A table for the culinary elite

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Seven women from the Finger Lakes will combine their culinary skills for an event at the prestigious James Beard House.

For more than three decades the James Beard Foundation has been one of the most esteemed culinary institutions that a chef could hope to make swoon. That’s why it’s a big deal that seven Finger Lakes female food luminaries will be setting up for one night in the exclusive James Beard House in Brooklyn next month.

A nonprofit, the James Beard Foundation is named after one of the most prominent culinary advocates in American history. In 1946, Beard became the first to have a live network TV cooking show, “I Love to Eat” on NBC. He wrote over 20 cookbooks and taught countless chefs across the country. Among his closest friends was Julia Childs, who called him “the quintessential American cook.”

Chris Clemens

Today, winning a James Beard Award is one of the most coveted milestones for a chef. In fact, simply being nominated for one of the categories is enough to claim bragging rights. Just having the foundation be aware of your work is some of the highest praise that most in the industry could ever hope for.

While it won’t be the first time that someone from the Finger Lakes will cook for our New York City neighbors, this event is particularly noteworthy because the entire team representing the Finger Lakes will be women.

In an interview with Michael Warren Thomas of Savorlife Radio last week, chef Samantha Buyskes explained how the opportunity to cook for one night in the James Beard House is nearly always an invitation-only opportunity. After attending the Women Chefs and Restauranteurs conference in Minnesota this year, Buyskes got connected with folks from the James Beard Foundation. It was at the conference that the conversation about cooking at the James Beard House first began.

That’s when Buyskes thought of Nancy Irelan, whose career in Finger Lakes winemaking also had caught the attention of the foundation. Irelan, who owns Red Tail Ridge Winery in Penn Yan with her husband, had been nominated previously to receive a prestigious James Beard Award.

Regarding Buyskes’ invitation, Irelan says: “There was no hesitation. The team we’ve recruited is rock solid and a good representation of the energy and the passion of the region.”

Buyskes, a key figure in the Finger Lakes food scene for decades, competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped in 2011. Much like her strategy for the show, her plan for the dinner is to do what she knows.

“The focus is for me to do a dish that tells the story that is true to my style and showcases what’s fabulous about the region,” said Buyskes last week, during a team meeting at Red Tail Ridge Winery to plan their menu.

Buyskes and Irelan will team up with five other women from the Finger Lakes to create an exclusive experience for 50 people. The team will travel to New York City and set up shop in the James Beard House for one event representing some of the finest Finger Lakes culinary talent.

The team includes Trish Aser, who owns Brown Hound Bistro, located in the Memorial Art Gallery in downtown Rochester. She originally earned her reputation nearly 15 years ago with a restaurant of the same name in South Bristol.

Helping with the beverage end of the menu will be Autumn Stoscheck, who began making hard cider the year she could legally consume alcohol. As owner of Eve’s Cidery just south of Ithaca, Stoscheck has always been far ahead of the curve in the hard-cider trend. Today, you’ll find Eve’s Cidery on the menus in some of upstate’s most celebrated restaurants.

Claire Benjamin of Rue Claire Lavender Farm and Artisan Chocolate in Lodi has caught the attention of the Finger Lakes’ most uncompromising chocolate fans. While her operation is arguably smaller than the others, her presence as a local chocolatier will be just as prominent.

“Representing the Finger Lakes region for dessert on this special occasion is a privilege,” she says. “I’ll be building my flavor profile for the dessert to compliment Nancy’s pre-selected wine.”

The powerhouse lineup also includes Linnea Shumway, who has a long career in local restaurant businesses from bakeries to farms. Currently, Shumway is culinary manager for F.L.X. Hospitality, the acclaimed family of restaurants by famed Finger Lakes restaurateur Christopher Bates.

Completing the team is Susanne Messmer, who owns Lively Run Goat Dairy with her husband in the town of Interlaken. Their business has been producing some of the most coveted goat’s milk cheeses in the Rochester region since 1982.

Together, the seven women will combine their talents to create a table representing some of the finest culinary skills found in the Finger Lakes region. Doing it at one of the most exclusive tables, in one of the world’s most culturally relevant cities, is a strong indicator that the world is starting to recognize what the Finger Lakes has to offer.

Once the event is posted, you’ll be able to purchase tickets for the dinner here.

Chris Clemens is the creator and publisher of Exploring Upstate, a blog about the discovery of local history, culture, travel and all that makes Upstate New York the perfect place to explore.

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