What a fantastic event. It was inspiring. The people were amazing. And the food and beer was phenomenal. I’m talking about the Locavore Dinner in Utica hosted by Mohawk Valley EDGE on September 10, 2013. The event would have been worthwhile solely for the five course meal pairing local foods prepared by the good folks at Loaf, Leaf & Ladle with Saranac beers—with Nick Matt, CEO of F.X. Matt Brewing Company, introducing and explaining each pairing. But on top of that, there was a speaker from the local food and beverage business community to accompany each course and the announcement of the winners of the EDGEccelerator Business Competition. But wait there’s more, because the room was full of food entrepreneurs, foodees, economic development folks, and representatives of the local business community and government—a crowd of important people hearing the message and experiencing firsthand the power and potential of the local food system.
The Locavore Dinner was held at the Dorothy Smith Center for Advocacy at the Resource Center for Independent Living (RCIL) on Genesee Street and made possible by a generous list of sponsors, including many of the local food producers who donated product for the event. Debra Richardson and the chefs at Loaf, Leaf & Ladle
sourced the local foods and developed the fantastic five course menu. The folks from F.X. Matt Brewing Company
supplied the beer and paired them expertly with each course. It has become a signature event of Mohawk Valley EDGE
, an economic development organization supporting the location, startup, and growth of businesses in Oneida and Herkimer counties.
The evening started with a cocktail hour that included Saranac and Utica Club beer, but also some great cocktails featuring vodka and gin from Utica’s own Adirondack Distilling Company
. Once we actually sat down at our tables, the main event began. We were fortunate to be seated at a table that included Jordan Karp and others from Adirondack distillery, Joe Silberlicht from the local Slow Food chapter, and the ultimate winners of the EDGEccelerator Business Competition, Adirondack Barrel Cooperage. Talking to all of these people about their organizations and vision for the local food scene and culinary tourism potential in the region was great fun. Kelly Blozosky, who is starting the cooperage with her husband, is also the president of Oneida County Tourism and heavily involved in CNY Fresh.
The five course meal started with locally sourced poached pear, Nokkelost cheese, smoked trout, dried fruit chutney, and Heidelberg bread
paired with Saranac Pale Ale. The second course was a salad of roasted beet and greens with fresh chevre and a bacon balsamic reduction paired with Saranac Black Forest (which continues to be one of my favorite Saranac brews and paired amazingly with the beet salad). The third course was pasta with garlic sausage and kale in Maria’s Pasta
Vodka Sauce paired with Saranac Octoberfest. It sounds simple, but it was phenomenal and something I could make a meal of anytime. The main course was coq au vin with mashed vegetables and greens paired with Saranac Legacy IPA. The Legacy IPA is a special beer for the 125th
anniversary of the brewery and not that easy to come by. We actually hunted down some extra after our tasting cups were empty, since it is a great IPA and very well with the meal. Dessert was an awesome honey-lavender brulee and shortbread cookie paired with Saranac Harvest Ale and quickly followed with Utica Coffee Roasting
coffee (as an aside, the cold brew from Utica Coffee Roasting at the NYS Fair was fantastic—I forgot to mention that in my If I Ran the State Fair
Through all of this great food and table conversation, there was a line of speakers put together by Mohawk Valley EDGE that inspired and challenged the attendees to keep growing the local food system. Tim Hardiman from The Tailor and The Cook
started things off speaking of the difficulty of sourcing local foods while at the same time impressing many of us with the amount of local perishables he is currently using. Jim Manning from Cornell Cooperative Extension spoke about the success of the Mohawk Valley Food Action Network and launch of the Food Policy Advisory Council. Jordan Karp from Adirondack Distilling Company spoke about the merits of local quality over industrial cheap and the virtue of spending in your own community. Suzie Jones of Jones Family Farm
(their chicken was the centerpiece of the main course) talked about their commitment to farm-to-table, doing as much as they can on the farm (with certified cheese production and meat processing on farm), and serving the local market over NYC or other more distant markets. George Jersey from Wild Mountain Apiaries gave some amazing numbers on honey consumption, markets, and the underproduction in New York State. After my experience with NY honey tasting at the State Fair and George’s presentation, I am convinced that we need to actively grow the number and scale of beekeeping operations across Upstate New York.
Obviously, the whole event was food geek paradise, so I couldn’t have had a better evening. My wife likes good food, but isn’t as devoted to food as a fuel for business and economic development as I am. But she attended the event with me and had almost as much fun as I did tasting, talking, and learning. I hope that the inspiration and conversations started there will carry through into entrepreneurship and action in the Utica community and beyond.