Tag Archives: Vegan

DIVE INTO THE LIGHT: FRANCHESCA NOR

Song Pairing: In the Light by Led Zepplin

When she was 30 years old, Franchesca Nor had her first baby, an aqua, navy and seafoam progeny she named Dive Coastal Cuisine. In 2016 she delivered something even more special, her son Archer James. Today, they have each matured and evolved; provided food for the body, soul and heart; and given back.

Cauliflower pizza

Dive continues to be a Park Cities restaurant phenom, serving fresh, sustainable, non-GMO, organic salads, seafood and sandwiches to families, locals and notable chefs alike. Chef/Owner Franchesca has beaten the odds as a restauranteur a few years before her 40th birthday. Though she is well educated and trained, she graduated top of her class at Johnson & Wales culinary school and has worked in virtually every position in a restaurant, she doesn’t directly attribute her blessings to those things. Rather, she says she is where she is today because she’s always believed in her passion and vision, she’s taken a non-traditional path, and allowed herself to make mistakes and learn from them. She’s loyal and believes in taking care of those who take care of you.

Franchesca and her business partner, Victor

Dive has more than 25 employees, many of whom have been there since Day 1, an almost unheard-of feat in the high-turnover restaurant business. The high quality, well-prepared food guests have enjoyed year after year is largely due to consistency in the kitchen. Franchesca’s exacting standards in food quality and preparation are understood by every member of her team and she credits them for Dive’s loyal customer base. In fact, when I asked her what her what she loves most about this business, she paused and got a little choked up. “I’m feeding 25 families,” she said referring to her employees and their families. “That’s the most fulfilling thing about this.”

“You are a leader if your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream, learn and become more.” This was the daily affirmation that happened to pop up on my phone the day I interviewed Franchesca at Dive, where I devoured her new Grilled Peach and Prosciutto Pizza on cauliflower crust, and she inhaled her Tuna Melt. When she told me about the work she does with Youth With Faces, a Dallas-based organization that provides practical life and work skills to youth in the juvenile justice system, the quote immediately came to mind. By any definition, Franchesca is a leader. She and others help the teens discover a passion, purpose and a view of their potential far bigger than what their environments have offered so far. She introduces new foods, like the time she served a group of uneasy teens quinoa and calamari (they loved it) and has written and cataloged recipes for the program. She recently was invited to join the Dallas chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier, an international philanthropic group for women in the culinary arts.

Franchesca and me at her Les Dames d’Escoffier Induction

Throughout our lunch, Franchesca was full of optimism, passion and light, appropriate since her surname means ‘light” in Arabic. She exudes gratitude and stokes a dream that will go beyond Dive’s current footprint. Her priority today, of course, is Archer; a little boy who, she humblebrags, prefers to chew leaves from his mama’s backyard chocolate peppermint plant rather than bubblegum.

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 edition of People Newspapers.

LET’S GATHER TOGETHER AT GATHER KITCHEN

Song Pairing: Pretty Woman, the Roy Orbison version

In mid-bite of a fried green tomato slathered with creamy chipotle mayo, it hit me: Soraya Spencer is Julia Robert’s twin. Soraya’s gigantic smile, sparkly brown eyes, vivid with passion, and her animated speech conveys the eager, kind and hopeful Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman; the sweet but gritty girl seeking a better life and taking care of others seeking the same along the way. That is Soraya Spencer and her Gather Kitchen business model.

Soraya Spencer
Photo courtesy of Gather Kitchen

Soraya’s story has been told before but I only read them before meeting her in the bright, communal feeling Gather Kitchen in Preston Center. She’s originally from Algeria and lilts a lovely accent which sounds French-ish, she’s well-traveled, well-educated and lives the American Dream with her husband, son and Gather Kitchen family in Dallas. I visited her space on Luther Lane that’s been open since August, though word of its presence just reached me in April.

EAT

New menu items for Gather Kitchen launched in early May and include the Crepe Taco, a nod to her French culinary education, and the Gather Burger, a grass-fed beef burger spiced with Ras El Hanout among other things, that’s stuffed with sweet potato fries. Also new are the aforementioned Fried Green Tomatoes, coated in gluten-free panko crumbs, tapioca flour and spices. They are served with a chipotle mayo that was perfected after more than 30 attempts. Soraya had never tasted chipotle before coming to Dallas, but she whipped them together with boiled cashews, almond milk and other ingredients to come up with this condiment masterpiece that I will order as a side for sweet potato fries on my next visit.

Poke Bowl
Photo courtesy of Gather Kitchen

My favorite item on the menu is the poké bowl. I normally avoid doing the hokey poké because its ubiquity makes me really wonder how fresh the tuna is at all these places, but I acquiesced here, fortunately. Gather Kitchen’s take demonstrates Soraya’s brilliant ability to combine flavors and textures. Her travels and training combined with an innate talent for taste were summarized for me in this dish. The combination of the spicy wasabi, kiwi, oily rich tuna punctuated with crunchy nori and togarashi and ginger, cooled by cucumbers and smoothed by avocados was refreshing, exciting and comforting all at once.

DRINK

In keeping with her approach to serving clean, healthy food, there is no soda or alcohol on the menu. Rather, “Wellness” concoctions such as the Immune Boost with lemon, ginger, honey and cayenne and Cacao Baby with raw cacao, raw maple syrup, almond milk, vanilla and Himalayan salt are served hot or cold. An assortment of waters, kombucha and lemonade are also available, as is coffee. Alcohol is served at the Boozy Brunch every Saturday morning.

BE

The vibe at Gather Kitchen Preston Center is very down-to-earth. Warm but sparse décor, exposed brick and woody tables make it feel a little a little Magnolia Market-y, feminine but not girly, strong but not harsh. Like Soraya, I suppose. She’s gathered a team of underdogs to run her restaurants, folks who are enjoying second chances and third acts. Men and women with scars inside and out, with tough breaks and heart breaks in various stages of healing. She requires survival for herself, also a victim of abuse, and her team. She coaches, trains, mentors and leads. She believes and loves and is loved back. As we were wrapping up our meeting, a former employee came in to pick up some food for take away. I can’t tell how old she was, sometimes life makes you look and feel older than you are. She stopped to speak with Soraya, and they gave each other words of encouragement and advice. Then the older woman kissed Soraya on the top of her head, a motherly, tender gesture that almost made me cry with its sweetness.

Gather Kitchen is a place to nourish your body and soul. Clean, healthy food with flavor combined with a positive mission should be a winning combination. Her space on Luther Lane has turned over a few times, which is why I am asking you to try this restaurant. Give it a chance, check it out and support this local gem of a restaurant and the pretty woman who owns it.

UPDATE: Gather Kitchen closed the Preston Center location. The Downtown location remains open and thriving.