Commencement

This week I experienced something joyful and memorable which at the same time brought the sad whistfulness of a journey completed, never to be revisited. Something to check of the bucket list, and something to nurture and grow. Along with 600+ other students in creatively decorated caps and gowns, and after almost 5 years of part time attendance, I participation in the commencement excersizes at SUNY Schenectady and received my degree in Culinary Arts.

Why did I decide to become a “returning” culinary student? I’d been cooking for decades. I’d worked in a kitchen. I’d previously completed two college degrees. I already had quite a lot on my plate of life. But I wanted to be in the company of others who also saw joy in food, and to be challenged to be better at something that I was just good at. I learned alot – about kitchens, about ingredients, about people and about myself. It’s all about the journey and where you take it.

One of the requirements for completing the program, beyond the 600 hours kitchen internship (shout out and thank you to all of my friends and mentors in the kitchen at the amazing Honest Weight Food Co-op), was to write a journal about my culinary journey through both the internship and the program. Below are some of my reflections which were included in that paper. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience, or maybe you’ve got that idea in the back of your mind that says “Try it”, “Go for it”, “Stop waiting – there’s never going to be a right time”. Here’s hoping that my culinary journey, now both completed and beginning anew, spurs you to pursue your own journey of enlightenment and fulfillment. (Shout out to all of my fabulous instructors at SUNY Schenectady for answering my many questions and making this accomplishment possible!)


It was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Do one thing every day that scares you”. For me, alot of the time, the thing was walking into SUNY Schenectady, especially the culinary lab. I don’t know why. There were certainly both better and worse cooks than me in the classroom. I knew I was capable of attending classes, completing assignments, and “working well with others”. It was just that being a culinarian was so far away from what I had encountered and become over the past thirty years. My professional life in accounting did not feel personal. Culinary school asked me for something different. It required me to be creative and to thrive when everything wasn’t black and white, when the unexpected could and often did happen.     

I enrolled in my first class merely to test the waters. A few weeks into Food Prep I, Chef Cerone said something that really made me think – something about cooking being personal and receiving immediate feedback – that there was no delay or ambiguity in relation to the effort expended. The plate was returned empty, or not; there were smiles or not; there were compliments or not; the guest returned or not. I realized that something important had been lacking in my professional life of writing reports, developing analysis and creating spreadsheets which were emailed into oblivion. The work and effort went in and rarely resulted in feedback or a sense of accomplishment. Cooking would be different. This was an “a-ha” moment. I matriculated the next week.     

There were challenges. I was discouraged when after whipping cream by hand for twenty minutes, Chef Raggucci pointed out that the bowl I was using had not been washed properly and was slightly oily inside, and thus the cream would likely never whip. I was embarrassed when I barely passed Chef Stamets’s cuts of pork identification pop quiz despite my deep appreciation for swine. I bought three whole birds to practice dismembering chickens for the practical exam. As an introvert who had never waited a table, I contemplated dropping dining room (and likely the whole program) before hyperventilating my way through the first few weeks waitressing in the Cassola Dining Room with Mr. Larkin. Chef Verrigni became impatient when my composed salads were not making it to the dining room rapidly enough. Chef Krebs sighed and pointed out that my cream anglaise had not attained the desired consistency. I slaved for days over my menu planning project, researching recipes and creating artwork, marketing strategies and a logo.     

There were also accomplishments. I volunteered to make the souffle’s for Cuisine II when no one else put their hand up, knowing that they would most likely reach the table sadly deflated despite my best efforts. Suddenly overcoming my ancient fear of public speaking, I delivered presentations in Mr. Larken’s Marking and Mrs. Waldie’s Intro to Hospitality classes that I would never have thought possible – because I was actually passionate about the topics. I made gorgeous apfel streudel and baklava with Chef Krebs. I learned to anticipate Chef Verrigni’s concerns when prepping for dining service – “Did you finish the….”? “Finished, Chef”. “What about the…”? “Done, Chef”. “Can you…?” “I’ve got it, Chef”. I broke down chicken, salmon, beef and pork with Chef Stamets – who knew animals were constructed inside like a map that practically showed you where to make the cuts? I uncorked wine bottles in front of tables full of people without putting anyone’s eye out. I made real sausage from scratch. I got to represent my school at A Taste of Albany. I was fortunate enough to have had an hour-long career chat with the wealth of knowledge that was Chef Strianese. I made some amazing friends. I got my picture taken with the Beekman Boys.

