At 9:30a Wednesday, Mayor Pasquale Menna was in his law office talking on the phone with redbankgreen about some borough business and trying to get off the line posthaste.
He had an obligation to meet. Back in March, while reading to a pre-kindergarten class at the Red Bank Primary School, Menna had promised the kids that he’d make them lunch, and today was the day to deliver on the promise. But there he was, stuck at his desk getting grilled about some boring ordinance, and he hadn’t even shopped for groceries yet.
Facing a noontime showdown with hungry four- and five-year-olds, Menna quipped that he might have to find a White Castle and pick up a bag of sliders.
But ten minutes ahead of the appointed hour, Menna rolled down the corridors of the primary school pushing an audio-visual cart laden with hot, colorful food that he’d whipped up in his kitchen at home.
“See? You can cook for 23 people in less than a hour,” he announced.
Menna, of course, is a man attuned to the finer aspects of civilization. We’ve already documented his appreciation of French magazines, Byzantine art, Italian opera and the occasional company of would-be monarchs.
So sliders were out. Also verboten were macaroni and cheese from a box, chicken from a bucket or anything from a can.
Instead, the foil-sealed bowls and platters Menna unwrapped filled teacher Patricia Moss’ classroom with fragrances more often associated with the great eateries in downtown Red Bank.
There was a lively salad of crisp greens and cherry tomatoes. There was a second pasta in a red meat sauce. There was a platter laden with succulent chicken parmigiana in a thick red gravy and blanketed in cheese.
For dessert: chocolate-chip cookies.
Wearing a white chef’s smock with his first name embroidered in red, Menna handled the serving chores. The kids appeared to base their choices primarily on the color of what was on offer. One of them, apparently confused about hizzoner’s title, asked, “Why are you the manager of Red Bank?” The question went unheard by the guest chef.
Schools Superintendent Laura Morana and primary school principal Richard Cohen ate it up, literally. So did a quartet of reporters and photographers clearly more used to sliders for lunch than anything involving asparagus.
And of course, Menna reveled. While about 420 of their cohorts downed the usual fare in the school cafeteria, Menna’s select audience rewarded his frantic slaving over a hot stove as only little kids can: by not making faces and not idly pushing the food around on their plastic plates.
There was even one unvarnished affirmation.
“This,” shouted one girl, “is like a feast!”