She is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has been a chef for several of Philadelphia’s hottest restaurants, including several of her own. Today, she is a popular caterer, and why not. When asked why her food is so delicious, she says, “It’s made with love.” No joke.
What she does: Runs and manages her growing business, hires (and fires) employees, buys everything from tomatoes for the salsa to T-shirts for employees, pays the bills, opens and closes the restaurant — and cares for her two teenage children.
Why she does it: “I clearly remember the day my mom enrolled me in a cooking class at Bloomingdales in Jenkintown, PA,” Kim recalls. “I was 7, and it was Thanksgiving time, so our first assignment was to make homemade stuffing. My cousin Brandi was in the class, too, and she also liked all the tearing of the bread and combining it with the wet ingredients using her fingers. But I loved it.”
COOK LIKE THE CATERER
By Hope Katz Gibbs
“As business plans go, it’s perhaps not the most sophisticated, but it sure is straightforward,” wrote reporter Adam Stone of Kim Alvarez’s gourmet store, The Delaware Market House, in a front-page article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, entitled To market, to market, to buy a dinner to remember.
“Kim and Edgar Alvarez have a catering business to run, they’ve got a retail shop to manage, and they have ambitions for growth,” he wrote. “Their strategy: Make the best food they can.”
Indeed. And since that piece ran, the Philadelphia girl with a passion for cooking has made some big changes in her life. Although The Delaware Market House was a huge success, the bad economy of 2009 forced Kim and Edgar to close the store.
That story made headlines. As luck would have it, Philadelphia real estate developer Wayne Zukin took note. He’d wanted to open a restaurant for some time and decided Kim and Edgar would be the perfect partners for a new venture. In December, they opened Avenida Restaurant, a Latin American bistro that features recipes that Edgar grew up in his native Guatemala.
The making of a restaurateur
At the Delaware Market House, customers benefited from Edgar’s knowledge of preparing tasty international fare. The menu featured hors d’oeuvres, including chicken satay, spanakopita, and vegetarian potstickers. Entrees ranged from orange ginger sesame chicken to short ribs to cranberry almond-crusted salmon.
The offerings also reflected the couple’s experience working in some of the best kitchens in Philadelphia. They met more than a decade ago working at the four-star Philadelphia hotspot the Striped Bass (which was the backdrop to the anniversary scene in the movie, The Sixth Sense) and married in 1999.
Before that, Kim worked at Brad Ogden’s One Market in San Francisco and the Lark Creek Inn in Larkspur, CA. She also worked as a chef at several gourmet markets in Philadelphia, including Gerard’s and Patina. Edgar has been a chef at such notable Philadelphia bistros as Phillippe Chin, Dock Street, and the Black Sheep Pub.
“At those establishments, we learned not only how to prepare four-star meals, but how to lead other chefs, so they enjoy coming to work each day,” Kim adds. “We also came to master what it means to take care of your guests truly. Edgar and I have brought our passion and skills to the Delaware Market House, and this experience has been a highlight of our careers.”
A new beginning
At Avenida, Kim and Edgar serve some of what they prepared at the gourmet shop — but this menu is all Edgar.
For starters, try the Black Bean Soup with crema or the El Biche and Ecuadorian bouillabaisse. Appetizers include the Ceviche of the Day, Fried Calamari with onions and jalapenos in a tomatillo sauce, and Grilled Baby Octopus with tequila roasted tomato sauce, garlic, and avocado.
Entrees range from Achiote Grilled Shrimp and Scallops with chayote and quinoa, Ancho Chili Dusted Duck Breast with Canela sweet potatoes and sautéed watercress, and Flat Iron Steak with chimichurri, roasted potatoes, and grilled scallions.
For dessert, don’t skip the Ancho Chocolate Brownie Sundae with ice cream, cajeta, and chocolate sauce, or the Chocolate Dulce De Leche Tart with Nutella semifrio. Not a chocolate fan? Try the Apple Canela Crisp with vanilla ice cream or the Cinnamon Crepes with roasted bananas and rum syrup.
And be sure to belly up to the bar for an Avenida Margarita (Tequila, Fresh pressed lime juice, Patron Citronge, simple syrup. Add flavors watermelon, mango, passion fruit, pomegranate, and guava), Avenida’s Michelada (Tecate, salt, fresh lime juice), or a Brazilian Mojito (Oronoco Rum, Simple Syrup, Mint leaf muddled w/ fresh lime juice. Topped with Club soda and a splash of cherry juice.)
A family affair
Kids eat well, too, at Avenida for Kim, and Edgar’s children have contributed to the menu. Alejandro’s is a chicken, beef, or veggie taco, with Emma’s salsa and homemade guacamole and steamed rice. Of course, Cheese Quesadillas (plain, chicken, or flat iron steak) and Mixtas Ninos Hot Dogs are pan-seared in flour tortillas.
Having their kids help with the business is important to Kim and Edgar, she explains.
“I clearly remember the day my mom enrolled me in a cooking class at Bloomingdales in Jenkintown, PA,” Kim recalls. “I was 7, and it was Thanksgiving time, so our first assignment was to make homemade stuffing. My cousin Brandi was in the class, too, and she also liked all the tearing of the bread and combining it with the wet ingredients using her fingers. But I loved it. I want to share my passion with my children.”
In fact, every Thanksgiving, Kim still whips up that stuffing recipe for the family—with a little help from her kids who look forward to tearing the bread and helping her sauté vegetables and mixing it all with their hands.
“Good cooking is about bringing joy to family and friends through combining the best ingredients with some skill and a little magic.”