Her colleagues at the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen in NYC call her the Unofficial Mayor of Jersey City. To us and her 90,000+ Instagram followers, long-time JC resident Gaby Melian – a passionate proponent of the joys of healthy eating, cooking and community – is best known by her trademarked motto: Keep Cooking. Be Happy. Since joining the BA Kitchen in 2016 as a Kitchen Assistant, Gaby quickly worked her way up to Test Kitchen Manager while also becoming an audience favorite on their wildly popular YouTube channel, cooking up her signature empanadas and trading laughs with Superstar Brad Leone. The Institute of Culinary Education grad (Culinary Management 05’, Culinary Arts 05’, Pastry Arts 06’) has found the perfect home to showcase her many talents – teaching, cooking and making people happy.
We recently got the treat of a lifetime, visiting Gaby at the Test Kitchen HQ in the World Trade Center. It will come as a surprise to no one that Gaby is on a friendly first name basis with everyone from the front desk staff at WTC to the delivery guys to every person we encountered in the elevator bank.
For those of you who don’t know Gaby, she moved here from Argentina 24 years ago to pursue a career in journalism and as is usually the case, life had other plans. Armed with a teaching degree and a lifetime of cooking experience, Gaby worked at the now-defunct Kitchen Café on Sussex and Green, taught Spanish at Stevens Institute, was a highly sought-after babysitter and taught at Garden Preschool Cooperative. Eventually Gaby parlayed all of these experiences into starting Gaby’s Kitchen, designed to be a free education program for JC schools. After teaching at PS 37 and running a summer program at Hudson County Community College, life once again had other, much sadder plans for Gaby. Her mother – another much-loved figure in the JC community – became ill with cancer, and Gaby stopped everything, caring for her until her passing in 2016. After a much-needed break, Gaby re-entered the culinary scene at Bon Appétit, and the rest is history in the making.
During our visit to the BA Kitchen, we quickly noticed Gaby’s influence everywhere – from the hyper-organized, alphabetized walk-in and pantry to the easy banter among her equally busy colleagues; “I love my job,” Gaby explains, in between unloading a Fresh Direct order, organizing a charitable drive for a colleague, helping to stage a food styling shoot, making sure the current Kitchen assistant was fed lunch, and giving us a tour, all in the span of twenty minutes. She also found time to share some of her favorite things about JC;
Shopping: My favorite market is P& K [The Korean Market at 170 Newark Ave]. It is a family business run by the most caring good people and they have great quality produce and groceries. They really are good at caring for people in the neighborhood. I also love the Dollar Store [99 Cent Dream, located on the Pedestrian Plaza at 169 Newark Ave]. I am in there all the time. I find everything I need in there and pray they never close! For presents for others and to buy all this beautiful jewelry I am wearing, I go to Lovelocked [353 Grove St]. We are lucky to still have little shops like this, it’s important to support them.
Eating: I love, love love Skinner’s Loft [Newark Ave]. What can I say about them? The owners Maggie and Will are the best people in the world. I will never forget when my Mom was sick and I would be walking home late at night after sitting with her. Maggie would be closing up and ready to leave but so many times she would open the door and have me come in and have something to eat. And the food by the way is delicious, everybody knows that!
Drinking: I buy my wine at Madame Claude Wine [234 Pavonia Ave.] and JC Wine and Spirits [492 Jersey Ave.] They are both the best.
Her local butcher: Dark Pines, of course! The owners are such an honest, super nice couple who know all of their customers by name. The products are super fresh and they are so knowledgeable and always willing to share recipes.
Pucho’s Picks: Ha! For those who don’t know my Pucho, he was born 10 years ago on 2nd St. He was born that night, in a litter of puppies at my friends house. It was late, I had a few drinks, and all of a sudden we stared into each others eyes and that was it. He has been my best friend since. We like to go to Hound About Town [17 McWilliams Place and 218 Montgomery St]. I am a big fan of the owners, Elizabeth and Donovan [Cain]. Pucho also loves Fussy Friends [148 Newark Ave]. It’s true! We go there on Saturdays so he can stare at the cats, he loves them so.
Thank you so much for talking to us Gaby! We can’t wait to see what you do next. Keep cooking!
Oh, thank you so much, I will. And I have big plans in store, so keep watching!
Follow Gaby in the Kitchen and beyond @gabymelian_