Jazz Cooks at Castle Street Café

Chef/owner Michael Ballon is celebrating 10 years of 'live' Jazz at his Castle Street restaurant and bar by issuing two works of art. The first is a CD representative of the talent that appears at his Berkshire County venue, and more recently he has also assembled some of his favorite recipes into his first cookbook.

When the opportunity arose to expand his popular Castle Street Café, Ballon followed his dream of creating a venue for live jazz in the Berkshires. "I hoped to continue a tradition established at The Music Inn in Lenox, a 1950s haven for some of America's greatest Jazz performers." The Celestial Bar at Castle Street Café opened in December 1997 with Nat King Cole's baby grand piano gracing the stage (the piano has since been retired) and William Gottlieb's classic photographs of Jazz greats from the 1930s and '40s lining the walls. Ten years later, the bar continues to present a wide variety of styles, from blues to Be Bop.

Working with Mike Schiffer, artistic director of the Castle Street performance space, The Celestial Bar introduced audiences to performers from Albany and the Berkshires to Brooklyn and beyond. More than a dozen performers provided music (recorded elsewhere but not all commercially available anywhere else) for the compilation, "Jazz from Castle Street."

Performers on the CD include Ted Rosenthal, a veteran of Gerry Mulligan's band, ; vocalists Stephanie Nakasian, Terry Roiger and Vikki True; pianists Adrian Cohen, Lee Shaw, and Armen Donelian; guitarist Jay Messer, and the band Advanced Phunk. Other performers appearing on the CD include Lee Russo, the Playscape Quintet, Francesca Tanksley, Teresa Broadwell, and Ted Perry.

"Many of these musicians have performed with jazz legends such as Lionel Hampton, Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins, and it is a pleasure to showcase their extraordinary musical talent in Great Barrington. Many others are not well-known outside Berkshire County, and the home-grown talent that we are pleased to showcase every weekend will be a revelation to listeners." In addition to the many Berkshirites who consider Castle Street their local stomping grounds, Ballon was also pleased in recent years to have a visit from Gottleib, before the renowned Jazz photographer passed away.

Turning his attention from aural to oral treats, Ballon followed the CD with a book that reflects his personal cooking tastes and sensibilities. Using healthy, locally-grown ingredients, Ballon creates innovative and tasty dishes, and now tells "a normal person with an average amount of time" how to make them. In addition to the delicious dishes that come directly from the Castle Street Café menu, Chef Ballon has included traditional favorites from around the world. All the recipes have been carefully adapted for the home chef and include instructional photographs of the preparation and handling of ingredients.

In "Michael Ballon's Castle Street Café Cookbook, " he reveals his personal attitudes and tells colorful, interesting anecdotes, which can make for enjoyable reading even away from the kitchen. Ballon is a regular contributor to regional lifestyle magazines, and his Castle Street Café has become world-renowned for its sensible, delicious offerings. He is also a culinary commentator on various broadcast media, including WAMC, the region's NPR outlet.

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