Community Over Competition

Yesterday was Pay It Forward Day and it had me reflecting on all the kindness we have witnessed over the past months. Chris and I started We Eat CNY as a way for us to expand our horizons and do something fun together. Our Friday night date nights were our time to reconnect after a long week and documenting them was our inspiration. It was also a way to break us out of our rut. We tended to go to the same few restaurants and stay close to home, all the while feeling like we were missing out on something. With two young children and working full time during the week, we were often too tired to think of where we wanted to go out for dinner. So, we decided to be more adventurous and start paying closer attention to the restaurants in the area and where we would visit. By expanding our culinary horizons, we also expanded our social circle and discovered a whole new group of people who have brought a new sense of community to our lives. 

Clockwise from the Left: Kate Johnson, Chris Johnson, Jen Hudson, and Dan Hudson - Photo Credit: Jen Hudson Photography

We recorded the third podcast with Jen and Dan Hudson at Phoebe's on Monday and had a wonderful time hearing the story of how they met and getting to know them a bit better. Since it was the week of spring break I was able to attend the recording instead of waiting intently for Chris to arrive home and listening to the unedited version while I make dinner. The podcast is a new experience for us and while we are beginners with the entire process, it has been a lot of fun. There was a real sense of camaraderie in the room and a lot of laughs. I love hearing the story behind the food we eat and events we attend. I always liken it to how much more affection you feel toward people once you share a meal together or are invited to their home. We enjoyed a late lunch downtown with them after and really could have talked well into the evening, but we were attending the Farm to Fork 101 dinner at The Mission and couldn't be late for that.

We have been very open about our love of the Farm to Fork 101 events and it boggles my mind that they have taken place for almost three years and we just learned about them a few months ago. We love all the creativity with the food, but the food is secondary to the strongly developed sense of community. Each dish is a surprise and seeing various chefs working together and sharing the stage is a testament to their mission of "Community Over Competition." If we want to fully appreciate all that this area has to offer, we need to acknowledge and celebrate the expertise of the people growing, supplying, cooking, serving, and even photographing the food that we eat.

Each person has something new to teach us and an offering for us to enjoy. We were pleased to meet Jenny, @theupstatemama on Instagram, and her husband, Drew, and talk with them during the cocktail hour. Laughs were shared and we all agreed that we would need to find another time to hang out again. We also got to sit with Barry and Amy from Two Kids Goat Farm and swapped plates during every course to make sure that Chris was able to get the best looking food shots that he could share. People have asked us if it is awkward when we attend events with other food bloggers and we always tell them that we have met some of the nicest people through this process. While we started out as comrades, we have become friends and socialize with them regularly. Sharing ideas and respectfully honoring each of our places in this food community is what makes it so special. Being able to ask for advice or rely on the input of people with more experience than we have is how we grow, and doing so with acknowledgment and appreciation is how we cultivate the relationships that are deeper than the ones we present on social media. We enjoyed five dishes from five chefs, representing four local restaurants:

  • Chilaquiles with Bison Heart Bacon: Anthony Donofrio - Modern Malt
  • Housemade Tamale Huitlacoche: Steve Morrison - The Mission Restaurant
  • Tortilla de Roscoldo: Rich Strub - Eden
  • Deconstructed Cuban Sandwich (Cuban Pork Belly Confit with Root Vegetable Purees): Shayne Cohen - The Mission Restaurant
  • Alfajores with a Honey and Tea Mousse: Kaleigh Ligoci - Sugar and Co.

Each dish was unique and representative of the person who made it, leaving us excited to visit each restaurant and see the chefs in their typical kitchen. 

After a busy few days at the beginning of the week, Chris and I took a little road trip to the Finger Lakes for an adventure. After hearing Sarah Hassler talk about her experience at Veraisons at Glenora Wine Cellars on the podcast, we knew we had to take trip and experience it for ourselves. We stopped along our way at Red Newt Cellars for a tasting and enjoyed lunch in their bistro. We left with some bottles of the Kelby James Russell 2016 Dry Rosé of Cabernet Franc and Red Newt 2012 Dry Riesling Reserve. 

 Sometimes the sun cooperates in Central New York.

Sometimes the sun cooperates in Central New York.

