By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star
---- — Elena Doyle, a longtime Oneonta restaurateur, is back in a Main Street kitchen.
Doyle, who operated Elena’s Sweet Indulgence and Elena’s Pastry/Café, which closed in July 2010, is one of three chefs working the Collage Food Boutique, a cross-cultural experiment in mixing and matching Asian, Caribbean and Italian fare.
“We call it ‘Puertalianese,’” said Frank Lopez, who is advising Collage owner Zi Jin Wu.
For Doyle, it’s another chance to serve what she called “an extended family” in Oneonta.
“The customers … were never like customers to me,” she said.
“I did every birth, every communion, every bar mitzvah,” she added. “You get to be just so part of their lives.”
Zi Jin, or “Kyle” to his American family, emigrated from Chengdu, China, in April. For him, too, there’s a family connection. Jin Lan, Lopez’s wife, is his aunt.
“He is a trained chef,” Lopez said, adding that Zi Jin specializes in southwestern Chinese dishes.
“That’s all he knows. He’s not well-versed in what other Chinese folks do. He brings his own stuff. That’s exciting: Asian desserts, as well as foods.
“I thought that Oneonta would be a good start for him. My wife and I help him. I’m kind of a consultant to him. I know the business. I’m spending time with him, getting his business going.”
The eatery opened without fanfare six weeks ago, but an official opening is planned for 5:30 p.m. next Wednesday in cooperation with the Otsego County Chamber. Samples of Collage’s food will be available.
Lopez, a Bronx native with ties to the Oneonta area going back to his days as a SUNY Oneonta student, brings his own expertise to the table: “Puerto Rican, Cuban, I do a fusion Cuban, Spanish, Caribbean.
It all adds up to a series of eclectic mix-and-match choices for customers and no fixed menu.
“We thought of this concept, basically operating with a menu. We take the challenge. Elena, Kyle and all of us take the challenge of creating every day and try to keep the excitement going every day.”
“Everything changes all the time,” Lopez added. “He (Zi Jin) wanted to fit into Main Street, do something different from (what) everybody else is doing.”
Lopez said that the takeout tray is the common denominator among Collage’s various styles.
“I like to call it food in your face,” he said. “You come down and you look at it. You come here because you have a little urge for something different (but) don’t know what you want to eat. So you come here, your take a look and something might strike your eye.
“You could also come up to this case here and create your meal. We have starches in there, from roasted potatoes to rices. We have meats, and we have vegetables. So you could actually piece together your meal. We’ll put it in a microwavable container for you, you take it home, you eat it at your leisure.”
Doyle said the concept, to which she adds the pastry and Italian elements, is exciting.
“It’s been great, because it’s this infusion between the pastry and the food that I did for so many years, and then there’s Frankie, who has this incredible Caribbean background.”
Zi Jin “has a great Asian background, so it’s an infusion of Puerto Rican, Caribbean, Italian and Chinese,” she said.
As she spoke, a patron leaving the building called over her shoulder: “a five-star review from a very satisfied customer, you can put that in.”
“Thank you, sweetheart,” Doyle said.