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Local Is Luscious
By Miriam Axel-Lute

Area chefs turn to their neighboring farms to get ingredients beyond compare

 

At Chez Sophie, a high-class restaurant in a converted diner on Route 9 in Malta, there’s a lot to read on the menu. There’s a full-page, small-font description of the history of the restaurant. There’s the list of mouth-watering menu items. And there’s an entire page devoted to a list of local farms from which the restaurant buys much of its food. Roasted veal chop from Skate Creek Farm in East Meredith. Pork from Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan. Old Chatham Sheepherding Company cheese.

Sargo’s, the restaurant at the Saratoga National Golf Club, also credits local farms on its menu. Even in the winter season, they note that their lamb is “rubbed with Honey Bee Farms ‘Wild Flower Honey,’” and their organic-field-greens salad features Sunset Hill Farms baby greens. Last week they were serving a local rabbit dish.

Chez Sophie chef Paul Parker and Sargo’s chef Larry Schepici are part of a growing network of chefs in the area who are turning to the area’s farms for more of their ingredients, from produce to honey to cheese to meat. They are also seeking out organic produce, humanely raised livestock, and heirloom varieties—all of which local farmers are glad to provide.

“It starts with the quality of the product,” says Schepici. “Nothing beats something picked hours before you got it. . . . When you get something that good you don’t have to add much to it. Sometimes just a little sea salt, olive oil.”

In fact, the quality of local fresh foods makes enough of a difference to chefs who in Schepici’s words “have a strong commitment to cooking,” and enough of a difference to their customers, that the chefs have made some big changes to the standard ways of doing things to allow the local ingredients to take center stage. First, they are learning to cook with the seasons. At Sargo’s the menu changes dramatically each season, and undergoes weekly tweaking based on what’s available.

True, come the middle of an upstate winter, they do supplement with produce from elsewhere; “this is New York after all,” says Schepici. But it’s not total. “You’re still going to get your cheese, fresh eggs, hydroponic greens, rabbits. . . . You can get beets if things are stored properly.”

And these chefs are also spending more time on the purchasing side of their business than many of their counterparts. “Many establishments can make one phone call to a local distributor and get anything and everything they need delivered to their door, including things that are out of season,” says Paula Schafer, who works at the Cornell Cooperative Extension. By contrast, Schepici works directly with 44 farmers, placing individual orders and getting individual deliveries.

“You’ve got to be a little flexible,” he says. “They don’t always come with the exact amount that you want. Same with delivery times. We’re a little lenient. The quality makes up for all that.” He also knows that his farmers work on small margins and makes sure they get paid quickly. In return, many of them sit down with him and their seed catalog and let him pick varieties he’d like to try.

Schepici is active in encouraging other chefs to try local foods. He’s a longtime supporter of the Chef’s Collaborative, a national group of chefs that “works with chefs and the greater food community to celebrate local foods and foster a more sustainable food supply.” What does he tell chefs who face resistance from owners or managers who are used to the convenience of buying from one big company? Take some fresh, local food, “cook it, and serve it to your boss and say ‘What do you think of that?’”

Restaurants are usually only a part of a family farm’s marketing plan, says Schafer, along with farmer’s markets, community-supported-agriculture programs, farm stands, and even Web sales for meat. But they can be a complementary piece. Michael Yezzi of Flying Pigs Farm specializes in rare heritage breeds of pigs, humanely pasture-raised. He says when he and his partner Jennifer Small started out, they sold only retail, but quickly met chefs at farmers markets. Restaurants are now a quarter of their business.

To encourage more of this, Schafer and the Regional Farm and Food Project have been facilitating some informal networking between farmers and chefs. Schafer also coordinates the Farm to Chef Express, a collaborative that helps farmers sell to New York City restaurants. Schafer says she and RFFP are working to establish a more formal business-to-business network, modeled on the Berkshire Grown program in western Massachusetts. That may include adding a local delivery day to Farm to Chef Express, for example. RFFP is already at work compiling a directory for interested diners of restaurants that buy local food.

The combined power of locally-minded diners and chefs provides a big boost to a difficult industry. Sometimes chef demand even starts a farm business. When Joann Tarbox retired six years ago, she planned to spend a lot of time on her gardening. At the time, Schepici was the chef at Troy’s Tavern at Sterup Square, where her daughter-in-law was waiting tables. Schepici was saying he wanted to find a local source of Swiss chard, and Tarbox’s daughter-in-law made the connection. A partnership was born. “I said to him, ‘You take my seed catalog and check off what variety you would like and I’ll grow them for you,’” recalls Tarbox, who lived only a few miles from the restaurant.

That was her introduction to heirloom varieties, especially tomatoes, which now sell very well at her new roadside stand, which she hires her grandchildren to work. The business even brought in enough income to help her husband’s dairy farm through the low dairy prices of 2002 and 2003. But she still mostly sells to Schepici. The relationship is a good one. “If he finds something wrong he tells me,” she says. “If things are exceptionally wonderful he tells me.”

maxel-lute@metroland.net

It’s Written All Over Their Faces
By John Brodeur

Internet entrepreneurs turn advertising on its head—by advertising on their heads

 

As Americans—heck, as hu mans, even—we’ve grown accustomed to how active and influential advertising is in our everyday lives, whether we realize it or not. Even in the most rural setting, billboards and other signage are omnipresent. Turn on your car radio—someone’s bound to be promoting something. Randomly flip through 400 cable stations and 275 of them will be airing advertisements. E-mail spam, Internet pop-up ads, that old warhorse direct mail. But, until now, advertising has been the work of agencies and corporations.