The sun began to shine as we pulled into Glenora and we knew we were about to experience something fabulous. We ordered a cheese plate to take back to our room and enjoy with a bottle of their Dry Riesling and had the pleasure of meeting executive chef Orlando Rodriguez while we waited. If you listened to our first podcast you will know that Orlando is the Jedi Master behind the evolution of Sarah's culinary career and we were excited to see him in action. Our dinner at Veraisons did not disappoint! The food was excellent, but beyond the food was the culture of the restaurant that is so impressive. Chris and I have admired the sense of community we witness at The Stoop Kitchen and you could see its roots throughout our dinner at Veraisons. From the moment we entered the room we were welcomed to a dining experience that managed to be both comfortable and special. Every person employed by the restaurant worked together to ensure that the needs of the guests were met at every opportunity. If our server was at another table, someone else passed by and checked in with us. Watching the interaction among the staff members and their interaction with Chef Rodriguez was a testament to the idea of community over competition. There is a culture of collaboration and teamwork that is palpable, and the guests feel a part of it as soon as they walk into the restaurant. Our dinner and experience were worth the drive and we highly recommend treating yourselves to a meal at Veraisons if you are thinking of heading to Seneca Lake!

Fresh from our dinner at Veraisons, we felt compelled to stop at The Stoop Kitchen when we returned to Syracuse. We were able to enjoy a nice chat with owner, Eric Alderman, visit with Sarah, and preview some of their new menu offerings: mussels, braised asparagus, and a burrata dish. At the time of writing this post, we did not know the names of the dishes, but talked with Sarah about their inspirations.

Spring Menu Preview at The Stoop Kitchen

Mussels - This is an Orlando inspiration dish for me.  He likes to do red curry with heavy cream and I love to toy with Asian flavors, green curry and coconut milk are my own twists. It’s just one of those dishes where you shouldn’t mess with a good thing. The mussels are from Prince Edward Island, because of course. 
Braised Asparagus - The asparagus is flash braised down with rosemary and a bay leaf – the herbs infuse quickly into the water that then gets absorbed into the stems of the vegetable. We top that with our duck egg “bottarga”, which is a lemon salt cured duck egg yolk, dehydrated and then finely grated.  I suppose this is a little Italian, but mostly based on asparagus and hollandaise as a classic pairing.
Burrata - Because why not? This menu leans Italian in general, which is not my immediate comfort zone, but we tend to “lean in” to those discomforts as a general rule. This was Jayden’s baby, with my mint blistered snap peas and asparagus tips grilled to break up the crazy unctuousness of the cheese.  We filled the center with Jones Dairy Farm Kuyhoora Cheese and brought in curds from Golden Age Cheese from Woodhull, NY – which is where the best cheese curds come from. From Jayden - “It’s the food of love.  To me, it represents the change of seasons – warmer weather is coming.”   

Our cocktails from Ashley and the appetizers from the team were the perfect celebration of Spring and you should definitely check them out. We'll be visiting again over the next 6 weeks and will talk more about the rest of the menu when we are able to try it!

Lastly, we thought it would be a great idea to take a tour around the Central New York Regional Market to meet some of the farmers and vendors. I met up with Mark Pawliw and he was kind enough to show me around while Chris was shooting photos at Skippy's Ice Cream Trucks. We are the Social Media Sponsor for Inner Harbor WingFest on May 18th and 19th, so Chris has been visiting all of the vendors to shoot photos of what they will be bringing to the festival. It was great to see all of the fresh produce and meats the farmers brought and enjoy samples from some of the various artisans. 

This week is going to be busy as we get back into the rhythm of our school and spring sports schedule. Chris will be interviewing Paul Valenti of Glazed and Confused for the podcast, then heading to the "Official Chef Challenge" on Monday.  We plan on visiting Cócaire at the Wayside during the week since our foodie friends Lara Enders from @foodlaraloves and Michael Iannelli from @savory_stage whet our appetites with their pictures from their dinner a week ago. Besides Chris keeps mentioning the Reuben Egg Rolls! The new Asian Cafe opened in Fayetteville and we are hearing good things about it. The start of lacrosse gives me the perfect excuse to order takeout one night this week.

Do you have any recommendations for us? We would love some new places to try or people you would like to hear on our podcast. Reach out to us at chris@weeatcny.com and kate@weeatcny.com or leave a comment down below. We would love to hear from you!