Capital Region Palate

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Locally sourced + locally produced = innovative creations
By Barbara Pinckney

Adine Viscusi is a locavore—that is, someone who eats locally-sourced food whenever possible.

“The whole way I feed my family and the way I like to cook has a connection to the area,” said Viscusi, the third-generation co-owner of Casa Visco Finer Foods in Schenectady. “And if I do that as an individual, how could I not do that as a business woman?”

That is easier said than done. There are not enough tomatoes grown locally, year-round, to produce the full line of Italian sauces Casa Visco sells through retailers in 33 states. But Viscusi was determined to do what she could. So last year, when Casa Visco celebrated its 70th anniversary, it also introduced the Awesome Sauce line, three products made entirely from produce grown in the Capital Region and Hudson Valley.

“We will never make a dent in the number of tomatoes we use, because we use millions and millions of pounds, but it was a statement that we wanted to support local farms,” Viscusi said.

Casa Visco is not alone in this sentiment. Several manufacturers of local foods and beverages, many headed by people who spend their weekends at area farmers’ markets, source locally as much as they can. They say they are feeding the demand of people like themselves—locavores who want to know where their food is coming from and who like the idea of supporting regional producers enough to pay a little extra for their pasta sauce or granola or cider or whiskey.

“It shows customers that not only are we a local manufacturer, but we care enough to put a significant portion of the money we spend on ingredients back into the local community,” said Sandro Gerbini, founder and president of Schenectady-based Gatherer’s Gourmet Granola.  “We believe that is a healthy model for a sustainable local economy.”

Meeting at farmers’ markets

Gatherer’s, whose six granola varieties are available in more than 150 stores in New York, Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as through national retailer The Vitamin Shoppe, got its start, about six years ago, by selling at area farmers’ markets. Gerbini called that time “very informative.”

“People who shop at farmers’ markets and co-ops tend to be a little pickier about the sourcing of the ingredients that go into their products,” he said. “And they are very vocal when it comes to what they believe in. They trained us to care about things like local sourcing and using organic ingredients and really trying to be as environmentally friendly as we can be.”

He said Gatherer’s met most of its local suppliers at the farmers’ markets. The company uses peanut butter made by The Peanut Principle in Albany and locally-harvested syrup from Buck’s Maple Barn in Schoharie County and Adirondack Maple Farm in Montgomery County. It hopes to resume working with a honey supplier in Schenectady County, from which it had to stop purchasing because the supplier lacked the non-GMO certification retailers demanded.

“They are finally starting to loosen up and make it easier for smaller, local honey producers to get non-GMO certification,” Gerbini said. “For the longest time there were only a few sources for non-GMO honey, most of which came from either National Parks or the Rainforest where they knew there was no contamination from GMO crops.”

One of Gerbini’s biggest frustrations is Gatherer’s inability to use locally grown oats, something “we would desperately love” to do. While many area farmers grow oats, they sell through large mills that do not separate by source location.

Nine Pin Ciderworks has had an easier time finding the ingredients it needs to make its hard cider. The Albany company, which opened in 2014, was New York’s first farm cidery, licensed under a law that requires it to use New York apples. It has decided to limit the geography to the Capital Region and Hudson Valley. Suppliers include Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, Lindsey Orchards in Clifton Park and Rogers Family Orchard in Johnstown.

“The combination of varieties and volume of the local apple crop makes it practical from a quality and business standpoint to source 100 percent of our fruit locally,” said Josh Whelan, sales manager for Nine Pin.

Nine Pin has been producing 65,000 gallons of cider each year, but is increasing that to 250,000 gallons—the limit permitted with a farm cidery license—as part of $500,000 upgrade. The company’s products are available in stores, bars and restaurants in New York and Massachusetts.

The Albany Distilling Co. Inc. operates under a similar law as a farm distillery. It is required to source at least 75 percent of its grain in the state, but has opted to do 100 percent for its craft whiskies. Some of that comes from Gordon Farm Inc. in Berne, and the company expects to start buying from a farmer in Schaghticoke who planted rye for the first time this year. The rest comes from outside the region because “unfortunately there is not a lot of small grain production it the Capital District,” said John Curtin, a partner in Albany Distilling.   

