Local Flavor
Chefs from around the area share their approaches to food, community, and joy in dining.
by Leigh Ann Stuart

For chefs such as Joshua Black, food is a vehicle for transforming lives; for Kristin Bailey, it’s all about seeing the smile on someone’s face when they delve into one of her desserts. Entrepreneurial spirit drives chefs such as Joe Monnich and Mark McLean. Yet, be they vegan or omnivorous, masters of sweet or savory flavors, self-taught or French-trained, these local chefs share something in common—translating their passion for food into dishes that delight, tantalize, and even uplift diners.



Joshua Black
Joshua Black, chef and founder of Flat Belly Veg, is on a mission to help people understand the irrevocable connection between wholesome food and good health.

His personal journey to better health began in 2011, when an eye-opening documentary convinced him to take charge of his health through fitness and nutrition. He embraced veganism and brought more activity into his life; after losing about 70 pounds, he knew he had to share the benefits of this new lifestyle with the world.
“There was no vegan chef school, and the schools out there were contradictory to what I believe in, so it wouldn’t be worth going,” he shares. “For me, everything I’ve learned, and the knowledge I’ve gained, has been through trial and error over the years—studying and understanding the benefits of food and using those skills I’ve gained over the years to do what I do now.”
He uses the term “brick and motor” to describe his business, as it encompasses both a café on Bethlehem Pike in Erdenheim as well as a food truck and second trailer.
“Once I changed my life, I lost a bunch of weight and gained a bunch of energy,” says Black, 56. “As I got older, people—friends, family, people in the community—just couldn’t understand. They asked me questions, and that led to cooking demos, and that led to advocacy for better health.”
Black recalls a particular day when he saw a local government representative having a health fair. The representative was serving processed snack foods to visitors.
“I was so livid,” Black shares. “I said, ‘I’ll come and set up for free to teach the community about nutrition.’”
This work drew the attention of Chicago-based Oak Street Health, which approached him regarding education initiatives for seniors they sought to start in the Philadelphia area.
“I was informing, teaching, the same population they were targeting,” he says. “I did events at the Free Library [of Philadelphia], on the side of the street. Wherever the state rep went, I said, ‘I want to be there to counter the nonsense.’”
From there, Black sought out even more ways to connect local communities with wholesome vegan foods. First came a food truck, then a stall in the Flourtown Farmers Market, then a renovated 1976 horse trailer, after which he and his wife took a leap of faith by opening a brick-and-mortar location.
“Our goal was a baseline of health first,” he says. “That’s why we don’t fry food, we don’t offer sodas, French fries, onion rings, or any of the ‘Frankenstein’ meat that’s out there. We don’t offer it because I have a core belief that it’s unhealthy. Not just a core belief, but it’s been proven.
“Being vegan isn’t just eating plant-based,” he continues. “You should have a higher consciousness when you’re trying to serve the community and yourself. I’m not going to sell anything I wouldn’t eat myself. I’m not ever going to do that. … Since we’re serving the community, we wanted to use ingredients that are accessible to everyone. We want to kill the notion that being vegan is too expensive. You don’t need a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.”
One particular house favorite: the “tuna” salad, made from carrot pulp instead of fish. The preparation features carrot pulp, an oft-overlooked after-product of juicing, which Black says contains the “gold” of the vegetable. After seasoning, Black combines the pulp with a house-made nut and seed mayo, and serves it in wraps, salads, bowls, and more.
“It doesn’t have to be a 10-step process to get to a health-first, delicious dish,” he adds. “Let’s put healthy in the forefront, find what’s healthy, and make it delicious.”
Flat Belly Veg’s impact goes “outside the plate,” as Black says, with initiatives such as the “Kale Blazers” fitness group, which brings neighbors and staff together to participate in events including races, walks, hikes, and more.
“Food is a huge part, but we’ve got to move,” he says. “We do events as a group, and some customers participate with me, but I try to serve as an example of ‘Here’s where I was, here’s where I am.’ That’s been a huge motivator.”
Kristin Bailey
At the age of 12, pastry chef Kristin Bailey dreamt of the café she and her best friend would open one day as she made make-believe cakes out of sand at the beach. A long-time athlete, Bailey spent her childhood baking with her mother, but pursued a different path in college—namely, sports psychology. Yet, all the while she kept a torch burning for the hospitality industry.

