Café to Serve Up Tasty Cuisine
February 28, 2005
Over the last nine months, Patrick Mitchell has been sampling a variety of hummus, baba ghanoush and tabbouli.
Mitchell is the executive chef of the Prince Conference Center at Calvin College, which will play host to Petra: Lost City of Stone from April 4 to August 15.
The most comprehensive exhibit ever presented on the ancient middle eastern city of Petra features over 200 exceptional objects - many on display for the first time in North America.
As part of hosting the exhibition, Calvin will convert a breakfast nook area in its Prince Conference Center into an authentic Middle Eastern and Mediterranean-themed café - the Khazneh Café (the Khazneh was the treasury in the ancient city of Petra in Jordan and was used as a dramatic setting in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).
Because Mitchell wanted the food at the Khazneh to be as authentic as possible, he and two assistant chefs, along with several other Prince Center personnel, have been making the rounds of Grand Rapids-area Middle Eastern restaurants since last July.
"We tried different things out," he says. "Everybody had a lot of input about what they liked and didn't like."
The menu that resulted from this prolonged taste test ranges across Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines, pulling traditional dishes from each. The Khazneh Café will serve an authentic lamb and beef gyro, a beef shawarma sandwich, baba ghanoush, tabbouli and fatoosh salads, hummus and pita, and-for desert-baklava.
However, the ingredients of the Middle East and Mediterranean also inspired a bit of improvisation.
Says Mitchell: "If you start looking at the region as a whole, there's a lot of overlapping things. We're kind of playing with it and making it our own."
Thus, the Café will serve a chicken gyro along with the lamb and beef version, a "Mediterranean Chicken Salad Croissant," that features grapes, dried fruits and almonds, a "Grilled Chicken Grecian Salad," and such inventions as the "Minted Melon Salad" and "Grapes and Sour Cream." The ingredients of the Middle East and Mediterranean regions also make good vegetarian fare. So among the Khazneh Café offerings will be a "Grilled Vegetable Pita."
Most of the above made-to-order sandwiches will run between $5 and $6, while pre-made salads and sandwiches will be $2 to $4. The Khazneh will also offer box lunches, from student brown bag lunches to executive boxed lunches, to the various groups who tour Petra: Lost City of Stone.
Mitchell is eager to get the Khazneh Cafe up and running.
"We're getting closer and closer and closer," he says. "It's really going to change our business for the next few months."
Meanwhile, Juli Polderman, sales manager for the Prince Conference Center, is eager to sample Mitchell and crew's new cuisine, and so for her March 3 sales luncheon (a thank-you to frequent Prince Center patrons) she will serve food from the slightly more upscale Middle Eastern menu that Mitchell and his staff are creating for the conferences and special events the Prince Center will host during the Petra run. That new catering menu will include such items as cinnamon-roasted chicken with harrisa sauce, eggplant roulade with spicy Mediterranean sauce, grilled cumin beef tenderloin and mango sorbet with ginger cream sauce.
"We want to open people's taste buds to Middle Eastern cuisine," says Polderman.
The Khazneh Café will be open Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Tuesday and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. for the length of the exhibition.
Petra: Lost City of Stone is organized by the American Museum of Natural History and the Cincinnati Art Museum, and presented under the patronage of Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan, Petra is the first major cultural collaboration between Jordan and the United States. Air transportation generously provided by Royal Jordanian.
In Grand Rapids a lead, local sponsor for Petra is Huntington Bank - West Michigan.
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