While I am very happy to have finally completed this program after four years, I will certainly miss the instructors, the challenges, the energy and the comradery of the SUNY Schenectady kitchens. I still plan to frequent the campus, the Cassola, and school events in the future. I thank all of the staff and my instructors for this wonderful experience which has been one of my best adventures.

Tis the Season!

Unknown farmer with tiller – Aldridge Family Archive

What’s that? You have no plans for Saturday morning? Now you do!

It’s the first weekend of May, and if you live in the Capital Region, you know what this means – the long awaited advent of the numerous area Farmers Markets! Our farmers have been busy in their high tunnels, hot houses and gardens for weeks, and early spring produce is becoming available. Don’t forget maple syrup, honey, craft brews, meats, poultry, eggs and other products which are available throughout the year.

So here’s the challenge. Are you ready? Instead of purchasing all of your produce at the grocery store for the next few months, what if you buy it from the farmer who grew it? The woman or man who planted, tended and harvested the food – across town and not across the country. Keep in mind this important statistic: Buying local is a noble endeavor, but when you buy local produce through the supermarket, the farmer gets only 15 cents on the dollar from that purchase. Yes, on average, 15 cents. That’s it. But if you buy that kale or bag of mesclun or bunch of basil from the farmer at the farmers market or at the farm stand, s/he receives the entire dollar. Would you rather have 15 cents, or a dollar? Yup. That’s money well spent on your behalf, and maximum return on investment for the farmer.

So by now you’ve made the decision to do the right thing and become a regular shopper at the farmers market for the next several weeks or months. Excellent choice! But which farmers market?

In our area, we have a plethora of choices in all neighborhoods and on many days of the week. Lucky for you, I’ve compiled a list of choices – 49to be exact! Please share!!! No matter where you live or work, there’s likely a farmers market convenient to you. Pick one. Check out the spring greens and choose something to complete your next home cooked meal. Greet the farmer. Ask her how her winter was. Ask him what’s new on the farm. Best of all, show your appreciation by enjoying the farmers’ vegetables, and by keeping your dollars in the community.

If you choose to accept this challenge, I’d love to hear from you! Find a market that’s not on my list? Let me know and I’ll add it. Give a shout out if you find a farmer with the best berries, most delicious corn, or most tender brussel sprouts. Comment on this blog, or email me at sustainabletable518@hotmail.com.


Area Farmers Markets

An acquaintance recently asked where my restaurant was located. Someone else asked if I would cater an event. Another asked if I’d be selling meals at the farmer’s market. Many people are unfamiliar with the concept of a personal chef, what a personal chef service provides and how it works. Luckily, I’m well versed in this subject, so let me explain…

Simply put, as a personal chef I am a professional cook who is hired by several clients to prepare meals in the client’s home kitchen, based on their nutritional and dietary preferences. Aspects of my service include discussing with the client their needs and expectations for the service, selecting a menu, shopping for the ingredients, preparing the meals, storing and labelling the meals, providing warming instructions as needed, and cleaning the work area of the kitchen before leaving the clients home. I provide personalized service to one client/family per day, usually on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, leaving them with 20 servings of delicious meals to enjoy as their busy schedule dictates.

The personal chef profession began to evolve in the 1990’s, when folks who wanted to cook professionally began looking for options beyond the stainless steel of the restaurant – options that would allow them to be the boss of their own work hours and to avoid the late nights and weekends traditially required of a line cook. While a personal chef is usually self-employed, wearing all the hats and bearing all of the craziness of managing their own business, the resulting reward is a personal connection with clients and the community which isn’t usually available to restaurant or executive chefs in larger organizations. Today there are over 10,000 professional personal chefs working across the United States, belonging primarily to two professional personal chef organizations – the American Personal & Private Chef Association (I am a member) and the United States Personal Chef Association. Whether trained in restaurants, at home or in trade school, professional personal chefs are required to be insured and servsafe certified, and to abide by a code of ethics particular to this profession. Some personal chefs cater to specific diets – gluten free, vegetarian, diabetic – while others focus on providing stellar service to specific types of clients such as seniors or families with young children.