Curtin said Albany Distilling, whose products are available in dozens of bars, restaurants and liquor stores in New York and New Jersey, would buy from New York farmers even without the state law. “We are required to buy New York grain, but we also try to use New York barrel makers, New York label companies and so forth,” he said. “Any items we can source locally we are happy to pay a premium for. The downside is, it does drive up our costs and so we have to pass those on to the consumer. But I think the appeal of buying goods that are sourced locally gives some incentive for people to pay a higher price. So maybe we come out ahead a little bit. We at least break even.”

‘Local helps local’

Casa Visco’s Viscusi shares Curtin’s “local helps local” philosophy. “I go out of my way as a local manufacturer to use other local businesses,” she said.

It is perhaps because another area company felt the same way that Viscusi realized the possibilities of using locally-grown produce in some Casa Visco sauces. A few years ago, Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the Sharon Springs farmers known as The Fabulous Beekman Boys, asked Casa Visco to make a sauce for their Beekman 1802 label. “They asked if we could use an heirloom tomato and have someone locally grow it,” Viscusi said.

So Viscusi went to Denison Farms, the Schagticoke farm that has supplied her family with fresh vegetables for years, and asked owner Justine Denison to grow an heirloom tomato.  Ridge and Purcell got seeds donated to them, and Denison grew 4,000 pounds of fresh heirloom tomatoes that Casa Visco employees processed by hand.

The resulting sauce was a great success, and inspired Viscusi to create the three Awesome Sauces, including the chunky Garden Harvest variety.

“We literally went to growers in the Hudson Valley and said we were thinking of doing a garden sauce, and asked what kind of veggies grow in New York,” Viscusi said. “One suggested summer squash, because it is super cheap and abundant and wouldn’t alter the flavor much but would give nice consistency and chunk.  We never would have thought of that.”

Other ingredients include scallions, zucchini, beets and carrots, along with tomatoes from Denison Farms. One dollar from every jar of Awesome Sauce sold goes to the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York.

Gerbini said Gatherer’s is careful about relying too much on specific local ingredients, since an inventory shortfall or price hike could disrupt production. But it gets inspired by local ingredients. “Recently we’ve been looking at a couple of very regional fruits, including the serviceberry, as potential ingredients,” he said. “The serviceberry is an up and coming superfood with lots of antioxidant properties that also happens to be native to the Northeast.”

Sourcing locally is not always easy, but manufacturers say it can pay off when it comes time to present a product to retailers, at least in this region. “Having our products on their shelves makes a statement about their feeling toward locally-sourced items, which resonates with their customers,” Nine Pin’s Whelan said.

Viscusi agreed, pointing to the growing number of stores showcasing locally made and sourced products. “There is no more expensive real estate in the world than supermarket retail shelves,” she said.  “So if you see them devoting space to it, it means there is a real desire for it.”

Manufacturers say the locavore culture has taken root, in part, because consumers are better informed and more savvy, than in the past.

“People want to know what is in their food,” Viscusi said. “As the years go by, people are more and more reliant on reading labels. I think when they know something is produced locally they have a greater trust in the process.”

Curtin, of Albany Distilling, pointed to the “homogenization” of America and said the desire for locally sourced and produced foods and beverages may be a response to that.

“The United States is huge and there are lots of regional differences and local specialties, and I think people are getting back into that mode of what is close and accessible regionally,” he said. “So I think it’s an overall trend and we are just a very small part of a huge cultural shift.”


Local restaurants say ‘do try this at home’
By Beth Krueger

Ever feel like you’re in a rut with the meals you prepare at home? My mother once hoped wistfully that someone would invent a new meat.  I found another way to take a new turn in my kitchen cuisine.

I made fried catfish with Executive Chef Jasper Alexander of the iconic Saratoga Springs restaurant Hattie’s at my side. Well, not exactly, but close.

Hattie’s

9781581573466_300Some 15 years ago, Jasper and Beth Alexander bought Hattie’s, a legendary Saratoga establishment for Southern cooking since 1938.  They have worked to perpetuate its history, creating, as Chef Alexander says, “consistent food memories for my customers” blending “my own culinary sensibilities into a menu that continuously evolves but never loses sight of its past.”  Through the Alexanders’ catering company and cooking at home, he has explored new ideas.  His skill is known nationally, as noted in Best Chefs of America (2013), Food and Wine (2012), New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe and particularly through his appearance on the Food Network’s television program, “Thowdown with Bobby Flay”—which he won.

