Food

Resident chef makes The Point a destination for home cooking

Samali Bikangaga

Kelston Bascom.

Bascom Catering Company offers a vast menu of classic American dishes and some with a Caribbean twist

At the age of 11, Kelston Bascom watched closely as his mother grabbed a handful of flour and eyeballed the ingredients in her Caribbean bread recipe. She didn’t measure anything as she kneaded the dough on the kitchen counter and gave Bascom the advice that shaped his future: “Everyone should know how to cook.”

Throughout his childhood, as Bascom watched his mother and sister cook traditional Trinidadian and Indian dishes in the family’s home in Queens, he never expected to one day become a successful chef with his own catering company.

Bascom, 38, is the chef and owner of The Bascom Catering Company as well as the cafe based at The Point Community Development Corporation at 940 Garrison Avenue. Just inside the doors of The Point, with its bright yellow walls covered with artwork made by kids in the center’s programs, lies a bustling kitchen with a black and white overhead sign that reads, “Bascom Catering and Events.” The to-go offerings include a vast menu of classic American dishes and some with a Caribbean twist, such as steak wraps, crab cakes and jerk chicken salad.

Bascom’s arrival at The Point allowed him to cultivate his career as an independent caterer, allowing him to start his own business. His restaurant and service have brought life to The Point at lunchtime, when the seating area begins buzzing with 20 to 30 customers. Bascom also manages a culinary program at The Point for high school students called Blank Plate, where he teaches teens the basics of cooking. All of these efforts come back to Bascom’s passion for cooking and all that comes with it.

“I want to make amazing food, I want to cater to you and be the best host,” Bascom said.  “I want to make food so good that you say ‘I want to marry you because your food is so good.’”

Raised in Queens, Bascom went to culinary school in 2000 after working in real estate for seven years. At the time, becoming a chef wasn’t at all what Bascom had predicted for himself.  “I didn’t plan on it at all,” Bascom said. But after losing his job, he knew cooking was something he could do, so he enrolled in the Institute of Culinary Education.

Bascom’s talent and work ethic in the kitchen led him to multiple jobs as a line chef and gigs for catering companies such as Mary Giuliani Catering, which catered to high-profile clientele. Bascom left his job of five years in this prestigious catering company because, he said, “There was no room for growth in that company.”

His journey in Hunts Point began in 2008 when a friend called with an offer to cook at the café at The Point. There was a catch: he would have to create his own income. Smiling, Bascom added, “I wasn’t too fond of the Bronx, you know, because of the stigma attached to it,” but he took the job because he needed it.

It wasn’t easy for Bascom to land a job, he said. Companies would call him in for an interview when they saw his experience, but it often ended there. “They saw my resume and got excited, but my appearance didn’t match my resume.” He adjusted his chef’s cap as it slowly slipped off his dreadlocks. Bascom, a resident of Richmond Hill, Queens, said that the Hunts Point community took him in and accepted him.

The catering business started with Bascom investing $30,000 of his life savings. He said it expanded from there after “people ate my food and said, ‘we gotta use this guy more often.’”

Now, in addition to running the two businesses, Bascom holds a 13-week culinary program at The Point for teens ages 13 to 17. Teaching basic culinary techniques and food identification, he wants to teach the youth in the community the art of cooking and make use of his 15 years’ experience.

The Point has always had a café to go along with its community programs, said co-founder and president Maria Torres, and food has always been a vital part of the center. But Bascom’s venture has lasted the longest in the organization’s 20 years.

Hunts Point is known as a “food desert,” since for residents, there’s little access to fresh food and produce, and there aren’t many prepared food options other than the string of fast food franchises along Southern Boulevard in Longwood. But Bascom has capitalized on the proximity of the produce and meat markets on the peninsula, and for that reason, calls Hunts Point “a blessing.”

“You can get at least three different types of oranges down the street,” he noted, “This is a great community for this business. We make fresh food because we get fresh produce. That’s the advantage.” Plus, the café’s options are all available for under $8.

Letisha Thomas has been a customer for eight years, “as long as this place has existed.” Sitting next to her friend and coworker, Liz Murphy, Thomas waited for her order of jerk chicken salad. “I used to order the 50/50 burger with sweet potato fries, which was my favorite!  But now I’m trying to eat healthy.”

Murphy, who sat next to Thomas in her wheelchair, works in the BankNote building and comes to The Point every day for lunch. “The food here is so good and fresh, I feel like I’m in downtown. I feel privileged!” said Murphy. One of the café’s employees placed their food in front of them as Murphy, who ordered her favorite, grilled chicken salad, said “they cater to you, that’s the most important part.”

At any weekday lunch hour, The Point café is full of customers like Thomas and Murphy who come to eat lunch or grab a cup of coffee. The seating area holds The Point employees and other people who came from their work place — chatting, sipping from a can of soda, laughing and eating their fresh mix of romaine, string beans and iceberg lettuce.

For Bascom, hosting his customers and keeping them happy is as important as the taste of his food. “My mother was an amazing host,” he said, “and that’s what inspired me the most.”

Bascom isn’t able to cook as much since he also has to manage his employees, his clients and his business. He said it’s busy but he wouldn’t want anyone else to do it.

“You have to love it. I work 16 hours and I can only do it because I love it,” he said. “I believe I was born to do this. I was born to be a chef and I’m ecstatic.”

 

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