So, while I don’t cater large events or sell meals-to-go at the farmer’s market, and I can’t welcome you to my restaurant, I can spend my day in your kitchen, creating delicious dishes chosen by you and prepared just the way you like them. As a personal chef, this is my goal: To make dinner something to look forward to and to savor, one client at a time.

If you’ve missed reading up on the top food trends for 2019, they include increased industrial investment in lab grown “meats”, beverages enhanced with CBD, and the unprejudiced acceptance of imperfect ugly vegetables. While these trends may not appeal to everyone, there is one projected food trend that we all may want to consider – Eating at Home.

Wow. How did eating at home become a “food trend” anyway? Have we strayed that far from the generations-old daily ritual of dinner at the table, where our parents and grandparents gathered to eat and share the days news? Yes, it’s true. Many of us would have to admit that long work days and commutes and our family extracurricular activities have turned dinner time into a challenge. The priority list has often become (1) Eating – anything, (2) Eating around dinner time, (3) Eating something healthy, (4) Eating together.

Have faith! According to recent studies, “eating in” as a practice that we Americans are trying hard to hold onto, and we’re turning to convenience to do so. While eating at home is generally more affordable than eating out, the composition of the home-made meal and the means of preparing it are evolving.

Traditionally, the American recipe for dinner has been the combination of a vegetable, a starch and a protein, most often prepared separately and occupying individual sections of the plate. However, the final meal of the day is morphing towards a one-dish-fits-all model as a means of bringing all of the components together with less effort. While our mother’s cooking magazines once boasted recipes for stews, casseroles, or the multi-ingredient taco, we’re now cooking up sheet pan dinners and Instantpot meals. Many of us are also embracing the convenience of gathering groceries without touring the store via online shopping, and cooking without the bother of planning by ordering entire meal kits for delivery. In addition, our local supermarkets are investing marketing dollars and shelf space in more upscale store-prepared meals to go, enticing us away from traditional “fast food” towards meals with a more home-made appeal. Experts hypothesize that meals will trend toward a combination of these practices, containing some store or restaurant prepared components with other areas of the plate reserved for humble recipes made in the home kitchen. Order a burger (expertly grilled), toss up a salad. Pick up a hearty soup (lots of chopping), layer up a sandwich.

As we welcome 2019, consider becoming part of the “Eating In” phenomenon. Hold fast to the time honored tradition of enjoying a relaxing meal on a regular basis with those you care about. Food trend or not, some things never go out of style.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/eustaciahuen/2018/11/30/foodtrends/#69aace42507e
https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/2018/the-future-of-dinner-in-america-will-reflect-past-traditions-but-with-modern-twists/

I’ve had the pleasure of being a member of Eight Mile Creek Farm’s CSA program for several years and have enjoyed not only the fresh organic favorites such as cucumbers, cabbage, squash and green beans, but also unique varieties including rainbow carrots, crispino lettuce and siberian kale. And the eggs – did I mention the organic eggs?! The shells come in a variety of delicate hues, and the yolks are large and luminous with a color that brings to mind marigolds and sunshine! I’m also a fan of the many photos which Pam includes in her blog about life on the farm, which frequently feature her endearing and lovable horses, cows and dogs as well as the beautiful surrounding farm land. My family is happily spoiled by the farms rich and abundant produce, and we’re proud to support Pam and her amazing woman-owned and operated business.

More About Eight Mile Creek Farm Eight Mile Creek Farm is nestled away on 250 acres of gorgeous farmland southwest of Albany in Westerlo, New York. The farm dates back to 1835, and now supports a widely diversified agricultural business. With a background in nutritional sciences, owner and self-taught farmer Pam Schreiber maintains the farms annual organic certification and aims to provide her customers with a great variety of nutrient dense products. The farm operates based on the concept of regenerative agriculture, which strives to improve yields while reducing external inputs by conserving water, nurturing topsoil and promoting biodiversity. Pam produces over 100 types of organic vegetables and herbs, along with certified organic grass-fed beef, pork, chicken and pastured eggs. In addition, organic turkeys are available for the holidays. The farm is a member of the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA) and Slow Food USA. Eight Mile Creek Farm is resident at the Peekskill Farmers Market on Saturdays and offers CSA shares year-round at slect drop off locations (home delivery available in some areas).

http://www.eightmilecreekfarm.com

Photo Credit: Pam Schreiber, Eight Mile Creek Farm