparel and carrying signs to inform voters about the benefits of lifting the cap on the number of charter schools.

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“Yes on 2” protestors talking to voters

Louise Carbery, a Boston University student in the College of Arts and Sciences and an advocate for the proposal, talked about the advantages of charter schools.

“The most successful [charter schools], the ones that we allow to apply for and gain their licensing are high-performance high stakes charter schools, which means that a lot of these have longer school days and full day kindergarten which is a big thing for parents who work,” Carbery said. “They make sure that students are accountable, making sure that they have a ride to school everyday, making sure they have transportation, making sure that they’re getting fed at school [etc.]”

Opponents of the proposal argue that investing more into charter schools will have negative impacts on students at public schools. Dr. Hardin Coleman, dean of the School of Education at Boston University, discussed the negative financial implications of increasing the number of charter schools in districts.

“Increasing charter seats takes dollars away from the public school and increases their expenses.  Since Charter schools started in Boston, the census in the Boston Public Schools has only dropped by 1000 students which can be explained by the drop in the birth rate rather than the rise in Charter School enrollment,” Hardin said. “BPS pays for the transportation of charter school students and charter schools get the same reimbursement per student that BPS does without the transportation cost or serving as many high needs students as does BPS.”

For Orloff and her son, though, more access to charter schools would help tremendously. BPS uses a Home-Based school assignment plan for students in kindergarten through 8th grade that gives each student a list of schools they are eligible to attend based on where they live. After given this list, students rank the schools in order of preference. Greene ranked his top 5 schools, none of which were Trotter. After not being selected to attend any of his top choices, he was placed on a waitlist for them.

“The BPS experience has been a nightmare of confusion,” Orloff said in a Facebook message. “My son has taken a few steps back compared to his school enthusiasm up to this year.”

Among their concerns, were the fact that Greene has to catch the bus to Trotter at 6:30 a.m. at a bus stop located a half-mile away, out of control classes, a cement courtyard for recess, limited recess time or recess time being rescinded, teachers not having enough time to pay attention to students, and constant bullying.

Greene doesn’t enjoy his music class because his peers are rambunctious and often break the instruments.

“I feel very distracted there,” Greene said, “and I hate the music department which has always been my passion.”

Orloff says that her son is very responsible in the classroom and she believes that a different style of education could help him. If it weren’t for long waitlists and only limited charter school options nearby, Greene would be attending a charter school instead.

Others think the state should focus on improving public schools before creating more charter schools.

Katie Mondou Page, a second grade teacher and parent in the Lowell Public Schools System with over 26 years of teaching experience, voted no on question 2.

“I am voting no because it takes money from many children to fund a privately run school. The private board has no accountability to the districts it serves,” Page said in a Facebook message. “The district’s school committees, which are elected by the public, have no input into the running or day to day operations of charter schools.”

Page also said that many charter schools claim to be inclusive of all students but several parents came to LPS with stories of how their children were asked to leave charter schools due to behavioral issues.

In contrast, Page describes her school, Peter W. Reilly School as “a huge school with five classes in grades k-5 as well as 2 substantially separate classes serving children with emotional and behavioral disabilities.”

This ballot question has garnered a lot of attention and controversy. Like residents, the Massachusetts government was torn with Governor Charlie Baker being one of the bills biggest proponents and Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Martin J. Walsh opposing it. Both Baker and Walsh have voiced their thoughts in ad campaigns for and against the measure.

A study conducted on Massachusetts charter schools by the Harvard Graduate School states that many charter schools in Massachusetts are achieving at rates that are large enough to close achievement gaps by race and gender over time while a BPS study details how Boston has lost $48 million due to underfunding of the Charter School Reimbursement which is how the state reimburses school districts for the amount of tuition the districts pay based on how many students who live in the district attend charter schools.

After the measure was rejected by a vote of 62 percent to 37 percent, Gov. Baker echoed his pride in what supporters accomplished in spite of the loss in a statement last night.

“I am proud to have joined with thousands of parents, teachers and education reformers in a worthwhile campaign to provide more education choices for students stuck in struggling districts, and while Question 2 was not successful, the importance of that goal is unchanged,” Baker said. “I am proud that our administration has made historic investments in our public schools, expanded support for vocational schools and proposed new solutions to make college more affordable. I look forward to working closely with all stakeholders toward our common goal to ensure a great education for every child in Massachusetts, regardless of their zip code.”