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SAVOR THE SEASON: Paul Smith’s College class focuses on local food at The Ganzi

December 21, 2018
By ANDY FLYNN - Editor (aflynn@lakeplacidnews.com) , Lake Placid News

PAUL SMITHS - The student-run restaurant at Paul Smith's College - The Ganzi - serves up a farm-to-table lunch menu with a focus on locally grown food.

Yet everyone has a different definition of "local" when it comes to food, according to chef and associate professor Kevin McCarthy. For him, local could easily mean a product grown in other parts of New York state. He gets some of his food from "the ladies at the railroad tracks" in Saranac Lake, Maple View Farm based out of Mexico, New York, because they get a lot of fruit not grown in the North Country, such as Concord grapes.

"We also try to teach our students to know the source of the product," McCarthy said. "We don't grow lemons in the Adirondacks, but we do need lemons, so as long as we know where they're coming from and how they were produced, that's an important thing."

Article Photos

Paul Smith’s College associate professor Kevin McCarthy, right, builds salads at the appetizer station in The Ganzi restaurant with student Jon Ward of Harrisville.
(News photo — Andy Flynn)

That's actually one of McCarthy's biggest lessons, to know the source of their products.

"I think a lot of times, people think utilizing local foods is zero percent or 100 percent; there's no in between. There's a big difference if you have a restaurant that uses nothing that's produced locally. You can always ask a question and say, 'Well, why not?' If we can get 1 percent. A good example is dairy. Why do we get our dairy from Illinois? Why don't we get it from New York? I want them to question the products that they use and where they come from and see if they can find a better product that's hopefully more sustainably produced and local if possible."

When the Lake Placid News visited The Ganzi at Cantwell Hall on Oct. 26, some of the local food was coming from places such as Juniper Hill Farm in Wadhams, Fledging Crow Vegetables in Keeseville, Tucker Farms in Gabriels, Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay, Asgaard Farm in AuSable Forks and Moonstone Farm in Saranac Lake.

Ice cream is a prime example of the local food served at The Ganzi. In October, the freezer was stocked with ice cream made with Concord grapes from southern New York, carrots from Tucker Farms and Juniper Hill and parsnips from Juniper Hill. There was also blackberry ice cream and apple cider sorbet.

Students take field trips to local farms to learn about how food is produced in the Adirondacks. They've been to Asgaard Farm to see the cheese-making process and how their goats live and produce the milk.

"We've been to Juniper Hill a number of times," McCarthy said. "Adam Hainer does a great job taking the students and telling them how it is in terms of where our food comes from and why we have to question or why is it so difficult to have an organic farm as compared to having farms producing food with plenty of chemicals and pesticides."

Students will even harvest their own food at the college.

"We have different varieties of crabapples that grow on campus, but we have one that's specifically called the Dolgo crabapple," McCarthy said. "It has a very high pectin. We teach the students to see what's around them and kind of see what's available to use. We walk out to the parking lot, and we pick the crabapples because we use them for jam, and we have to get to the apples before the deer do."

The restaurant

At The Ganzi - formerly known as The Palm and the St. Regis Cafe - teachers and students work side-by-side. The Wally Ganzi Jr. Restaurant Training Center, named after the man who co-owns The Palm restaurant chain, is staffed mainly by students in the commercial cooking and catering course.

McCarthy is in charge of the kitchen - the back of the house - while food and beverage trainer Amy Coddington-Burnett is in charge of the dining room - the front of the house.

When students in the culinary arts and service management program first arrive at Paul Smith's College, they take courses about basic cooking fundamentals. Only then can they move on and work at The Ganzi.

"This course gives them an opportunity to apply those fundamentals in a real-world restaurant environment," McCarthy said. "They change every station. So every week, they work a different station, both from the back of the house and the front of the house. So they experience all aspects of the restaurant."

At the beginning of the semester, the class is split in two. Some students work the back of the house, and the rest work the front of the house. In the middle of the semester, they switch.

"This is the switch week," McCarthy said. "The students in the kitchen have been in the kitchen for seven weeks. So every week, they have switched a station. They work at the dishwasher, they work at the appetizer station, they work at the vegetable station, they work at the protein station, they work at the pass expediting food."

McCarthy lives in Saranac Lake, and he's been at Paul Smith's College for the past nine years. A native of Sylvan Beach in Oneida County, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park in 1993. He worked for 10 years as the executive chef at The Point resort on Upper Saranac Lake and was the executive chef at the Lake Placid Lodge, helping design the kitchen and culinary program in the new lodge after the original one was destroyed by fire in December 2005.

The Ganzi is no ordinary classroom; it gives students the opportunity to work in a running restaurant that's open to the public. It features a farm-to-table lunch menu during the academic semesters. McCarthy says working at The Ganzi is a great opportunity for students, who are continually learning new skills, but that also means he's busy training the students five days a week.

"It's like getting a new employee every week and training them. It is fun, but it can be a little hairy when we get busy and they're applying their skills, but that's how they learn."

When college is in session, the restaurant is open Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday for lunch, and the students come in on Monday to do a bulk of the prep work.

"We also try to make everything from scratch, so that adds a little bit of pressure to them because it is a lot of prep and a lot of production that has to take place in order to have the food ready," McCarthy said.

The menu for the following week is written on Thursday, and it's based on what's available from local farms or what they say is looking the best in their fields or that they have in stock.

"That product I pick up on Saturdays from the farmers market, or they deliver it here or to my house," McCarthy said. "And on Mondays, we get the product in and we start to prep and break it down and basically form the menu for the rest of the week."

Paul Smith's College offers an associate's degree in culinary arts and a bachelor's degree in culinary arts and service management. For those who want to get into the workforce quicker, the college also offers an associate in occupational studies (AOS) degree in culinary arts that can be completed in 50 weeks.

The Ganzi is currently closed for the college's winter break, and it will reopen on Jan. 30.

 
 
 

 

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