Port Chester High School graduate Joel Neri dollops some espresso-infused whipped cream onto Port Chester resident Martha Gomez’s bowl of strawberry shortcake at the Clay Art Center on Saturday, Nov. 7. Claire K. Racine|Westmore News
Port Chester High School graduate Joel Neri dollops some espresso-infused whipped cream onto Port Chester resident Martha Gomez’s bowl of strawberry shortcake at the Clay Art Center on Saturday, Nov. 7.
Claire K. Racine|Westmore News
Local residents gathered at the Clay Art Center in Port Chester for an evening of pottery and community-inspired recipes on Saturday, Nov. 7. The dishes served up, however, were not your grandmother's famous lasagna or your neighbor's award-winning dessert. Instead, the unique recipes were created based on traits community members used to describe themselves.

"I think it's a really unique way to assemble a recipe," said Michael Strand, the artist behind Port Chester: Melting Pot(s).

First, residents were asked, "If you could be any ingredient of any food, what would it be and why?" Next, Strand compiled a list of all of those ingredients, along with the character trait explanations that went with them. Then people were asked to look at the list of only the traits and figure out what combination would make an interesting person to speak with. Finally, people were encouraged to take those combinations of traits and the ingredients attached to them and try to create a recipe.

"They're recipes that are personalities," said Strand, an associate professor at The North Dakota State University. "I think of this as real community recipes."

So as to ensure that the dishes were still palatable, the Center drafted one of their own, Connor McGinn, a ceramic artist who is also a chef, to fine tune the dishes.

The end result was some interesting flavor combos. One popular dish was a take on strawberry shortcake. The espresso infused whipped cream and the Habanero-marinated strawberries turned it into a unique arrangement. Out of the many recipes created, six of them were selected to be served to the community at the final event on Saturday, Nov. 7. Volunteers like Port Chester High School junior Jacob Villa happily dished out the tasty morsels at stations scattered throughout the Clay Art Center.

Villa participated in an internship at the Center over the summer, helping teach younger children how to throw on the potter's wheel and hand form pottery. He was one of the people to contribute an ingredient trait to the list.

"I picked licorice because a lot of people don't like it, but the people that do like licorice really like licorice, " he said, adding that he is actually one of the people that hates it.

Personalized bowls

Given that the Clay Art Center organized the evening, it is unsurprising that pottery played a large role and the tasting feast was actually the culmination of a months-long ceramics project. All of the bowls residents ate out of were created in recent months by the very same community members that contributed ingredient traits to the recipes.

Each small bowl was made by holding a ball of clay in your hand and smacking it onto your elbow. The end result is a an "el-bowl" with a person's one-of-a-kind handprint on the outside. The Clay Art Center held several free workshops to allow community members to get their hands-and elbows-dirty making the bowls and involved about 700 Port Chester High School students during a day-long event last spring. Afterwards, the Center fired and glazed all of the small ceramic dishes.

Even though each person's handprint is unique, participants at the tasting tour were encouraged to try out a couple of bowls before finding one that fit comfortably in their hand.

"For me, this is like holding the hand of someone in the community," Strand said.

At the end of the night, participants were urged to take their el-bowls home, as well as some of the original recipes. The overall goal of Melting Pot(s) was to create a unique ceramic and culinary portrait of the community.

Veterans and newcomers

A veteran of the Clay Art Center, Carol Chevlowe has been attending classes there for more than a decade and currently serves on its board of directors. When she heard about the project, she loved the idea of uniting Port Chester's diverse community and the reality of the initiative has not let her down.

"I think it's awesome," she said. "I think the food is fabulous."

Joan and Kevin Noblet shared the same sentiments as Chevlowe, but, unlike her, they are very new to the Center.

"We'd never been to the Clay Art Center before," Kevin Noblet said.

The couple recently moved to Port Chester from Rye. While at Port Chester Village Hall, Kevin spotted a flyer for the event. He told his wife about Melting Pot(s). She was intrigued by the concept but first had one question, "Where is this place?"

Not knowing anything about the Clay Art Center, located on Beech Street, they still decided to give the event a try.

"This is so much more than we imagined it would be," Joan Noblet said.

"Port Chester is full of good surprises," her husband added.