“Hospitality has always been a passion of mine,” says Bailey, 53, who has taken culinary classes but is largely self-taught. “This is kind of my childhood dreams coming true.”
An employee of the former Manayunk hot spot Main-ly Desserts in the 1990s, Bailey credits her time at the restaurant as an invaluable part of her culinary journey. Though her career path could be called winding, with stops along the way for realty and mothering three children, Bailey is thrilled to have found her way back to the kitchen, fortuitously, with her partner of 13 years, Corey Baver, chef at The Pullman Restaurant & Bar in Bryn Mawr.
“I don’t go too fancy,” she says of her baking style. “I’m more known for things like really good cakes and pies.”
One customer favorite is her salted caramel budino, a layered Italian pudding dessert featuring dark chocolate crumble, house-made caramel sauce, and whipped cream. Another beloved creation blends two styles of cheesecake—New York and custard—into one heavenly confection. House-made gelatos are menu staples as well, as well as a rotating variety of bread pudding iterations.
“I’m always trying little experiments,” she says. “I’m constantly wanting to learn more and try more things. Being at The Pullman, they’ve given me full rein, and it’s the most fun I’ve ever had. Every day I look forward to going in and creating new desserts.
“I love making things for people,” she continues. “It sounds silly, but it’s the best feeling when someone tells me how amazing a dessert was. I just love making people happy, feeding their bellies, feeding their souls.”
Mark McLean
“I like to cook because I’ve cooked all my life, and I’m just really good at it,” says Mark McLean, a former Wall Street trader turned chef and business owner. “I’d be at work on a slow trading day, researching menus or writing menus for parties.”

McLean got his start as many chefs do, as a child shadowing his mother in their home kitchen. His love for food started early and has been a pillar throughout his life. After his time on the hectic trading floors of New York City, he returned to the culinary world as a private chef. The pandemic prompted him to shift gears a bit, and he founded The Burgerly in New Hope with partner Zachary Simmons about two and a half years ago.
“The restaurant has kind of taken over by storm,” says McLean. “For me, a burger is a quintessential comfort food. We combined this with atmosphere—our tag line is ‘burgers and vibes’—and just some fantastic handheld sandwiches.”
While the menu offers a host of options, including a salmon BLT and veggie and shrimp burgers, beef burgers are the star of the show.
“We obviously wanted some very fantastic meat to make this pleasant mouth feel, but we also have house-made pickles and fantastic onions with a garlic, herbaceous quality,” he shares. “We’ve quintessentially built our burger in this manner that I want to say is perfect.”
McLean’s other businesses include a series of corporate cafés and grab-and-go market café stores, as well as catering and personal chef services he offers through Remarkable Cuisine. On the horizon, McLean looks to open another The Burgerly location across the river in New Jersey, and he is even contemplating adding a food truck to the mix.
“I take a lot of pride in my food,” he says. “People love it, and I love that part of it.”
Joe Monnich
With a growing culinary empire that encompasses two Stove & Tap locations, a chop house, a pizza pub, a nightlife spot in West Chester, and a Tex-Mex concept called Al Pastor with another slated to open at the start of 2024, Joe Monnich is equal parts chef and restaurateur.

Monnich, a French-trained chef, previously worked as executive chef of restaurants such as Philadelphia’s Parc and The Dandelion, and honed his craft in the kitchens of Susanna Foo and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He started his own collection of eateries with the acquisition of Stove & Tap in Lansdale in 2016, which serves signatures dishes such as the slow-roasted brisket dip with cooper cheese, deviled eggs, and pork belly bao buns.
Following the opening of that spot in March 2017, he opened his first Al Pastor the following year in Exton. Here, guests love the eponymous al pastor tacos featuring slow-cooked pork belly with pineapple glaze and pineapple salsa. A third Stove & Tap in Malvern evolved into what is now Joey Chops, a high-end concept serving dishes such as green garlic escargot, she-crab soup, and a variety of hand-cut steaks.
“I built a community,” Monnich says. “I have restaurants, guests, employees, and every day that I wake up I go into my stores, shake hands, work with my leadership team, then it’s lather, rinse, repeat. It’s not work—it’s a lifestyle. It’s a lot when you look at it on paper, but I love it.”
Photo courtesy of Stove & Co. Restaurant Group
Published (and copyrighted) in Suburban Life, November 2023.