By Great Performances

Ralph Rolle, Founder and CEO, The Soul Snacks Cookie Company
Georgia Oatmeal Raisin Cookies | ©The Soul Snacks Cookie Company

Is this a story about a drummer from the Bronx or cookies from that borough? It’s about both things really, and they tie in deliciously with Great Performances’ recent move to Mott Haven, a neighborhood in the South Bronx.

Great Performances Founder and Chair, Liz Neumark is committed to developing close relationships in her new neighborhood and supporting the different businesses and organizations that call the borough home.

One of the local vendors that GP works with in the Bronx is The Soul Snacks Cookie Company, which offers several varieties of soulful, doughy goodness, made fresh daily.

The company was started in 1996 by Ralph Rolle. From as far back as he can remember Ralph has always marched to the beat of a different drum, so it’s no surprise that with more than three and a half decades of professional experience in the music industry, he enjoys an illustrious career as a much sought after drummer.

He has made music with the likes of Nile Rodgers and Chic, Sting, Bono, Aretha Franklin, Biggie Smalls, Queen Latifah, Chris Botti, Erykah Badu, D’Angelo, India Arie and the resident band for N.B.C.’s ‘It’s Showtime at The Apollo’ for over 15 seasons. He has also served as musical director for both The Caroline Rhea Show and Japanese Super Star Toshi Kubota.

No stranger to dishing out a good groove, Ralph has also been able to successfully transfer his creativity behind drums and cymbals to the context of mixing bowls and baking pans, by establishing his Soul Snacks Cookie Company.

Grampy’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies | ©The Soul Snacks Cookie Company

Although the company was founded almost twenty five years ago, the Soul Snacks concept dates back to the early 1900’s with southern traditions brought to life by Ralph’s maternal grandmother Leola; she was born in Ocilla, Georgia, moved to Miami, started a family and later migrated to Harlem in the Renaissance years. In those years, Leola baked fresh bread for family, friends and church during the time where the artistic and cultural energy in Harlem was high and the community spirit even higher.

Ebony and Ivory Almond Cookies | ©The Soul Snacks Cookie Company

The Soul Snacks Cookie Company deliberately harkens back to that time and employs a philosophy deeply committed to giving back to the community whose rhythms make up the essence of what has become a truly soulful concoction. “My plans for expansion are rooted in the promise and the potential of the community,” states Ralph emphatically. Dreams do come true. Ralph’s 1,250 square foot baking facility in the South Bronx is where he continues to grow and employ individuals from his old stomping ground, The Bronx River Projects.

The company offers a variety of delicious cookies such as Georgia Oatmeal Raisin, Peanut Peanut Butter, Down Home Double Chocolate Chip, Ebony and Ivory Almond Cookie, Grampy’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie, French Cocoa Chocolate Chip, Miami Raisin Walnut, Chunked Up Chocolate Walnut, Cranberry Oatmeal Raisin, Joyful Gingerbread and the recently added and now the number one seller, Sweet Potato Cookies. 

Jon Roode, Director of Purchasing at Great Performances, has developed a productive relationship with Ralph, and regularly procures Soul Snacks cookies for a wide range of corporate and private events. He explains, “Working with local partners energizes the neighborhood. Not only is it socially responsible, it’s logistically helpful; they are our neighbors and are close by when we need a last minute delivery.” Speaking to mutual beneficial relationships in the Bronx, Jon adds, “We’re very proud to support Ralph’s business. Great Performances is a dynamic and growing business, and as we grow, we are always looking for new partnerships, for new ingredients, and strengthening existing relationships in our new home.”

Visit The Soul Snacks Cookie Company online at SoulSnacksNYC.com.

THE BECKER WEDDING AT WAVE HILL: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

By Great Performances

Wedding at Wave Hill
Jackie and Bill‘s beautiful garden party wedding at Wave Hill Photo: ©Joseph Lin
Wedding at Wave Hill
Wave Hill’s scenery made for incredible photos for Jackie and Bill’s Riverdale wedding. Photo: ©Joseph Lin

Every wedding tells a beautiful story. They’re often seen as both a conclusion to a committed relationship and as a new beginning or a blank page ready to be written on. Some wedding stories consist of more surprising twists and turns than others, and that’s what we have in the Becker’s romantic tale.

Jackie Helcer and Bill Becker met by chance, as many couples do, and through school, the start of their respective careers, and a long-distance relationship, they would somehow end up together in a beautiful, timeless moment, exchanging their vows under a warm September sun along the Hudson.

Let’s go back to how it all began. The bride was born in Sao Paolo, Brazil and grew up in Miami. The groom was stationed in Miami while in the Coast Guard. It was there that the two met on a night out all the way back in 2012.

