Good Life

Eats & drinks | Chefs, food enthusiasts meet over shared interest in food

Tea and accoutrement from the Tea 101 Tea Shop in Duncansville.
Tea and accoutrement from the Tea 101 Tea Shop in Duncansville. Photo provided

Lapsang Souchong cured salmon, black tea marinated sirloin tips, a savory green tea cream cheese spread, lavender Earl Grey shortbread and ginger jasmine poached pears — there was a theme going on at this buffet. All the dishes used tea of some sort in their preparation and provided a delicious counterpoint to the tea talk and tasting provided by Joe Doyle, owner of Tea Merchant 101 in Duncansville.

The May 11 meeting of the Southern Allegheny Chefs organization took place in the well-appointed dining room of the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center in downtown Altoona. Heather McCloskey, the culinary arts instructor, and her team of culinary students prepared the refreshments to complement the topic.

The Southern Allegheny Chefs organization is the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation that unites culinary professionals and food enthusiasts throughout the wide swath of central Pennsylvania that includes State College, Altoona, Hollidaysburg and Huntingdon. Meetings take place the second Monday of each month at 7 p.m. and the current chapter officers do an excellent job of creating educational events that are worth attending.

Zach Lorber, chef at the Port Sky Café at Penn State Altoona, is the president and has the seasoned assistance of former president and now chairman of the board, Craig Hamilton, executive chef at the Village at Penn State. Erin Snyder, chef at Elk Creek Café, serves as secretary to the group and McCloskey, who called the meeting to order, is the treasurer.

Meetings generally start with snacks and roundtable introductions. You don’t need to be a member of the ACF to attend the meetings, just have an interest in the topic or in networking with culinary professionals who enjoy sharing trade secrets. There are usually a dozen or so attendees for each (mostly) monthly meeting, and there is no fee to attend. Much of the correspondence for the group members and others on the Listserv takes place via email, so meeting minutes get approved very quickly.

Doyle’s tea presentation provided an overview of the second-favorite beverage in the world after water. He first showed a compact ball of tea sewn together around flower petals that he immersed in hot water and set aside. He showed many of the packaged teas from his shop and some special blends that he creates himself and, demonstrationg the mark of a true connoisseur, he brought along his own hot water that was held at the proper temperature for brewing each variety. The sampling included Strawberry Romance, a flavored white tea, and Soothing Cinnamon, a black tea blended with spearmint and spice. Forest Green Tea was a particularly invigorating blend and felt as refreshing as a walk in the woods.

The teas paired well with the tea-centric foods and the discussion grew livelier during the open forum, or “hanging around” time, at the end. The meetings generally last about an hour, commencing on time and wrapping up efficiently. Doyle’s final discussion point returned to the tea ball from his intro and he passed around the beautiful open flower submerged in a delicate burnt sienna liquid.

The next meeting of the Southern Allegheny Chefs will take place at 7 p.m. Monday at Rising Spring Meats, 117 Cooper St., Spring Mills. Jay Young from Rising Spring will demonstrate how to butcher a whole animal in their meat processing facility, formerly Myers Bros., where they provide meat processing to local farmers. If you would like to attend, contact Lorber at 509-859-3743. You can also request to be added to the Listserv to receive announcements about future meetings by contacting him at or check out the Southern Allegheny Chefs Facebook page. The August meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Aug. 10 at Big Spring Distillery in Bellefonte.