LITTLE SILVER: CATERERS FIND NEW KITCHEN

021915 walton1Linda Walton in the new Whistling Onion kitchen with some of the foraged artisanal products that she has been creating, below. (Photos by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

By SUSAN ERICSON

021915 walton5Tucked behind the Little Szechuan Chinese Restaurant on Prospect Avenue in Little Silver is a good-sized, fully stocked kitchen that is now home to the Whistling Onion, a catering business.

As previously reported, Whistling Onion owners Linda Walton and Lynn McKittrick found a temporary fix at Via45 in Red Bank, where they could meet their catering commitments made before to Hurricane Sandy wiped out the Riverfront Cafe , their restaurant on Ocean Avenue in Sea Bright.

Now, they’ve got a kitchen of their own again.

021915 walton 6Henry Chuya forms kneaded dough for beignets in the Whistling Onion kitchen.  (Photo by Susan Ericson. Click to enlarge)

The new kitchen, which is not part of Little Szechuan, was “thick with grease,” says Walton. “Every surface, pot and pan, was scrubbed down,” resulting in gleaming stainless steel counters and work stations that hum with activity.

Henry Chuya, another chef in the kitchen, started working with Walton when he was a 16-year-old student at Middletown North High School through a culinary mentoring program. Now, five years later, as a chef working in professional kitchens, he smiled while talking about how much he appreciated learning from and working alongside Walton.

“She can be tough,” he said.

Walton adds, “Running a kitchen is like racing a sailboat. You have to hypermanage. You have people come in and take things personally.”

What makes the Whistling Onion different from other catering kitchens? In addition to Walton and McKittrick consistently mentoring new chefs, Walton says when it comes to their new customers, “I talk to them ’til I know what they’re looking for.” She then introduces culinary ideas that tend to be unusual, but fit into their conceptualized event.

Where do these ideas come from? Some from exotic travel. Walton was recently in Cuba. She also recently took a local foraging class.

“We found sassafras root, yarrow, honey, beach plums, and ground cherries,” she said. “You’d be surprised what is in the circumference of a backyard.”

An array of jars, reminiscent of an old-fashioned pharmacy, filled with tinctures, shrubs, jams, bitters, extracts and elixirs line her counter. Walton points out that foraging is not just about taste and flavor but, “about health and what’s good for you.”

Walton prepares a shrub, which is a slightly tangy vinegared syrup, blending in a second syrup imbued with ginger and cardamom bitters. All of separate components, made in-house and combined with alcohol or fruit juice, produce a signature cocktail for one of her catered events.
In a bowl of freshly made pumpkin squash soup, the addition of ginger, nutmeg and a little cayenne not only added a lively vitality to the velvety smooth brew, but was full of healing properties as well. Typical of their catering style, the soup represented in season, locally grown produce with a knowledgeable infusion of good-for-you gourmet flavor.