Food professionals in central Pa. share in a dynamic and generous community. There’s something that bonds people together who enjoy the pressure and heat of a busy kitchen while maintaining an aura that is cool, calm and collected.
The Golden Basket competition took place last week, and on Aug. 20 there will be two “Iron Chef” fresh tomato cook-offs for both professionals and amateurs at the Tait Farm Tomato Festival. On the horizon is the Oct. 3 Chefs on Stage gala at Mountain View Country Club that will benefit Strawberry Fields this year. Who motivates and recruits these busy professionals to volunteer their time for all these food events?
One of the drivers is the local chapter of the American Culinary Federation. The Southern Allegheny Chefs association’s territory encompasses a wide swath of hill and dale through the Appalachian Mountains and the Allegheny front. Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Centre and Somerset counties are a melting pot rich with local produce from long-established family farms.
For almost two years now, chapter President Zach Lorber has planned monthly meetings that are informative, edgy and fun to attend due to his deeply ingrained sense of hospitality. (Read: He feeds you.) And he often gives you something interesting to drink. Win, win. The ACF chapter meetings have been a pleasure to attend.
But all things must pass, and Lorber’s tenure is winding down. The 36-year-old gentle giant of a man, originally from Wisconsin, has other fish to fry these days, small ones — three brothers who had been in foster care. Lorber and his wife, Megan, took on the guardianship of the boys in June and their lives are now a parenting roller coaster of school, preschool and day care decisions coupled with making sure that everyone has a fun summer.
The busy dad is passing on the ACF presidency in November and still has a couple of meetings to organize before that time. Monday night’s meeting at Bee Tree Berry Farm is a social one, a potluck to discuss the agenda that will drive the organization during the next couple of years and who might be willing to fill his size 15 shoes.
Lorber took over the chapter in November 2014 and commented at the time that, “the mission of the Southern Allegheny Chefs Association is to serve as a networking, idea sharing and educational platform for the culinary community in central Pennsylvania. Our monthly meetings serve as a means for educating on current topics and trends, techniques and flavors and supporting the next generation of culinarians attending local vocational programs.”
Membership has almost doubled from 11 to 21 members in the past two years, and the meetings have been well attended by members, as well as nonmembers who are eager to join in the culinary conversation as it relates to food professionals in central Pa. Those conversations have taken place in many interesting places, from vocational settings in Pleasant Gap, Altoona and State College, to Big Spring Distillery and Happy Valley Winery. There was a tour of a grow house in Tyrone, the aquaponics operation at the State College Area High School and a meat cutting demo and barbecue at artisan abattoir Rising Spring Meats in Spring Mills. There was a beer and cheese meeting at Wegmans, an introduction to the Friends & Farmers cooperative at Gigi’s, a tea lecture presented by Joe Doyle, owner of Tea Merchant 101. In May, Heather McCloskey, a culinary instructor at the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center, presented a fermentation workshop, preceded by a farm tour that afternoon of Heritage Hills Farm in Duncansville. Jason Copey, of Way Fruit Farm, gave a tour last winter of the facility, providing insight on the challenges of the commercial fruit farmer at the mercy of the weather. In short, a lot of networking opportunities for chefs and foodies with one overriding principle — to make the most of what we have here in central Pa., to define our regional palate in terms of our local foods.
Monday’s meeting is open to all who want to join in the conversation and help the chapter move into its next phase. Come out and sit on the deck at Bee Tree Berry Farm in Zion, meet farmers Laura and Mark McDonald and enjoy the view of Nittany Valley. Bring a dish that celebrates summer and enjoy the camaraderie of the foodies, chefs and farmers that define what we eat — and who we are.
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 email@example.com.
IF YOU GO
What: Southern Alleghenies chapter of the American Culinary Federation meeting
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Bee Tree Berry Farm, 494 Benner Road, Bellefonte
Info: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, facebook.com/southernalleghenychefs