Tasting the world in West Orange

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Rotary Club hosted its annual “Taste of the World,” its biggest fundraiser of the year, at Mayfair Farms on Monday, Feb. 25. For $50, residents sampled food from restaurants in and around West Orange.

With a goal of raising $20,000, the Rotary puts funds raised toward scholarships for graduating high school seniors, the club’s annual Community Service Awards, dictionaries for the West Orange School District’s third-grade students, the capybara exhibit at the Turtle Back Zoo and Christine’s Kitchen, a local food pantry.

“The bulk of the money goes to the different projects we work on,” West Orange Rotary President Cynthia Hadley-Bailey said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “People are tasting food from different places they might not have known about and the restaurants can promote their business. It’s a pretty good deal, and it all goes to a good cause.”

Restaurants from South Orange, Montclair, Verona, Cedar Grove and other surrounding towns catered the event, in addition to many local businesses from West Orange.

Benji’s Taqueria Mexican Grill, which has been attending the “Taste of the World” for the last four years, was serving traditional rice and beans, two types of salsa, guacamole, carnitas and chicken cooked with chipotle peppers, onions and tomatoes.

“It’s great advertising for us and give people a chance to try us out,” Benji owner Mauricio Soperanes said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “A lot of the time we teach people about Mexican food, so it’s a good chance for us to do that.”

Also featured at the event was Mark and Julie’s Homemade Ice Cream, a West Orange mainstay since 1994. Three different ice cream flavors and a yogurt were available in coolers for tasters to sample.

“We still get new customers all the time,” Julie Orenstein, the store’s co-owner, said in an interview at the event. “Last weekend over the course of two days I had four or five people come in who said they had never been.”

The samples couldn’t be displayed on the table because the ice cream would melt, but Orenstein and her staff had faux ice cream sundaes for ambience.

“These aren’t real but you’d be surprised how many people ask if they can try one,” she joked.

IOS Naturals was handing out samples of juice at the event, encouraging residents to eat organically. The company, owned by West Orange resident Hakan Vural, imports the juices from Spain and Turkey, and sells them to retailers. Flavors included watermelon, cherry, apple, pomegranate and blended greens.

“Most people think that one tastes like vegetables because that’s what’s in it, but it doesn’t,” Vural said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “There’s apple in it and that adds a little bit of sugar.”

Wasabi Sushi is a family owned sushi restaurant in West Orange that is still relatively new, having only been in town for two years. Kerry Su, a member of the family, said most of the restaurant’s business is based on deliveries and that “Taste of the World” gives chefs a chance to try out new recipes.

At the fundraiser, Wasabi Sushi was offering salmon skin rolls, deep fried sushi with cream cheese, spicy mayo sushi and the “firecracker” roll, made with tempura and scallions.

“A lot of people come here and try it out, and then come back and ask for those things,” Su said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “And we make everything in house.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic