On Sunday, Oct. 4, at 4:30 p.m., students sat in Usdan toiling over last-minute assignments and counting down the minutes until dinner–that long-awaited post-brunch meal. Meanwhile, Bon Appetit chef and Middletown resident Mike Misenti, pulling a cart laden with baked goods, stationed himself at a central table to break up the end-of-weekend monotony with a bake sale to make a difference in his community.
Wrapped in plastic and clad with a label bearing a stylized red sunburst, the confections were the products of Glutenphree, a new brand of gluten-free foods developed by Misenti within the Usdan Marketplace kitchen. Aiming to raise money to purchase turkeys for Thanksgiving baskets offered by the Saint Vincent de Paul Soup Kitchen in Middletown, the bake sale marked Glutenphree’s charity debut.
Misenti is what you might call a Marketplace veteran. Having worked for Bon Appetit for 35 years, he has come to know every nook and cranny of the University’s central dining operation, from dishwashing to grill cooking. His current position, however, involves making those vegan and gluten-free desserts that often make an appearance near the nut butters, tofu, and marinated beets. As a self-taught chef who knows the Marketplace backwards and forwards, he initially welcomed this kind of restrictive baking as a welcome and entertaining challenge.
“I went for vegan because I had done everything,” Misenti said. “The baking was a new challenge. It breaks the monotony. Instead of cooking for five days, I’ll do the meals Monday through Wednesday. Saturday and Sunday, I’ll do the brunch and finally all the baking for the cookies you get Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.”
Since first taking up the post, Misenti has long grown proficient in his role as a Bon Appetit baker. It wasn’t until about a year ago, however, that he realized he could use his culinary talents to feed the community residing outside of the University.
Misenti decided to raise money for Saint Vincent de Paul after he and a fellow vegan Bon Appetit employee donated the Meadow Meat turkey certificates they had been awarded as holiday bonuses, an act met with gratitude by the soup kitchen staff, who typically only have the means to purchase canned foods.
“Last year, we got our turkey certificates,” he said. “We don’t eat [meat], so we donated them to Saint Vincent de Paul. They thought it was great that we gave some people a certificate for their turkey. So, I’m going to try and raise money to buy more turkey certificates from Meadow Meat, so more people can go there and pick up turkeys for [Thanksgiving] dinner.”
As Misenti has grown to be increasingly passionate about both his pledged cause and Glutenphree, a company that has long been in the works, he has set relatively lofty sales goals for himself. In order to buy 40 to 50 turkeys, he hopes to raise about one thousand dollars, an amount that, as Sunday’s event indicates, is nearly impossible to arrive at through a Usdan bake sale alone.
“The bake sale raised $28—probably enough for two or three good-sized birds,” he said. “How times have changed now with cards! Not everyone carries cash, and that’s why we didn’t sell as much.”
Thankfully, Misenti has done an excellent job expanding his operation. In an effort to achieve his charitable goals and, in a more entrepreneurial sense, jumpstart Glutenphree, Misenti has coordinated the sale of his products at various businesses in and around Middletown, such as Stryker’s Café on the Berlin Turnpike and Rovers Lodge Café in Middlefield. Misenti hopes that these establishments will contribute substantially to his fundraising efforts.
“It’s part of the process,” he said. “I know [$1,000] sounds high, but I’ve got a couple other places carrying the Glutenphree items, so hopefully we’ll raise enough money to buy [the turkeys].”
Furthermore, although the bake sale was not necessarily the monetary success that Misenti had envisioned, it served as an effective tool to both advertise his cause and provoke interest in the student body.
“A few students said they like the cause,” he said. “They are going to see if they can get a group to do something if anyone is interested.”
Misenti acknowledges that his charitable endeavors will not attain success instantly. However, even in the face of setbacks and slow-downs, he remains optimistic and dedicated to the goodness of his cause.
“I know I am a dreamer,” he said. “But I think everyone should have a nice Thanksgiving.”