Written by Sous Chef Sarah Hassler of Veraisons Restaurant
Veraisons is not a vegan restaurant, but we have become a vegan-friendly (very friendly!) restaurant. When people learn of my passion for creating delicious meals free of animal product, they assume I must be vegan myself. My answer typically surprises people; while I am allergic to gluten and dairy, I am not, in fact, vegan.
A classically trained chef, I was taught the techniques of the French – none of which were animal-friendly by the way. There were no classes on vegan cooking; there were barely dishes to be served to the few who would attend. I was vegetarian upon entering the CIA – two months of eating polenta and mushrooms and I conceded.
As my school days have long since passed, I have discovered that I enjoy a challenge and a direction when creating dishes. The world of food is far too vast to create and streamline a meal without some frame to work within. Anything can play the role of the framework, preferences, theme, restrictions – veganism is just one more box to work within. That is why I chose to study food and become a chef – the knowledge is far beyond what one man could hold, and the chance to transform ingredients to suit is ceaseless. Chefs are truly students for life.
Orlando and I have a lot in common when it comes to the kitchen. We lead with our hearts, cook with our stomachs, and source food with our brains. When a guest walks into our dining room, we want them to have an amazing meal and a pleasurable experience. This goes for every guest, regardless of dietary restriction.
The dinner table is the place where humans come together. We all need to eat – it’s that basic. Regardless of color, creed, gender, or even (GASP!) political allegiances, seated at a table we are all equally human, fulfilling that common need. Why should it be any different for people with dietary restrictions?
Some of my chef-friends argue that the folks with “legitimate” reasons for having restrictions are “ok”, but those who choose to eat a certain way and expect restaurants to work around them are asking too much. To this I would reply – When did it become the right of the chef to take the choice away from the diner?
Perhaps this is a sign that we’ve taken our profession a few too many steps away from the blue-collar days. When we stop being grateful for the people walking through our doors and paying us to do something they could do themselves – and then post later on Pinterest! – we might want to check ourselves. The food isn’t about us – it’s about them.
The line that vegan food is somehow more “chemical” or made “in a lab” is also antiquated. Our world is filled with factory-farms and our shelves stocked with highly-processed foods, no longer recognizable from their original state, so this seems a bit high-brow to say. The reality is that all food is chemical…and it all equates to chemical energy. See? That student-for-life line wasn’t a lie!
My passion for creating vegan dishes comes from the same heart that creates dishes for omnivores. I remain endlessly grateful for the opportunity to pursue my passion as a career, to feed people delicious food, and to be consistently challenged to become a better cook…for humans.
Written by Sous Chef Sarah Hassler of Veraisons Restaurant
Autumn in New York might be a romantic cliché, but it is truly a chef’s dream season in the Finger Lakes. Farmers from all over the region send me emails every day with lists of available produce. Yes, farmers market via e-mail, welcome to the future everyone. Squash, beans, brassicas, apples, pears, grapes, and still the summer produce winds in with tomatoes, corn, peppers, eggplant, and melons. It is bounty at its fullest.
At Veraisons we have always taken the time to prepare a special feast that celebrates the season. For years our annual Harvest Dinner has marked a time to honor our farmers and our winemakers, to toast the end of tourist season, and to wind down into the quiet of winter – like a late-night bowl of Mom’s soup before bed.
This year our Harvest Dinner falls on Halloween, an occasion that happens only once every seven years. Talk about adding special to already-celebratory! Orlando and I wracked our brains to come up with spooky ideas – at one point there was a chicken pot pie with a clawed foot sticking out of the crust as a potential idea, quickly vetoed, but nonetheless memorable. Finally, one of us said “Let’s just go all out and do Harry Potter.”. Neither of us spoke for a bit, wondering if it might be ridiculous, and after a moment’s silence, we pounced.
Images of bountiful feasts rolled into our heads. Having read all of the books several times over (especially the audio versions – total #jimdalefangirl), I know how strongly that imagery takes hold. A young boy coming from a cold home he doesn’t belong in finds himself at an enormous table, surrounded by friends and food…so much food! Rowling nailed the relationship between food and comfort, highlighting the intimacy of breaking bread with friends and finding joy that multiplies.
Think about your favorite food memories. I’m willing to bet that they rarely, if ever involve you eating alone, dining on something you made yourself. Most likely they revolve around family, or a longing for family (care packages from Mom while you were at college anyone?).
The equation so far:
Autumn harvest romance + deeply imbedded nostalgia + chefs = truly awesome dinner plans
So the idea was born – do a Hogwarts themed dinner, serving the food family style at communal tables. We plan to separate guests into houses and leave the platters for sharing and available seconds. We’ll serve Butter Beer and Polyjuice Potion and the dessert course will be nothing short of a child’s dream – treacle tart, sticky toffee pudding, chocolate frogs, ton-tongue toffee, and trifle. We’re leaving the rock-cakes at Hagrid’s hut for the night.
The books we read play a role in the direction of our lives. Harry Potter and his tales have long been in a thread in mine. Attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York felt very much like my own Hogwarts adventure – only with more food and less house elves. Click here for an article I wrote for their alumni magazine, Mise En Place, back in 2011 on the subject.
Whether the plan is to wind down the season and shake the hands of our farmers or to immerse yourselves in the world of magic (at least the of culinary sort), I hope to see you at our Great Harvest Feast this year!
Author Bio: Sarah Hassler is the Sous Chef of Veraisons Restaurant. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and a native of the Finger Lakes region, Chef Hassler has a keen understanding of flavor and nuance and a reverence for the agricultural community, bringing local ingredients into her cooking as much as possible. She has been a member of the Glenora team, in between her time at CIA and professional experiences in the Hudson Valley and Corning, since 2009.