Last month’s meeting of the Southern Allegheny Chapter of the American Culinary Federation hit a milestone, with a record 42 attendees convening at the Nittany Lion Inn to give a resounding high-five for local foods.
One-third of those present were chefs looking for exciting local products to add zip to menus, one-third were producers of local foods eager to have chef support and one-third were curious guests wanting to learn more about the local food landscape of central Pennsylvania.
The mostly monthly meetings of our local ACF chapter have been broadening their scope as the word gets out that these meetings are open to anyone who wants to engage in a dialogue about food or find out how to network with the movers and shakers of the local foods movement.
Christie Jordan, a councilwoman for the City of Altoona, made the drive to connect with like-minded creatives who share similar goals. Altoona is working on installing a hydroponic garden and cafe project in the downtown transit center.
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Area restaurants that prioritize serving local foods are always eager to expand their local offering repertoire. Duke Gastiger from Spats Cafe; Erin Snyder from Elk Creek Cafe & Aleworks; Liz Hoffner and Quintin Wicks from Revival Kitchen in Reedsville; and the Nittany Lion Inn team of executive chef Andrew Monk and sous chef Kirsch McMaster all fit into this category.
David Anderson and chapter President Zach Lorber both work in the culinary arena at Penn State and like to keep up with current trends as does Jeremiah Dick, who teaches culinary students at the State College Area High School. Wegmans’ sous chef Jonathan Hodgins was there to report back to executive chef Steven Ast who is a loyal attendee and ACF member.
Hoffner, a first time attendee and relatively new to the area, said that “the meeting was exactly what we were seeking. It finally put faces to the names and voices on the other end of many phone calls and emails. Super excited to have such a creative gathering here in central Pa.”
Local food producers in attendance included Clay Phillips, representing the condiment concern Village Eatinghouse; Bob Ricketts from Fasta & Ravioli Co.; and Tony Sapia along with sons Enzo and Jack from Gemelli Bakers. Farmers in attendance included Jim Eisenstein from Jade Family Farm; Mick Kodner from Mick’s Chicks, a purveyor at the North Atherton Street farmers market; Karen Myford, the wholesale manager from Tait Farm Foods; Erik Hagen, the farm manager for RE Farm; and Sophie Curley from CR Mountain Ranch in Tyrone that produces organic eggs. Jay Young, from Rising Spring Meats Company in Spring Mills, is a processor of local meats who was interested in making connections with wholesale accounts.
Friends & Farmers Cooperative Marketing Manager Melanie Brockway-Rosenberger presented information about the wholesale division of the Friends & Farmers online market that went live last month and encouraged both chefs and producers to sign up. The retail online market received a $92,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant last October to increase local food consumption and production in Centre County, with the long-range goal of an actual co-op store down the line. Business has increased since the venture added a home delivery option as well as a second pickup location at the State College Friends School on University Drive in addition to the Meetinghouse on South Atherton Street.
After the vendors each had a chance to introduce their items to the group and share samples, the meeting morphed into a social networking session, with delicious snacks provided by chef Monk and his team and an assortment of Tait Farm fruit shrub infused waters to drink.
Two new business items with great potential were presented that evening as well. Jim Eisenstein made a proposal “to increase Penn State’s local food purchases in a measured, feasible fashion” as part of the university’s larger sustainability initiative and in order to raise their score on the Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, a measure used globally. The second bit of new business was Clay Phillips’ invitation to chefs and producers to participate in “Festa Nic 2016, A Local Food and Beverage Showcase” to be held in Pleasant Gap on May 22 from1 to 4 p.m. at the Pleasant Gap Fire Company Carnival Grounds at 475 Robinson Lane.
Heather McCloskey, who lives in McAlevy’s Fort and is a culinary arts instructor at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center, enjoyed attending and commented that “We live in one of the most beautiful and fertile states — it’s crazy not to encourage the use of products that have a very small footprint. As a society, I believe we are meant to use what can be provided locally and what’s been growing right in front of us all along.”
McCloskey and her colleague, Pamela Kenawell, will host the next ACF meeting that will take place Monday in the spacious kitchens and dining room at the GACTC. McCloskey will present a talk and demo on “The Art of Fermentation” and has been getting ready for her program for months. “From a chef’s standpoint, fermentation is the perfect way to avoid profit loss through the utilization of products that are in season and therefore less expensive. What cannot be used immediately can be fermented and provide another whole flavor profile on the menu,” McCloskey said. They also have health benefits, she added. “Fermented foods provide us with immune boosting probiotics, which are the healthy bacteria that aid in good digestion.”
Fermented foods in the works for the tasting include a Lemon Dill Kraut made into a Ginger Kraut Salad and a salad with vinaigrette prepared with sauerkraut and brine. There will even be theme desserts: Rhubarb Fool, which is made by folding fermented rhubarb, fresh strawberries, lemon zest and vanilla into whipped cream, and Carrot Cake, which uses fermented carrots and will be made by pastry arts instructor Kenawell.
Monday’s meeting of the Southern Alleghenies chapter of the American Culinary Federation will take place at 7 p.m. at the GCATC located at 1500 Fourth Ave. in downtown Altoona. Area chefs and local foodies are welcome to attend; there is no need to be a member of the ACF. For more information, contact Zach Lorber at firstname.lastname@example.org or at email@example.com. You can also check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs or follow them on Instagram @acfsaca or Twitter @acfsaca.
Anne Quinn Corr is the author of “Seasons of Central Pennsylvania,” of several iBook cookbooks (“Food, Glorious Food!” “What’s Cooking?!” and “Igloo: Recipes to Cure the Winter Blues”) that are available for free on iTunes. She regularly posts to the blog HowToEatAndDrink .com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.