Fast-forward to 2016. Fans of Hattie’s the Chef Alexander’s cooking are thrilled that his long-discussed cookbook, The Hattie’s Restaurant Cookbook: Classic Southern and Louisiana Recipes, is making its debut (The Countryman Press-a division of W.W. Norton & Company).

It’s not the usual cookbook that presents a collection of recipes and perhaps a glossary and table of equivalents. This book takes the reader along on the evolution of Hattie’s and the adventures of the Alexanders in connecting and reconnecting with Saratoga and the restaurant.  Then, of course, there are the recipes, coupled with substantial advice on their preparation and valuable counsel on deep frying at home. Urging readers to consume these tips and the read the full recipe before getting under way, Chef Alexander notes, “I’ve tried to avoid surprises at the end, but sometimes the last step isn’t a quick step—such as a sauce needing to reduce for 20 minutes.”

When I mentioned the welcome arrival of the cookbook to a colleague, the response was quick, “Did you see that the fried chicken recipe is in there?” While tempting, I slated that for another day and chose the catfish for my debut. The fish weren’t jumping in the lake that evening so I opted for farm-raised as not optimal but suitable, and carefully took the time to adhere to the tips—soaking the fish in the buttermilk and removing excess; dredging in cornmeal so that the coating was consistent;  selecting the right pan  and panfrying without crowding. I chose the lemony dill tartar, with plans to use the Creole tartar sauce next time. Very nice and definitely out of my cooking rut (though I won’t be subbing for the Chef at the restaurant).

Response to the cookbook has been terrific, says Beth Alexander. The cookbook is designed “so that the home cook is not intimidated” when trying the recipes, she notes, explaining that culinary advice is close at hand when she is cooking, since she is married to a chef.  Others don’t have that opportunity. The fried chicken recipe was the selection of one customer, who sent along photos of the positive home cooking result; his fried chicken on the second try was closer to the restaurant creation, he reported. The Jambalaya has been another popular recipe choice.

Chef Alexander will be appearing at the Saratoga Wine and Food Festival presented by the Saratoga Performing Arts Center on September 9-11; check for events at www.saratogawineandfood.com.

On September 28 at 6pm, he will be signing cookbooks at a launch party at Northshire Bookstore, 424 Broadway Saratoga Springs. Hattie’s is located at 45 Phila Street, Saratoga Springs—hattiesrestaurant.com.

Café Capriccio

cafe_capriccio_book_4That yen for adventure in the kitchen took me a step down from the sidewalk on Grand Street in Albany, where Italian creations are served on beautiful bowls. Chef Jim Rua, who opened the restaurant in 1982, has authored a series of four cookbooks, all sharing his experience, perspectives, and passion for the cuisine he presents, each told from a different angle. Café Capriccio: A Culinary Memoir (1992), containing more than 50 recipes with preparation advice, is self-described as “a tale of feasts, fables, foibles and felicities” and includes the people who have shaped the restaurant.

This was followed by The Pasta Lovers’ Fast Food Cookbook: A Modern Approach to the Mediterranean Diet (2000). Café Capriccio’s Chef’s Table (2012) stems from the special dinners he has prepared for 10-16 guests for special occasions.  Chef’s Table cooking, which includes antipasti, pasta or risotto, main course and dessert, often reflects travels to Italy, Spain, Portugal and elsewhere. “This book,” he says, “is intended to assist you with techniques and choices when cooking for family and friends”—your own chef’s table. In 2014, Chef Rua produced The Café Capriccio Picture Book, providing photographs of dishes prepared as part of meals served at the restaurant’s Chef’s Table and succinct recipes of what is pictured. “Nothing in this book,” he notes, “was created for the camera or for production.” The photographs are so enticing that one can almost smell the aroma.

Which recipe should be the first tried among the offerings in these four books? Part of the culinary fun is making the choice. After much review, I was drawn to spaghetti with shrimp and pomodorini, a colorful dish with ingredients growing outside my door—cherry tomatoes, basil and parsley. Using tips for preparation learned from the other books, I got all the ingredients ready to go and created a tasty meal and made plans to make it again.

