NJ’s Table To Table Set To Fete Harlem’s Queen of Comfort Food, Melba Wilson
Growing up in Harlem and Newark, two vibrant and diverse communities, offers children valuable life lessons that are strikingly similar. Both neighborhoods teach the importance of resilience and perseverance.
Secondly, the value of community and the power of unity are emphasized in both Harlem and Newark. Growing up in these neighborhoods, children learn to support and uplift one another, fostering a sense of belonging and togetherness. Lastly, both communities instill a deep appreciation for cultural diversity and the richness it brings. Children in Harlem and Newark grow up surrounded by diverse traditions, languages, and perspectives, teaching them acceptance and empathy. Ultimately, the life lessons gained from growing up in Harlem and Newark shape individuals into resilient, compassionate, and culturally aware adults.
With that in mind, when Table to Table sought an honoree for this year’s Chefs Gala, the choice was simple: Melba Wilson. Wilson, is the niece of Sylvia Woods, the founder of Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem. After working at her aunt’s place, Wilson went on to open Melba’s in 2005, a bustling institution in Harlem; write a cookbook (“Melba’s American Comfort”); beat Bobby Flay on “Throwdown! with Bobby Flay”; and launch Gospel Brunch on Windows on the World on Sundays. Today she is on the boards of City Harvest, New York City’s largest food rescue organization, and God’s Love We Deliver, a non-profit that delivers food to the sick in New York City.
Her childhood and career path reflect the challenges faced in these urban environments that require a strong will and determination to overcome obstacles. “The joke was that we grew up so poor in Harlem that we couldn’t afford the other “O” in poor,” Wilson quipped.
“I grew up with food always being shared,” she continued. “My parents brought the idea from the South, that when you’re cooking a meal, you never cook just enough because there needed to be plenty of food for someone who—unannounced— would be welcomed into our home. Food was always this incredible storytelling vehicle.”
As Wilson looks at writing the next chapter of her iconic career, she is set to open another Melba’s Restaurant in Newark in the fourth quarter of 2024. “Newark reminds me a lot of Harlem,” Wilson said. “The 15,000-square-foot restaurant, which will be housed in the lobby of 550 Broad Street, replaces a bank that was in the building. Actually, the restaurant is going to be located in the bank’s vault. We have a lot of work today, moving steel and whatnot,” she said. “Our space at 550 Broadway is being designed by one of my favorite architects and interior designer David Rockwell.”
For those not familiar with Table to Table, it is New Jersey’s first food rescue organization. Committed to feeding hungry neighbors in Northern NJ, Table to Table rescues and delivers free, healthy, and fresh food from grocery stores, food distributors, and restaurants and in doing so, nourishes the community while helping our environment.
Since its inception in 1999, Table to Table has rescued and delivered enough food for 288 million meals and saved nearly 98,000 tons of potentially wasted food from landfills. In 2022, the organization, which serves Bergen, Essex, Hudson and Passaic Counties, delivered enough fresh food for more than 22 million meals.
“Every dollar that Table to Table raises provides enough food for 10 meals,” Wilson said. “The work that Table to Table does is even more crucial today when food insecurity is at an all-time high. It’s pivotal. We need people to come out to the Chefs Gala or go online (www.tabletotable.org/chefsgala) and make a donation. No amount is too small. We need to make sure that people in Newark (and anywhere else in North Jersey) don’t go hungry.”
The honoree and owner of Melba’s in Harlem will be joined by a number of acclaimed chefs, including David Burke (1776 in Morristown, The Fox & Falcon in South Orange and Drifthouse in Sea Bright), Bobbie Lloyd (Magnolia Bakery in New York City and other locations around the world), Cliff Crooks (BLT Restaurant Group) and Peter Kelly (X2O in Yonkers and Restaurant X and Bully Boy Bar in Congers).
The theme of comfort food carried across several cultural cuisines will be celebrated at this year’s event.
Wilson has also been deeply entrenched in the growth of the New York City restaurant industry. She was recently re-elected to a second term as the President of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. “We’re a bigger industry nationally than the automobile industry and provide both NYC and the country with the most jobs,” Wilson explained.
“Hunger is simply heartbreaking to me so whenever I can contribute to an organization such as Table to Table, it’s my honor and duty to give back,” Wilson concluded. For more information about the gala or Table to Table, visit tabletotable.org. The Chefs Gala is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Edgewood Country Club in River Vale, NJ.
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