Jeton Qallaku, an Albanian from Kosovo, has been a waiter in New York for the past ten years. He left his last gig at San Domenico in April before the restaurant closed and started at Inside Park, the restaurant in the former community house of St. Barts. We asked Qallaku whether chef Matthew Weingarten has been spreading his sustainable-minded ways and what sort of things (aside from an upcoming thirties-themed New Year’s Eve bash with live band) you can do in a massive, pseudo-religious space.
What does local-food-fanatic chef Matthew Weingarten stock in the larder?
He pickles his own vegetables, from Chiogga beets to wax beans to horseradish. You name it, he does pickle everything, and I kind of adore that. He uses heritage-breed meats and makes homemade sausages. He smokes the meat here. But [you can't smell the smoke because] it's all sealed up, everything goes through the exhaust.
Edible Manhattan featured the chef for being an urban forager; does he show the staff how to find wild edibles?
He finds lots of herbs. He goes [and] collects [foods] from certain parks and comes back and shows us "this is edible and this is not." I'm quite amazed when he can find something so unique and tasty that I didn't even know could be edible. He usually brings, like, small huckleberries that are wild. He made a sauce out of them for Thanksgiving with other berries. He got them from one of the parks upstate, I believe.
Last we heard, Inside Park was installing a large baking area. How's the progress?
The bakery is almost completed downstairs. [Pastry chef Miran Shim] does homemade croissants and rolls and she's going to do focaccia, ciabatta — you need a big oven to make those. We put it off because we're in a church and there are certain permits we need from the city because it’s a landmark. It should be ready in about two weeks.
Do you ever have concerts in the space?
We have live performance shows. At the end of February, we're going to be closing for a couple weeks because they're going to use the stage. On the third floor, they usually do pre-Broadway shows. They do training there because there are so many huge rooms upstairs. Some shows are open to the public, so you can buy a ticket for them.
So do you find it eerie to be in a church late at night?
Some people find that, but not me. The people that I work with, if they go to a different hall, it can be kind of dark, so it's like, "Jeton, Jeton, I need you to come with me." I'm not too scared of that.