by Stacia Friedman
Don’t mention chicken fingers or frozen pizza to Eleonora Barbieri, 29, the new co-owner of the Café at Nest at 10 West Gravers Lane, which she has re-branded as My Baby’s Chef. Specializing in fresh, locally sourced, organic options for parents and their children, Barbieri wants to change the way parents think about feeding their kids. Nest, a Chestnut Hill learning and play center for toddlers and their parents, presented the ideal opportunity to spread her message.
“I love kids, but I don’t believe in kids’ menus,” said Barbieri, who opened My Baby’s Chef at Nest on Nov. 1. “Except for holding off of salt for the first six months and avoiding honey until after the first year, kids can eat everything adults eat. Our motto is: ‘Made for you. Loved by kids.’”
While the old menu at Nest’s Cafe didn’t go beyond the usual suspects, mostly frozen, the new menu created by co-owner Chef Danielle Harrison, 32, is a knockout that reflects Barbieri’s philosophy and competes favorably with Chestnut Hill’s best eateries. (Harrison was previously a sous chef at the posh Morimoto in center city and earlier this year was a contestant on the popular Fox Network TV show, “Hell’s Kitchen,” with famed acerbic chef, Gordon Ramsey.)
I sampled the butternut squash soup with sage and toasted pumpkin seeds. It was so aromatic, creamy and flavorful, I did a double-take. “This is for kids?” I asked. Yes, it is. Then I bit into a ‘smart burger,’ a brioche bun filled with juicy portobello mushroom, tomato confit, herbed goat cheese, smoked paprika aioli and arugula. If there’s a better veggie burger on the Hill, I haven’t tasted it.
“I come here regularly from Wayne because Nest is such a fantastic place,” said Elizabeth Wilson, who was lunching with two children, aged one and two. “The soup is so incredible, I told my husband about it,” she said. Another young mother chimed in. “This is the best grilled cheese I’ve ever had,” she said about her toasted sandwich of smoked gouda, mozzarella, Gruyere on brioche with grilled pears. Tired of cutting off the crust for your kids? Treat them to tramezzini, the Italian version of a tea sandwich filled with shaved ham, arugula, tomato and mayo. Not surprisingly, it took an outsider to identify this need. A native of Rome, Italy, Barbieri first came to Philadelphia with her family when she was 16. “My father is a diplomat with the Italian Consulate, so I have lived in many places, including Ecuador and Chile,” said Barbieri, who speaks four languages. She lived in Penn Valley, attended Harriton High and received a degree in sociology and cultural anthropology at Temple University. You might say that her philosophy regarding baby food comes from an anthropological perspective.
“I was working as a nanny for a family in Center City. It made no sense to me that the parents shopped at Whole Foods for themselves but fed their six-month-old processed foods. My instinct as an Italian was to make the baby’s food myself.”
Using raw, organic fruits and vegetables, Barbieri was so successful that other mothers started asking her to prepare food for their children. “I made salmon with mango and coconut mahi mahi … American parents have been brainwashed to not trust themselves to make food for their own kids. I not only made foods for kids, but I also teach parents how to do it themselves in my ‘Mommy Cooking Classes’ at Cook, just off of Rittenhouse Square.”
With guidance from Wharton’s Small Business Development Center and the Penn Law Clinic, Barbieri launched her first entrepreneurial business venture, “Baby Steps,” in 2013, which provides a wide range of services for expectant mothers. “We cater baby showers, anniversaries and other adult gatherings,” said Chef Harrison, whose catering menu includes sage-crusted pork tenderloin, wild mushroom risotto, wraps, sandwich trays, etc.
Opening an organic café at Nest isn’t the final step in Barbieri’s journey. “I want to launch my own baby food company, Naturella,” she said. “That’s why I’m so excited about being here. Working with Daniella in the kitchen at Nest, I now have a home base from which to grow.”
Judging from the enthusiastic welcome Barbieri and Harrison have received from the community, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the two on Shark Tank in a year or two. The public is invited to attend My Baby’s Chef Grand Opening Party on Friday, Nov. 18, 5 to 8 p.m. at Nest, 10 West Gravers Lane.