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It was a chilly day in late April when I sat down with the New YorkWine & CulinaryCenter's new executive chef, Carlo Peretti. Peretti had been on the job for only about four hours, but he seemed excited by the prospect ahead of him: local asparagus was only a couple of weeks away; chives, spring onions, and ramps were already available; and in a little more than a month the first vegetables and fruits of the summer would be starting to appear at local farm markets, and on the rotating menu that he was already crafting for the Center's Taste of New York Lounge. We talked about the Canandaigua and Victor farmers markets, and the opportunity to visit local producers that his new job affords him. Although short on specifics -- it was, after all, his first day on the job -- Peretti already had a clear vision for the Lounge: fresh ingredients, clean flavors, and an ever-evolving menu that allows the food to speak for itself while taking advantage of all of the bounty available to cooks -- both professional and amateur -- in New York state.
Three weeks after our first meeting, Peretti rolled out his new menu. Shelter Island oysters, Catskills smoked trout, Montauk diver scallops, Hartmann's charcuterie and speck, New York artisan cheeses (including a sublime Chatham camembert, and rich, flavorful goat cheeses from the Lively Run Goat Dairy near Interlaken) are all featured to good advantage, as are the first crops of the season, including peas, spring lettuces, and mint. Backed up by both wine and beer pairings, and served by a friendly and knowledgeable wait staff in a warm, airy, and surprisingly intimate dining room that encourages lingering, this is the stuff that three-hour lunches and dinners that linger late into the evening are made of -- especially if your meal is preceded by a visit to the tasting room downstairs, or a flight of beer samples at the bar adjacent to the Lounge.
While the Lounge and tasting room are important aspects of what the 2-year-old center has to offer, it's also home to an ambitious program of hands-on cooking classes, demonstrations, and lectures open to the public.
If lunch upstairs has inspired you to head to the farmers market and embrace your inner chef, but you don't know the bolster of your knife from the blade, the center can help you on your way to culinary greatness. It offers classes that appeal to a variety of interests and skill levels, everything from knifework basics and beginner cooking techniques on up to four-day intensive "ultimate culinary experiences" and farmers' market "challenges" for advanced amateur cooks. Visitors can also take a wide array of workshops, including grilling, spring salads, and seafood cookery, which offer students the opportunity to put their skills to the test, learn new techniques, and then sit down to a family-style meal featuring foods that they have prepared, paired along with New York wines, many of which are for sale in the tasting room just down the hall from the center's well-appointed demonstration kitchens.
Education can be thirsty work, and the New YorkWine & CulinaryCenter provides a great opportunity to quench your thirst and to learn more about New York wines and beers. Wine Coordinator Shannon Brock, who, with the assistance of a tasting panel, selects new wines for the tasting room every two weeks during the summer, is excited about the upcoming 2008 season. Last year was a banner one for wine in New York, Brock says, as a long, hot, dry summer created perfect conditions for a vintage year.
The center hosts many summer wine programs that appeal to visitors at all levels of wine expertise. If you know nothing about wine but would like to, you can do one of two things: take the center's "Basics of Wine" course, or find your way into the tasting room on any given day and imbibe an education in oenology along with a wide variety of whites, reds, fortified wines, and meads.
For those who like their wine with a nosh, every Saturday and Sunday afternoon throughout the summer the center hosts wine- and food-tasting events that bring New York wines together with cheese, appetizers, and -- for those with a sweet tooth -- chocolate. Or, you could make a night of it and take in one of the remaining winemaker dinners offered this summer, featuring wines from Wolffer Estate Vineyards (June 19), Heron Hill Winery (July 17), Ravines Wine Cellars (July 24), and Goosewatch Vineyards (August 21). Each dinner offers either a three-course meal or a seven-course tasting menu hosted by the winemakers themselves, and is served in the center's oak-paneled private dining room -- a perfect way to indulge your taste for opulence and dine in baronial splendor.
Those who taste wine at the center do so standing up in the tasting room. Those who sample New York's beers do so in much more comfort at the upstairs bar. With a rotating selection of 11 beers and ales on draft, plus 20 others in bottles, the center brings together ales, lagers, stouts, porters, and wheat beers from several of the more than 60 craft breweries across the state. With a view of Canandaigua Lake as a background, and access to the Lounge menu, a "flight" of beer samples (or even two) is an agreeable way to unwind after a cooking class, cool your heels while waiting for your lunch or dinner companions, or just while away an afternoon.
Plans are currently in the works to expand the center's beer-pairing dinner series. Past dinners in this series, which feature beer pairings for each of the seven courses and beer incorporated into the courses themselves, have been hosted by Rohrbach Brewing Company and Custom Brewcrafters.
The New YorkWine & CulinaryCenter is located at 800 South Main Street in Canandaigua. It is open seven days a week starting Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day, Monday through Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday noon-9 p.m. Advance registration is required for all cooking classes, and reservations are suggested for the Taste of New York Lounge. The tasting room and beer-tasting bar are open on a first-come, first-served basis. For more information call 394-7070 or visit nywcc.com.