The two felt a connection, and a relationship blossomed, but Jackie eventually moved to the northeast for her medical residency and fellowship, and Bill went on to graduate school in Virginia. Separated by hundreds of miles, they both committed themselves to the relationship, and promised to make it work.

In October 2014, after a long-distance courtship, he surprised her with news that he had accepted a job as a Vice President at Master Card in the New York area, where she lived.

He moved up to New York and the two moved into a Manhattan apartment together.

In February 2016, Bill planned a surprise trip to celebrate Jackie’s residency match; she knew they were going somewhere warm, but didn’t know the exact destination until they got to the airport. They were going to Martinique! 

Light and airy appetizers were designed by the Great Performances culinary team to reflect the feel of this sunset wedding at Wave Hill. Photo: ©Joseph Lin
The appetizers were created to echo the feeling of this lovely wedding venue in the Bronx Photo: ©Joseph Lin

When they arrived, Bill had planned an early (4am!!!) hike up a volcano with the intent of proposing at the summit during sunrise. But the weather had other plans…the two hiked for hours in the dark, then just as the sun started rising, a serious storm came in, bringing strong winds and blinding sideways rain. Needless to say, the proposal didn’t happen and they made their way back down to the base. Down below, the sun was shining and weather was beautiful, so they changed and headed to the beach.

Jackie and Bill were exhausted from the hike, but laughed off the whole thing. They ended up finding a beautiful, private beach and Bill suggested setting up the camera to take a photo. Before Jackie had any idea what was happening, Bill got down on one knee and asked her to marry him (of course, she said “Yes”!) Part two of the surprise was that after Martinique, they made a surprise stop in Miami where Jackie’s mom and sister live. Bill had made a reservation at the restaurant where they had their first date so they could celebrate with her family. Then for the final act, when they flew back to NYC, Bill’s parents picked them up at the airport. They had planned a whole surprise engagement brunch with their NYC friends and family. It was a whirlwind of celebrations! 

The two began planning for their big day a couple months later. Jackie and Bill had always wanted an outdoor, sunset wedding. They looked at a multitude of venues around New York City, and ultimately chose Wave Hill.

Set along rolling, wooded hills along the Hudson River in the western Bronx, Wave Hill provides a picturesque backdrop to weddings, with the setting sun casting a palette of warm colors from across the river and onto the grounds.

Once the couple strolled through the property and took in the views, they immediately knew it was the place for their special day. Since Great Performances is the exclusive caterer for Wave Hill, Jackie was excited because her vision for the catering lined up perfectly with what Great Performances is all about – delicious, healthy, seasonal food presented with flawless attention to detail. Being imaginative was also key, and Jackie felt at ease once she began speaking with Amanda and Emily about the menu and the design.

Jackie loved the creativity and energy with which the GP team approached the project. She didn’t want a cookie-cutter wedding, and Great Performances’ wedding team delivered perfectly.

Jackie and Bill celebrating their union at Wave Hill. Photo: ©Joseph Lin
Wedding at Wave Hill
Wave Hill was the perfect backdrop for Jackie and Bill’s celebration of love. Photo: ©Joseph Lin

The wedding took place on Saturday, September 9, 2017. The occasion was attended by approximately 110 guests – friends and family from all over.

Although the day started somewhat overcast, as the 5:45 pm ceremony drew close, the clouds parted as if on cue, and the warm September sun shown brightly over the grounds and guests, providing the stunning sunset wedding they had wished for!

The reception went off without a hitch and the guests loved the food. Apetizers included BBQ short ribs, Devils on Horseback (with bacon, dates, and almonds), coconut shrimp, and miso-glazed black bass bites.

Also served were raw Wellfleet & Blue Point oysters on the half shell, leg of lamb and tri-tip beef on the skewer, hand-made cavatelli, and Goffle Road Coq Au Vin. The guests raved about the menu selections and enjoyed everything from start to finish.

Jackie and Bill spent their honeymoon in Thailand a few weeks later, returned to New York, and began their adventure of a new life together.

 
 

What have the newlyweds been up to since that beautiful September day in the Bronx?

After the honeymoon, the pair moved to Bayside, Queens, and have lived there since.

In July of this year, though, they’re expecting a daughter, and are also planning a move from Bayside to Larchmont in Westchester County, where they are buying a home to raise their her in. They’ll also continue to work at their current jobs – he at Master Card in Westchester and she at Mount Sinai in Manhattan (after a maternity leave).

Bill’s parents live in the Rockaways, and his sister, her husband and their two children live in Brooklyn, so they all look forward to spending time together in the New York area and watching their extended family grow together.

