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A Fire in the Belly of the Consortium

September 2, 2014

The FLB does not have a viable business strategy in place. Yes, there are a few paid writing gigs that keep me in beer money. For now, I’m happy to write for those occasional scraps of free food and an inflated sense of my own self-importance.

I’m very, very lucky to get to spend my time pursuing such endeavors. One of these days, I may have to find a way to generate more income. But perhaps through all of this writing, some opportunity may arise all on its own. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Chefs’ Consortium is an entirely different enterprise. Despite my years of participation in the group, I never stopped to ask how or where it got the money to fund those care packages of food I’d periodically receive to write about. Apparently now it’s a 501(c)(3) organization–which means absolutely nothing to me.

What the Chefs’ Consortium now has going for it is a new leader. His name is Lecco, and in just a few short days he put together a fundraiser for the group, which was held last week at the Albany Distilling Co. He’s a young man with an incredible amount of energy and passion. And if you didn’t go to the event last Thursday, this is what you missed.

There was music in the air. There was art on the walls. But mostly I was there for the food.

Really, I was there for the chefs. Because this is a committed group of professionals who are dedicated to supporting locally raised ingredients. Plus it’s a group that I’ve been out of touch with for far too long. I wasn’t even sure which of the chefs would be there. As it turns out, there were some new faces and one exciting surprise.

Josh Coletto was the veteran in the room. I first met him when he worked at the Flying Chicken, then he moved on to Finnbar’s Pub, and now he’s back at Local 111 (when he’s not cooking a monthly brunch at The Low Beat). Chef Josh was making two things.

One was a grassfed beef bratwurst served on Hawthorne Valley Farm bread, spread with mustard, topped with a consortium-made sauerkraut, and crowned with a local pickled quail’s egg.

But the standout was pulled pork (tossed with the Consortium’s own pepper jelly), served on a grilled polenta cake, and topped with a slice of tomato and an edible flower (a nasturtium), both from Josh’s own garden. This one had it all going on.

Lo and behold, at the next table over was Chef Dimitrios Menagias from the City Beer Hall wearing a Chefs’ Consortium apron. It made sense that a chef like Dimitrios would be a part of such an organization, but his involvement began in my absence. He had prepared a plate full of summer that had just a wink towards fall.

Ever wonder what to do with all that summer squash? This year I tried shaving it into wide ribbons as a raw salad. Dimitrios sliced it into a long julienne which resembled more of a spaghetti than a tagliatelle. Raw foods are perfect for summer. These “noodles” were complemented by fire roasted corn which had been tossed in a bit of Albany Distilling Co.’s corn dominated bourbon, with some heirloom tomatoes and a drizzle of dressing made from a peach-bourbon gastrique on the side. The plate was crowned with a skewer of cantaloupe wrapped in Dimitrios’s duck prosciutto and a piece of pickled chanterelle (which had been locally foraged).

The overall impression of this dish was light and refreshing, except that wouldn’t do it justice. It had a little bit of smoldering heat (thanks to a touch of jalapeno tossed into the corn), that ethereal grassy sweetness of fresh corn, and the deep savory notes from the proscuitto. But the coup de grâce was the pickled foraged chanterelle. Dimitrios knows how to pickle. Herbaceous, earthy, sour and sweet all represented in one silky and satisfying morsel. Good show.

Jackie Baldwin is a new name for me. She’s been the executive chef at RPI for a while, but is a relative newcomer to the Chefs’ Consortium. It’s great to see someone responsible for so many meals every week getting involved to help promote local foods. The scallops she was cooking at the fundraiser weren’t local per se, but they did come from Pura Vida out of Long Island. That’s close enough for me.

As good as those scallops were, dusted in five spice and served beside a beet and fennel slaw, the best bite on her plate was the corn crema. Chef Jackie said that it was just corn stock cooked down with corn and cream. But it was thick, unctuous, earthy, sweet and just left you coming back for more. Brava.

I also met Patrick Clarke for the very first time. He’s the executive chef at the Omega Cafe at the Omega Institute down in Rhinebeck. I had met his colleague chef Bob Turner on the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater for some other Chefs’ Consortium event a while back. Instead of Bob’s watermelon gazpacho, last week we were treated to chef Patrick’s traditional gazpacho with a horseradish cream. He was trying to replicate something close to a bloody mary. While the Albany Distilling Company doesn’t yet make a vodka, this summer soup went splendidly with a sample of their unaged rye.

Patrick was also pouring samples of chef Ellie Markovitch’s beet gazpacho, even though she couldn’t be there in person. Plus there was a table of cheeses from Honest Weight. Dutch Desserts was serving slices of their amazing tarts. I bumped into Dan McBain who reminded me about the Albany Soul Cafe, the last Monday of every month. And I chatted with a member of Mop & Bucket who alerted me to their performance at the Lucas Confectionery on September 10. Eric Paul of The Cheese Traveler was there too, and we talked all about government regulation with the new owners of Yankee Distillers which is soon to open in Clifton Park.

All that was $30. Thanks to those who came out and supported the cause. Maybe you can make the next one.

Actually the Chefs’ Consortium is going gangbusters these days with renewed energy thanks to Lecco’s involvement. Part of the new initiatives are Consortium classes being taught at Honest Weight. More than anything I want to go to chef Ellie’s class on healthy school lunches this Thursday. But I just can’t make it work into the schedule. Here’s the link. It’s free. It should be fantastic. Just take a look at this simple and scrumptious corn cake on her blog.

And there’s even more good stuff just around the corner. Take a look.

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