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Gracious Grassi's

Huge heart exists in Grassi's Ristorante's kitchen

Grassi's Ristorante Executive Chef Derek Bray, third from left, previously ran the kitchen at the Tacoma Rescue Mission. Photo credit: Steph DeRosa

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Do you ever wish you could go back to your childhood and get a "do-over"? 

When I replay past events in my head, I often feel both regret and pride in the same emotion.  I am proud that seventh-grade Stephanie punched eighth-grade bully Heather in the stomach at the bus stop after school, yet regretful that I ran home in fright afterward.  Maybe ... just maybe ... I could've finished the fight. 

I'm proud that I had a hardworking single mother who paid the bills (occasionally), yet regretful that I never appreciated her efforts at that time. By the skin of her teeth, she kept a roof over our heads and food in bags on the kitchen floor. (She never was one for household cleanliness.)  I try to thank her now, but can only imagine what heartache a childhood Stephanie caused.

Fast forward to 2014: I have a daughter who tells me from the back seat of our car that she's "disappointed" in her gifts from the Easter Bunny. I won't go into tremendous detail, but I did what most would call "freaking the eff out" as a parent. The girl has no clue what life is really like for the gen-pop. This is a monster that I have admittedly created.

I immediately applied to volunteer at the Tacoma Rescue Mission with the intent of having my sweet, precious, spoiled monster of a daughter by my side. 

During one of our visits to help serve lunch at TRM, my daughter and I helped Derek Bray, executive chef at Grassi's Ristorante in University Place, unload his truck. It was filled with prepared food that was leftover from Grassi's Mother's Day brunch buffet. It's a common occurrence for Bray to bring TRM his leftovers from Grassi's catering events, and a delightful surprise to families staying at the facility.

I asked a supervisor at TRM about Grassi's involvement, and learned that although a few other restaurants donate leftovers, Bray, a former employee, is a frequent contributor and good friend to TRM.

Previously a food service coordinator for the Tacoma Rescue Mission, Bray met Grassi's owners Ken and Kim Grassi at church before interviewing and becoming the head chef at Grassi's new location in University Place. After relocating from downtown Tacoma and being closed for a year while hunting for that perfect chef, Grassi's Ristorante opened its doors in April, and it was as though the Grassis were opening the doors to their new home.

"We want Grassi's to feel homey, like you're eating at a friend's house," Bray said. He's prepared a traditional menu with favorites such as chicken marsala and the most delicious sour cream lemon pie I've ever had.  The dining room is bustling with activity, even at 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a weekday.  It seems as though everyone likes to dine at their "friend's house."

Bray reflects on his two years at the Tacoma Rescue Mission. "When you get nice food coming through the door, you can focus on other things besides cooking, like having conversations and building relationships with guys in the recovery program." 

Bray then smiles and adds, "It's amazing how far a conversation can go."

Relationships built by Bray bring a sense of warmth and kind-heartedness to his kitchen, which reflects in his food at Grassi's Ristorante. 

Although specific holiday food is always needed at the TRM, volunteers are needed more, Bray said.

Remember: There are no "do-overs" in life.  Take the time now to appreciate what you have.  Take the time to volunteer.  Oh, and I suggest you also take the time to appreciate the best sour cream lemon pie you'll ever have.

GRASSI'S RISTORANTE, lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Saturday, Italian fare with Northwest flavors, 2811 Bridgeport Way W., University Place, $10-$27, 253.565.0633

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