Hot Bread Kitchen, the non-profit women's baking collective in East Harlem, opened the doors of La Marqueta last night for a celebration of food, the people who make it, and an uptown spirit that's all about supporting growth while respecting tradition. Hot Bread Kitchen and its incubator program are the leading force behind revitalizing one of New York's market icons. Dating back to the 1930s, La Marqueta's heyday in the '50s and '60s saw as many as 500 vendors in a collection of five buildings under the Metro North tracks.
Today there's just one building and a more intimate group of vendors, but that hasn't stopped them from supplying uptown Manhattan with an awesome array of groceries and specialty food as diverse as the surrounding community. That includes Hot Bread Kitchen, which bakes some of the city's finest bread—everything from rye to lavash to tortillas —all made by a staff of low-income and immigrant women and men who join as part of a training program that can include learning English and the tricks of the restaurant trade.
We got to try several of Hot Bread Kitchen's breads at the night market, along with an impressive array of bites from La Marqueta's other vendors, many of which operate under the HBK Incubates program for kitchen space. And we got to watch some of that bread get made; to wit, Top Chef's Gail Simmons learning how to make m'smen, a flaky Moroccan flatbread, from one of the Hot Bread Kitchen baking staff.
Hot Bread Kitchen expects to be financially self-sufficient by 2014, but for now still is partially reliant on donations to supplement their sales at Greenmarkets, local stores, and their cafe in the La Marqueta space. But if the night showed us anything, it's that we could all afford to visit La Marqueta more than we do.
"It'd be great to see crowds like this up here more often," remarked Dorie Greenspan, whose new bakery Beurre & Sel rents kitchen space in the market. If Jessamyn Rodriguez and her team at Hot Bread Kitchen get their way, that might very well be something we can look forward to.