Early on a Saturday morning in June (very early for this non-morning person!) I found myself surrounded by the sights and sounds of a busy farmer’s market. Organized by a group of local farmers, the Canandaigua Farmers Market runs from June to October in a parking lot in downtown Canandaigua, in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.
But I wasn’t just there to browse: I was on a mission. I had been handed $20 and instructed to check out the local produce and choose a few ingredients that I would like to cook with. As I wandered up and down the small market, I picked up big bunches of kale, curly garlic scapes, bright red strawberries and snow-white fresh goat cheese. I teamed up with a mother-daughter duo from Rochester, Rose and Mary Ann, and we added a few more items to our shopping bags.
Then, we were off to the New York Wine & Culinary Center for a cooking class. The Hands-On Kitchen is located in a beautiful building on the shore of Canandaigua Lake, which also houses a Tasting Room, a Bistro, a Culinary Boutique and private event space. They host a wide variety of cooking classes and food and wine related events.
I was excited to work with the fresh ingredients that we had gathered at the market, and equally excited to have such a well-equipped kitchen to play in. I had a kale pesto in mind, and I couldn’t wait to get started. As it turned out, however, Rose had her own ideas about what we would make. And who would make it. And it wasn’t me.
Mary Ann took me aside early in the process to let me know that her mother was always in charge in kitchen. She wanted to apologize in advance because she knew that we were both about to get bossed around. And indeed, my pesto idea was thrown out with the kale ribs and strawberry stems. I was allowed only to sautee the greens under Rose’s watchful eye, and help fetch ingredients for the other dishes. My biggest contribution to the meal was spreading goat cheese and hot pepper jelly on crackers.
Sometimes, it’s more important to go with the flow than to worry about fulfilling expectations. It seemed pointless to share with Rose that I was, in fact, a personal chef. Instead, I accepted her orders and watched her in action. She had years of experience cooking up Italian specialties for family and friends, so she knew exactly how she wanted things to be done. Letting go of my desire to do things my way also freed me up to wander around the kitchen and see what our fellow classmates were up to. At each station, different dishes were being whipped up with the guidance of our patient and friendly chef, Jose Morales. Within less than two hours, everyone was finished, and we walked around the kitchen filling our plates with tastes of more than 20 different dishes. It was delicious!
Although the class didn’t turn out quite as I had expected, I loved the whole experience. From visiting the farmers market and getting a feel for what was growing in the Finger Lakes region, to meeting new people, to having the opportunity to work in a professional kitchen under the tutelage of a local chef, to tasting great food made alongside new friends, it was time well spent.
At the end of the class, Rose gave me a big hug, and I gifted her and her daughter with some lovely bread that I had picked up at the market. It was a sweet ending to an interesting morning.
Thank you to Finger Lakes Visitors Connection for their support on this trip.