Two peas in a kitchen with Chef Hannah Miller and Sous Chef Maggie Rodriguez

Hannah Miller
Hannah Miller, Chef at Talula's

Voices in Solidarity

Part four of a series

Asbury Park Talula’s Chef Hannah Miller and Sous Chef Maggie Rodriguez discuss what it has been like to endure creating and cooking under life in quarantine. Times are tough; cabin fever is real; however, there is always a way to build community in food—even in a global pandemic.

Rodriguez said her job role HAS completely changed

Talula’s among other Asbury Park eateries are now open for take-out! Nevertheless, the city’s take out reopening didn’t come without the effort of the businesses and Asbury’s eclectic kitchen crews. “Talula’s is okay,” said Talula’s Chef, Hannah Miller. “We were open for take-out on April 30th because of the Payment Protection Program. A small business loan we got approved for,” said Miller, who will also be in the kitchen.

Prior to the kitchen opening for take-out, Sous Chef, Maggie Rodriguez, discussed the change in her job. For the sous chef, her role has completely changed since COVID-19 came our way. Much of Rodriguez’s professional, personal, and passionate identity, has been placed on hold.

Cooking is not just a job to Rodriguez or Miller, but rather a passion—a piece of who they are. Rodriguez says cooking can move her through any matter of life. “I simply cannot stop cooking. For me, cooking is beyond just a job, it is my identity, and it is my meditation. I find cooking to be so cathartic. Whatever I am going through, good or bad, can be dealt with through my culinary creations,” she said.

Home cooking builds community, for which Rodriguez has taken action.

“I began to start delivering my food to people’s doors with zero contact. I write little personalized messages to each person and try to bring a little connection to everyone in such dreary times. I am now bringing so much food to people daily that I am in some ways busier than ever. I feel grateful to have the opportunity to help bring joy to people daily,” said Rodriguez.

The duo has pressing concerns beyond the kitchen as both their families have struggled through COVID-19. Having lost extended family, Rodriguez said that her loved ones had been debilitated by the virus. “It has been hard for us as such a close and large family to stay away from one another for so long.”

Meanwhile Chef Miller has lost her grandmother this past April 8th. Since then she has been between her mother’s house and Maggie’s.

a lot of people started go-fund-me’s because the relief funds can’t keep up with demands,” said Chef Miller

“I think that this is an extremely difficult scenario for all of us to be in. I think that as a community, we are working together as best as we can. We are trying to continue to support our local businesses that are the backbone of our community while still trying to maintain a safe and secure environment,” said Rodriguez. She wonders how it is we can come back to socializing, spending money, and enjoying each other again. “We have a lot of work still to do,” she said. “We and have to get creative about ways in which we can ensure we do not lose all of our small businesses.”

“I think the most important thing as a community is to keep our health and safety as our number one priority,” continued Rodriguez. As the black community, the immigrant community, LGBTQ community, and LatinX community suffer from mounting historic disparity in safety, food security, and health, we can note that financial safety blankets have not been left either.

“People aren’t able to get benefits like unemployment, so I’ve been seeing a lot of people starting go-fund-me’s because the relief funds can’t keep up with demands,” said Chef Miller.

Rodriguez notes how easy it is to blind oneself from health and safety when our country is so wrapped up in the economy. “It is easy to lose sight of those things and focus too much on our economic needs and strains. I hope that we can find a way to keep our city alive and running without risking the lives of our residents,” said Sous Chef Rodriguez.

Maggie Rodriguez
Maggie Rodriguez, Sous Chef at Talula’s

It would be easier to focus on “when” Rodriguez and Miller could return to work versus the sustainability and ethics in doing so. The two have decided to focus on the betterment of not only their community but of themselves and their families. This alone expands the natural priority of empathy in our society. This expands on the outcome of working together.

“There is a long road to recovery,” said Rodriguez. She believes that the summer will have to come to a bit of a halt for a slow transition back into normalcy. Normal has taken on a new meaning in this year of “2020 Vision.”

Decade long traditions like Pride in June has changed in Asbury Park to Pride on October 11th—otherwise known as Coming Out Day. The regularities we know and love have shifted into many different quadrants of time. Even so, taking measures to help each other by creating community and willing mutual aid will push the Asbury Park community forward she feels.

For now, we can help businesses by ordering take out and further build community by crafting the smile-enchanting-gift of a home-cooked meal.

Talulas in Asbury Park

Lana Leonard (they/them) is a graduate from The College of New Jersey with a degree in journalism and professional writing. They work at the GLAAD Media institute and freelance for publications like LGBTQ Nation while working on their journalistic theory of change project: Late Nights with Lana, a talk show based out of 10PRL film studios in Long Branch, NJ. Lana's mission, in all their work, is to focus on people, their collective truths and how those truths form a community of knowledge towards change.