The cookbooks are available through the restaurant. Visit Café Capriccio at 49 Grand Street, Albany—www.cafecapriccio.com.


Central NY sources locally grown ingredients for fantastic flavors

The Central New York locavore scene is fueled by flavor with locally grown ingredients contributing to some of the most enviable menus in the Northeast.

Restaurants in the region use dozens of nearby producers to craft one-of-a-kind, fresh and delicious plates. Locavore restaurants thrive here, thanks to deep roots in agriculture that have brought quality products to market for centuries.

CNYFresh captures the essence of a Central New York growers’ commitment to quality products, including produce, dairy and craft beverages. From U-picks to farmers’ markets, CNYFresh.com guides agritourists to all the exceptional flavors of Central New York.

CNY Fresh-Origins Cafe[2] copy“We believe in supporting the food traditions that create the culture of our community,” says Kristen Leonard, co-owner of Origins Cafe in Cooperstown.

Everything served at Origins is locally sourced. In fact, most of its ingredients come right out of Origins’ greenhouse built by co-owners Kristen and Dana Leonard’s father. Inside are fresh herbs, tropical plants, coffee beans and fruits – all of which contribute to an ever-changing menu based on what is available and what is the freshest to serve for that day.

Changing with seasons

Aaron Katovich, owner and chef of The Table at Fort Plain restaurant, follows similar practices. “We do a lot with locally grown produce mostly,” he says. Most of The Table’s locally grown ingredients include honey, dairy, cheese and eggs. However, what is available changes with the seasons.

In the spring, Katovich gets locally grown ingredients like fiddleheads and nettles to produce one-of-a-kind dishes. Also, spruce tips in the spring help make a delicious wild mustard. In the summer, numerous buds, flowers, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis and berries are available. Different types of squash and pumpkins are popular during the fall. While winter can be difficult, Katovich saves a lot of the fall produce to carry into the colder months.

Much like fellow CNYFresh partner Origins Café, the menu at The Table is different by the day based on what is delivered or harvested.

Bull Moose Farm and J&B Farms are two examples of locally-sourced farms that work with The Table at Fort Plains. Some of the farm’s ingredients help to serve up unique dishes such as delicious and fresh quesadillas or pork chops with local honey and Russian sage.

Locavore restaurants are just a piece of the growing agri-tourism scene in Central New York. The CNYFresh initiative maps out trails dedicated to U-picks, markets and farms that continue the agricultural tradition here.

‘We grow beer’

Empire Brewing Co. owner David Katleski focuses on New York food production to get the best and the freshest products for his Syracuse brewpub and farmstead brewery in nearby Cazenovia.

An award-winning brewery, Empire aspires to provide its customers with the finest organic ingredients available by using fresh, locally sourced products and defines its business philosophy with the phrases, “Eat where you live,” and “We grow beer.”

Empire does business with more than 60 different farmers from Central New York. They buy all hops and barley in-state, and use all-New York renewable energy.

In 2007, Katleski tested a carbon footprint with one single piece of food and determined that it was traveling more than 3,500 miles before it even got to the plate. “We started focusing on sustainability and on utilizing all of the resources that are abundant to us in Central New York.”

Visit CNYFresh.com to learn more about the locavore eateries and producers that make Central New York a true food tourism destination.


Capital Region Farmers’ Markets

Altamont Orchards Farm Stand
August 27-December 24
6654 Dunnsville Road, Altamont
Daily 9:30am-5pm

Amsterdam Saturday Farmers’ Market
May 21-October 8
Walter Elwood Museum, 100 Church Street
Saturday 10am-2pm

Ballston Spa Farmers’ Market
June 9-October
8 Wiswall Park, Front and Low Streets
Saturday 9am-12pm; Thursday 3pm-6pm

CDPHP Farmers’ Market
May 26-October 13
CDPHP parking lot off Washington Avenue 500 Patroon Creek Blvd., Albany
Thursday 11am-1:30pm

Clifton Park Farmers’ Market
July 7-October 27
St. George’s Church 912 Rt. 146 at Maxwell Drive
Thursday 2pm-5pm

Colonie Crossings Farmers’ Market
May 21-October 1
580 Albany Shaker Road, Loudonville
Saturday 9am-1pm