Jackie says she’s recommended Great Performances to her friends. “The entire experience was stress-free and easy, from start to finish.” She adds, “Both Amanda and Emily were the absolute best, providing guidance, support, and a wonderful, creative energy. I gave them some of my ideas, and they just ran with them, exceeding my expectations!”

Photo: ©Joseph Lin

DREAMING OF A WEDDING AT WAVE HILL?

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LOOKING FOR YOUR DREAM WEDDING VENUE? THIS LISTS CAN HELP

By Great Performances

Photo: ©Adrian Lewis

On the evening of Monday, February 24th, ten high school and college students from The Bronx presented their innovative recommendations for enhancements of the Great Performances website and for a Bronx inspired catering menu to Great Performances Founder and Chair Liz Neumark and Culinary Director Rob Valencia at The Bronx Campus of the Metropolitan College of New York.

Photo: ©Great Performances

The presentation was the culmination of the students’ 22-week participation in the groundbreaking Thinkubator program powered by The Bronx Private Industry Council (The Bronx PIC). Imported From Germany’s DO School, and only realized by The Bronx PIC so far in the U.S., Thinkubator is a consultancy-style, work-based learning program wherein students are challenged by local employers to create solutions to real-world business problems.

During this time, and under the tutelage of teacher Rishauna Zumberg, the students were able to visit Great Performances’ offices and kitchen, where they met with various teams and learned how a business with the scope and reach of Great Performances is run.

They also had the opportunity to visit Katchkie Farm, Great Performances’ organic farm in Kinderhook, New York, where they met Farmer Jon and learned about the farm and where some of our food comes from.

Back in The Bronx, the challenge presented by Great Performances to the Thinkubator innovators was how can the company integrate Bronx culture to boost competitive edge. After the site-visits and discussions with Neumark, Valencia and other members of the Great Performances team, the students offered three options, out of which two would be fully developed for presentation: a short film about GP; a website renovation, and a GP operated restaurant in The Bronx. Neumark asked them to focus on the latter two.

Photo: ©Great Performances
Photo: ©Great Performances

The students were divided into two teams to tackle the assignments and spent over a month flushing out their initial suggestions into viable thoughtfully curated recommendations.

For the GP website, they concentrated on adding new energy and points of engagement with such mechanisms as: incorporating video into different sections; including a live feed of GP’s Instagram on the home page; integrating a playlist of the music the staff listens to in GP’s commissary kitchen; and creating a signature cursor in the guise of a broccoli crown as a nod to GP’s plant-forward food philosophy.

For the restaurant, the student innovators looked to the diversity of the borough’s population which was represented on their team, and devised a pan-Latin menu they dubbed “Bronx Eats” drawing primarily on the culinary traditions of the team members’ Dominican, Honduran, Mexican and Puerto Rican heritage. In fact, each student contributed a dish with which he or she have a personal relationship. Witness the horchata that Ryan Laing once used to bribe his brothers – who had been denied any due to misbehavior – into cleaning his room. However, their mother’s homemade rendition of the Honduran beverage favorite was so delicious, Laing drank it all himself, leaving nothing for his room cleaning siblings.

Photo: ©Great Performances

After the student presentations, Neumark and Valencia each provided feedback. They were both captivated by the students’ presentations and recommendations, and pledged right-then-and-there to adopt some of them, and they envisioned the Bronx Eats menu as a new food station choice for catering clients, as that would be the most effective way to showcase this cuisine. Indeed, Neumark declared for each station sold, a donation will be made to The Bronx PIC’S parent HERE to HERE, The Bronx based nonprofit that unites employers, educators and community-based organizations to connect young people with family sustaining careers and create a thriving inclusive economy.

Her announcement met with enthusiastic applause from an audience comprised of Here to Here stakeholders, Thinkubator director Dr. Edward Summers, Bronx community advocate and President of Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation (BOEDC) Marlene Cintron, and the principals of Dream Yard, which collaborates with HERE to HERE to build pathways to opportunity for Bronx youth, as well as the Thinkubator students’ parents and friends.

Great Performances is proud to have worked with these creative young men and women on their projects, and Liz was thrilled to provide inspiration to such a captive, young audience. It was a two-way street, as well; she was equally as inspired by the curiosity and enthusiasm shown by the students throughout all of this.

Liz cannot stress enough how important this overall experience was as part of her vision and commitment to nurturing these crucial community relationships in Great Performances’ new home borough of The Bronx. With her new neighbors and friends here, she is wholly committed to connecting, building, and prospering together.

Photo: ©Great Performances