Chestnut Hill Grill chef and owner John Arena has been involved with Harvest Kitchen Tour for a decade.

by April Lisante

Every day, I dedicate some time to trolling Pinterest for recipe ideas, DIY projects, and a nice healthy dose of kitchen envy.

The remodeled kitchen photos are some of Pinterest’s serious bread and butter, and they are breathtaking, from under-the-counter refrigerators to Viking stoves to farmhouse sinks big enough to bathe in.

But in a couple of weeks, I can satisfy my culinary voyeurism live when I get an up-close view of some of Chestnut HiIl’s nicest kitchens during the Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels annual Harvest Kitchen Tour. And there are apparently hundreds of die-hards like me.

This genius fundraiser for our local chapter of Meals on Wheels, which is sponsored by Chestnut Hill Hospital and Bryn Mawr Trust, lets kitchen-obsessed people like me actually walk into local home kitchens, drool over the accoutrements, and sample some of our local chefs’ best hors d’oeuvres at the same time.

“What I love is that the community is able to support such an event where homeowners are opening their homes for neighbors and the public to come,” said Kristin Norton, a volunteer at MOW and member of the board of directors. “And all the proceeds go toward an organization that needs community support.”

The tour gets underway on Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Participants receive a map with seven surprise kitchen locations and can then spend their day driving from home to home, doing a self-guided tour while sampling local chef offerings in each kitchen. This year, Campbell’s Place restaurant, Chestnut Hill Grill, Jansen and El Poquito are among the seven restaurants sending chefs into the homes. Three additional restaurants will come from Conshohocken and Center City to participate.

John Arena with his famous bruschetta.

All the money raised goes toward subsidizing some of the meal expenses necessary to serve nearly 300 meals a week to the elderly, infirm, or ill in not only Chestnut Hill, but everywhere from Germantown to Lafayette Hill, Fort Washington, Flourtown, Wyndmoor and Oreland. The Meals on Wheels volunteer group is based at the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield at Bethlehem Pike and Mill Rd. in Flourtown, and prepares and delivers the meals, which cost $4.50 each, with the help of Halligan’s Pub on Bethlehem Pike.

Chestnut Hill Grill chef and owner John Arena has been involved for the past decade in the fundraiser. It began under the auspices of the Chestnut Hill Center for Enrichment, a senior citizen organization which closed its doors in 2017 after nearly 40 years in the community. That is when the Harvest Kitchen Tour became the largest annual fundraiser for Chestnut Hill Meals on Wheels.”

This is our major fundraiser for the year,” said Norton.

Arena enjoys working in some of the coolest kitchens he has ever seen. One year, he was delighted to cook with a $75,000 French stove. Last year, he even worked alongside a homeowner’s special pet, who tooled around the kitchen during the tour.

“The woman had a pet pig that was walking around the kitchen,” Arena laughed.

But each year, what he most looks forward to is presenting his annual tour food tradition: bruschetta.

“Every year, I do a different bruschetta,” said Arena. “I try to change them up from year to year.”

He makes savory and sweet bruschetta that is truly unique. Each year, there are two he considers staples: his famous eggplant capponata with hummus bruschetta and his roasted pear with blue cheese, goat cheese, walnuts and fennel balsamic. Then, he surprises guests with a third creation. Perhaps this year it will be his tomato, avocado and mushroom bruschetta. We grabbed the recipe from him so you can try it at home.

“I think it is nice that you feel like you are giving back something to the community, and people are also learning about my restaurant,” said Arena. “I get some people who might not have known about me. It’s just a beneficial event for the community.”

Chef Arena’s Bruschetta
1 loaf French bread
1 wedge of brie cheese
Olive oil, to drizzle
1 clove garlic
1 cucumber, diced
1 tomato, diced
1 avocado, diced
1 red onion, diced
Fresh basil, chopped
1 portabella mushroom, whole

For the tomato, avocado, cucumber and onion marinade:
Olive oil, drizzle
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tsp. red wine vinegar

Slice French bread into about one dozen, quarter-inch thick pieces. Brush with olive oil and rub with garlic clove. Bake bread at 410 degrees until crispy, about five to seven minutes.

Mix diced tomato, avocado, cucumber, red onion and basil with olive oil drizzle, vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.

Remove stem from portabella, scrape out gills, marinate with oil and balsamic for two hours. Grill until cook through.

Place smudge of brie on crostini and top with tomato, avocado and cucumber mixture. Slice grilled portabella and place a few pieces on top, then finish with basil.

Tickets are on sale now at ChestnutHillMOW.org. They are $45 in advance or $55 at the Fresh Market ( 8208 Germantown Ave.) on the day of the event, Nov. 2.

...