Cook Park Farmers’ Market
May 12-October 13
Sharon Drive Pavilion Cook Park, Colonie
Thursday 4pm-7pm

Delaware Community Farmers’ Market
June 21-November 15
331 Delaware Avenue, Albany
June-September Tuesday 4pm-7pm; October-November Tuesday 3pm-6pm

Delmar Saturday Farmers’ Market
May 7-December 17
Bethlehem Central Middle School 332 Kenwood Avenue
Saturday 9am-1pm Delmar Tuesday Farmers’ Market May 3-November 22 428 Kenwood Avenue Tuesday 2:30pm-6pm

Downtown Albany Farmers’ Market
Year-round(Indoor Market -Inside SUNY building)
SUNY Plaza 353 Broadway and State Street
Thursday 10am-2pm

East Greenbush Farmers’ Market
June 15-October 5 East Greenbush Library, 10-20 Community Way
Wednesday 4pm-7pm

Empire State Plaza Friday Farmers’ Market
May 4-October 14
Empire State Plaza near the Capitol Friday 10am-2pm

Empire State Plaza Wednesday Farmers’ Market
Year-round(Winter inside South Concourse)
Empire State Plaza, in front of Capitol
Wednesday 10am-2pm

Farm to Preschool I Farmers’ Market
June 14-September 27
YWCA NENY, 44 Washington Avenue, Schenectady
Tuesday 2:30pm-5:30pm

Farm to Preschool II Farmers’ Market
June 16-September 29
Parsons Early Learning Center 125 Bigelow Avenue, Schenectady
Thursday 2pm-4:30pm

Farm to Preschool III Farmers’ Market
June 13-September 26
Cohoes Community Center 22-40 Remsen Street
Monday 2:30pm-5:30pm

Farm to Preschool IV Farmers’ Market
June 15-September 28
Lansingburgh Family Resource Center 754 4th Avenue, Troy
Wednesday 1:30pm-4:30pm

Glens Falls Farmers’ Market
May 7-October 29
South Street Market Pavilion Saturday 8am-12pm

Greenfield Center Farmers’ Market
June 24-September 9
428 Middle Grove Road
Friday 4pm-7pm

Greenwich Farmers’ Market
May 4-October 26
106 Main Street
Wednesday 3pm-6pm

Harriman State Campus Farmers’ Market
May 5-October 13
Harriman State Office Campus, behind building 8A Albany
Thursday 10am-2pm

Malta Farmers’ Market
June 28-October 25
Allerdice Ace Hardware parking lot 2570 Route 9
Tuesday 3pm-6pm

New Covenant Farmers’ Market
May 24-October 4
916 Western Avenue, Albany
Tuesday 3pm-6pm

North Greenbush Farmers’ Market
June 9-September 8
Twin Town Little League Park Williams Road
Thursday 2:30pm-6pm

Route 50 Green Market
June 11-October 1
802 Saratoga Road, Burnt Hills
Saturday 9am-1pm

Saratoga Farmers’ Market
May 7-October 29
High Rock Park on High Rock Avenue
Saturday 9am-1pm; Wednesday 3pm-6pm

Schenectady City Hall Farmers’ Market
May 12-November 24
City Hall 105 Jay Street
Thursday 9:30am-1:30pm

Schenectady Greenmarket
May 1-October 30
105 Jay Street near City Hall
Sunday 10am-2pm

South End Farmers’ Market
July 9-October 8
Lincoln Park Eagle Street and Morton Avenue, Albany
Saturday 12pm-4pm

South Glens Falls Farmers’ Market
June 6-October 24
Village Park 5th Street
Monday 10am-1pm

Town of Galway Farmers’ Market
June 17-September 30
5078 Sacandaga Road, Route 147
Friday 3pm-6pm

Troy Waterfront Farmers’ Market
May 7-October 29
Monument Square, 282 River Street Downtown Troy
Saturday 9am-2pm

Upper Union St. Farmers’ Market
May 7-October 29 1760 Union Street Municipal Parking Lot
Saturday 9am-1:30pm

Voorheesville Farmers’ Market
June 15-September
28 First United Methodist Church 68 Maple Avenue
Wednesday 3:30pm-6:30pm

Courtesy of New York State Department of Agriculture & Markets.
For a complete list visit http://www.agriculture.ny.gov/

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