A septet of female chefs and food-and-beverage producers from the Finger Lakes region will be featured presenters at the esteemed James Beard House in Manhattan in January.
The team, headed by Geneva’s Samantha Buyskes, is currently listed on the house’s list of events for Jan. 18’s “Finger Lakes Winter Fantasy.” Tickets for the public for the blank-course meal, including passed hors oeuvres, cider and wine, are $180 each. (Members of the foundation get a discount.)
The team includes some of the Finger Lakes region’s culinary pioneers along with more recent arrivals.
The dinner resulted from an encounter Buyskes had last April while attending a conference on women in the culinary field. She approached two women from the James Beard house to inquire about how one gets invited to cook there. Usually the special meals are prepared by people who have won the coveted awards from the James Beard Foundation or who are invited by the staff.
“It’s always worth asking the question,” Buyskes said, so she asked, thinking the worst that could happen is they turn her down.
Buyskes mentioned to them that she has worked with 2019 Beard nominee Nancy Irelan, of Red Tail Ridge Winery in Penn Yan, and when she returned home the two of them put their heads together. Somewhere along the line the idea of an all-female team took root and the pair decided to recruit their dream team.
“Many wonderful women in the Finger Lakes … have been working in the field for a long time,” Buyskes said. “It’s more so about that we haven’t gotten the limelight, as much as our counterparts have.”
Buyskes, originally from South Africa, has been cooking in the Finger Lakes for at least 20 years. She competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped” show in 2010, and has been the founding or executive chef at a variety of ground-breaking restaurants in Ithaca, Trumansburg, and Geneva. In 2018 she created the locavore cuisine at the Ramada in Geneva and most recently has been working independently, organizing culinary special events.
Irelan’s first pick, Buyskes said, was cider-maker Autumn Stoscheck of Eve’s Cidery. She founded the cidery in 2001 in Van Etten, a rural community in Chemung County south of Ithaca. Buyskes immediately thought of Susanne Messmer, who with husband Dave started Lively Run Dairy in Interlaken, Seneca County, in 1982, one of the first artisanal cheese makers in the Finger Lakes, if not the very first.
They filled out the team with Trish Aser, chef at Brown Hound Bistro in South Bristol, Ontario County, which in 2016 became Brown Hound Downtown at the Memorial Art Gallery; Claire Benjamin of Rue Claire Lavender Farm & Artisan Chocolates in Lodi, Seneca County, and Linnea Shumway, culinary manager of FLX Hospitality Group in Geneva.
Buyskes said she thought of a regional team, as the Finger Lakes hasn’t be represented at the James Beard house since two well-known chefs – Dano Hutnik of Dano’s Heuriger on Seneca and Debra Whiting of Red Newt Bistro, died in 2018 and 2011, respectively.
“Dano did dinners at the James Beard House for years,” Buyskes said. “Since his passing, there hasn’t been a (Finger Lakes) regional dinner at the James Beard house.” She was invited to attend one of his 10 dinners there, but wasn’t able to make it, so her visit will be to cook a meal herself.
Each of the chefs and producers is responsible for a different part of the meal. Irelan and Stoscheck will provide wines and ciders. Shumway is making a sprouted lentil salad, Aser is making both soup and a gratin with root vegetables, Messmer is creating a cheese course in the middle of the meal, Buyskes is making a leg of lamb with accompaniments, and Benjamin will present chocolate truffles. The entire menu is available online at the James Beard House’s site.
Owing to the demands for the space, chefs are encouraged to do as much of their prep work as possible before they arrive, just finishing items in the Beard house kitchen. Buyskes said the Finger Lakes team will access the kitchen at 8 a.m. on the day of the dinner. The townhouse, where the “dean of American cuisine” lived before his death in 1985, is in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Buyskes said she feels up to the challenge, but she still pinches herself every time she receives an email from the James Beard House.
“For an immigrant girl, these opportunities, I’m very grateful for them,” she said.
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