By Samuel Weisman, Contributing Writer
OSWEGO, NY- A full house Friday night enjoyed a meal made from ingredients provided by Oswego County farmers.
The guests quickly filled The American Foundry as the Harvest Dinner, a celebration of Oswego County produce and farmers, gets under way.
A trio of some of Oswego’s finest chefs prepared the feast at The American Foundry Friday as part of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County’s first ever Harvest Dinner.
Although Oswego County is typically known for apples and onions, a bountiful array of produce was made available including different cheeses, leeks, squash and even elk.
Valerie Walthert, agriculture economic developer for CCE said, “It is in essence, a celebration of the great things Oswego farmers do here. It shows folks you can really eat a balanced diet in Oswego County.”
Brian Leary, owner of Lakeshore Hardwoods, helps out family friends and local business Ashley Lynn Winery by handing out samples of fruit wines.
More than a dinner, the event was meant to educate the guests on what is available from local farmers.
Paul Forestiere II, executive director of CCE said, “We are extremely proud of this event. The fact is that there is a lot of great agricultural produce and fresh meat products available right here in their back door. We want people to walk away knowing we have a lot of great farmers and an agricultural community here producing great foods. We are one of the only counties in the state where people can eat complete meals from things produced locally. Not many counties can say that.”
Chef Raymond Jock, owner of La Parrilla in Oswego, puts out a farm salad for the guests to enjoy.
Chef Raymond Jock, owner of La Parrilla in Oswego, was one of the chefs who donated his time to participate in the event.
His station provided an elk chili with chimichurri, focaccia bread, whole wheat pasta with roasted eggplant, stewed tomatoes and ricotta, and a farm salad with raw beets, apples, cucumbers, goat cheese, lemon and olive oil.
“This is fun for me. Right from the get go, we have always used local ingredients from day one. We don’t buy anything from out of town. Everything is bought here or as close as possible. There was a lot of press about the restaurant when it got up and going. Valerie approached me and that is how we got on board,” Chef Jock said.
An intern working with Jock, Jessica Harman, added, “Ray loves to give back to the community and this is just one of the many things he has done.”
Rebecca Vrooman enjoys a piece of roast elk with butternut squash and cranberry barbecue sauce. "It's all good, I can't pick a favorite," she exclaimed.
Emil Nymander, head chef at The American Foundry, agreed saying that the event was fun.
He said that being a chef is a very stressful job, but not this night.
“This is easy,” Chef Nymander said. “It is like driving a go-cart.”
His station offered potato leek stew with smoked ham, onion tart with goat cheese, stuffed lady apples with amarena cheese, and a fantastic roast elk with butternut squash and cranberry barbecue sauce.
For dessert, Chef Nymander prepared apple turnovers, which were flaky, light and delicious.
Valerie Walthert, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County’s agriculture economic developer, introduces keynote speaker Julie Powell to the stage.
Shawna Gallton, head chef at Kristi’s Restaurant, also satisfied the sold-out crowd with her delicious bee sting cake, apple cider roasted chicken and maple glazed carrots.
She said that her favorite thing to cook was the bee sting cake because of her love of sweets.
The three chefs prepared recipes that received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the crowd.
Among the many guests at the event was Oswego County Legislator Amy Tresidder.
Keynote speaker and author Julie Powell takes the stage at the Harvest Dinner. Her book Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously was a 2005 New York Times Best-Seller and later turned into a movie.
“What I plan on learning, and what I hope the everybody else learns, is that we can have a whole meal based on foods from Oswego County, and we can feed everybody in the county, and you can buy anything you need right here in the county,” she said. “The main thing about buying locally is that not only are you benefiting the that particular farm or restaurant, but you have a ripple effect on our economy and you are contributing to the whole picture.”
She added that she was most looking forward to trying the vegetables such as rutabagas and squash.
State Senator Darrel Aubertine was there to enjoy the feast as well.
“I want to try it all. When I think of Oswego County of course I think apple and onions, so anything with apples or onions I am interested in,” the senator said. “It always amazes me the connections that can be made in a setting like this, especially events as well attended as this. It’s good to come to this and recognize the connection that is made between the farmers, the county and the towns. Clearly this is an opportunity to showcase and accent the agriculture and education that is offered here in Oswego County. This is a great event.”
The dishes varied so much and were so delectable that is was hard for guests to pick favorites.
Guests wait in line to try some elk chili with chimichurri and some whole wheat pasta with roasted eggplant, stewed tomatoes and ricotta.
Judy Coniski said, “I wouldn’t believe how good elk could be. It is extremely tender.”
One guest even went as far to say that the whole wheat pasta was the best thing he had ever eaten in his life.
Rebecca Vroom said, “Everything is so good. It is a wonderful, wonderful thing, and the elk is delicious.”
Another Oswego County Legislator, Terry Wilbur, enjoyed some pasta and the crowd-pleasing elk.
“This is a great opportunity to help farms in tough economic times,” he said.
For a special treat, New York Times Best-Selling author Julie Powell was the keynote speaker.
Her book Julie & Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously was adapted into a popular movie.
Walthert introduced the author and said, “If anyone can convey the importance of having local foods readily available it is Julie from her cooking experience.”
A sign of the season, a pumpkins greeted guests as they made their way inside The American Foundry.
Powell said, “I didn’t realize what a vibrant agricultural community was up here in Oswego and I’m honored.”
Conlee Shannon, owner of The American Foundry, said she was excited to try everything.
“I get satisfaction seeing the organization, CCE, do well,” she added. “I am glad to see so many people turning out for them.”
Forestiere said that after seeing how this event turned out, CCE hopes to make it bigger and more delicious in the future.