Leave it to a bunch of punks to capitalize on, well, capitalism. Thanks to eBay, some enterprising auctioneers have established flesh as the new advertising medium. It’s a bit of a turn for an auction Web site that had, until recently, dealt almost entirely in goods, not services. And some sellers have made quite a bundle by recasting themselves as walking billboards.

In January, Andrew Fischer, a 20-year-old resident of Omaha, Neb., took a shot in the dark and auctioned off some prime ad space—his forehead. The five-day eBay auction, in which he promised to place a temporary tattoo carrying a company logo on his cranium for 30 days, carried a one-cent starting bid.

“It was gonna be a flop, or it was gonna be successful,” he recalls. “And it was very successful.” To say the least. In the auction’s final seconds, the bid skyrocketed to a whopping $37,375. Of course, he had to actually walk around with a temporary tattoo on his face for 30 days, but that’s a small price to pay (or get paid for). With his newfound fortune came a bit of celebrity. Within days, Fischer was being courted by radio and television news programs from Good Morning America to The Tony Danza Show, and was even invited to attend this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony.

Of course, along with the celebrity came the copycats. A 27-year-old Scottish woman offered “the top part of [her] cleavage (the part which is legal to display)” in another such auction. Not a bad deal, as she explained on her auction page that she is “an ample size 42GG,” and “usually wear[s] low-cut tops,” including pictures to back up the information. (The winning bidder—online casino site www.golden palace.com—paid £422, or about $633.) Meanwhile, New York-based businessman Joe Tamargo has sold nine permanent ad tattoos through eBay and his own Web site, www.livingadspace.com, earning him more than $13,000.

They’re not all in it for greed. Ana Torres, of Manteca, Calif., is afflicted with multiple sclerosis. She is confined to a wheelchair about 40 percent of the time, and has to pay for a number of medications and treatments. Her husband is also disabled, and the couple have three children. Torres is currently auctioning ad space on her wheelchair and car (plus a temporary skin tattoo) to raise money for her family and treatment. She’s promised to maintain the ads for up to five years, depending on the bid amount. Plus, she’s promised to donate 10 percent of her earnings to charity.

The odds aren’t necessarily in her favor, though. Chad Lawrence, another eBayer trying to raise money to cover family and medical costs, had no luck after three attempts at selling tattoo space. Perhaps interest in skin ads is already waning.

But you never know. Golden Palace.com has been buying up uninked flesh like the last barrels of Texas crude, and shows no sign of stopping. In fact, Fischer’s noggin currently sports the site’s logo. On this particular Wednesday afternoon, he’s having his photo taken on the streets of New York City, holding a grilled-cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary that GoldenPalace.com snapped up recently through another heavily hyped eBay auction. Gimmicks spawn more gimmicks, it seems.

Christian de Rivel, owner of SnoreStop, an anti-snoring-aid manufacturer, couldn’t be happier with the current trend. As the winner of Fischer’s headspace, the California-based company rode a wave of publicity in the wake of the auction. Rivel says that traffic on his Web site (www.snorestop.com) quintupled in the days following the end of the auction, and product sales quintupled as well. They’ve even spun the tattoo tactic into a new marketing ploy: Their Web site now offers a contest in which you could be the “next SnoreStop forehead person,” and they include a free temporary tattoo with every order, offering free product if you send them a picture of yourself wearing it. On your forehead, of course.

While GoldenPalace.com recently paid to have its logo permanently tattooed on the forehead of a daring Canadian gentleman, Fischer, ever the smart businessman, says he won’t go quite that far. He’s taken in just shy of $50,000 in less than three months, enabling him to quit his day gig as a Web designer, and he’s hoping to move to Hollywood to pursue a full-time career in the entertainment business soon. He sure couldn’t do that with a company logo permanently branded on his brow. He’s tracking his exploits on his Web site, www.humanadspace.com.

Tamargo concurs. While he’s perfectly willing to blacken his forearms with brand names, a permanent forehead tattoo would be going too far.

Whether or not this can become a self-sustaining trend remains to be seen—the whole thing will surely end once someone tattoos the golden arches on their forehead—but for now, watching how the pie gets sliced is fascinating.

Where There’s a Workshop, There’s a Way
By John Rodat

Technical innovations aren’t just confined to operation systems and cell phones—in basements and garages, the inventor still toils

 

Build a better mouse- trap and the world will beat a path to your door, they say. And since the implication is that the “they” beating the path will come bearing those giant sweepstakes-sized checks, there should be considerable appeal for a working slob to capitalize on any native gift for tinkering and to hang out a shingle as an independent inventor.

In the recent movie Garden State, a character becomes a millionaire by inventing a silent type of Velcro for military use (which, seriously, really would be a score), and in Envy, the character played by Jack Black devises some kind of dog-poop vaporizer and makes his own pile (sorry). And way back in the days when America was a manufacturing force to be reckoned with, back before humiliating oneself on a reality TV program promised the quickest route out of obscurity and poverty, it was an even more standard and convenient fictional path from rags to riches.

Today, however, it seems that if you want to make the really big money, it’d be far smarter to better program or market an existing mousetrap than to actually make anything at all. Steven Wozniak knew how to make a computer, after all, but Bill Gates knew how to sell ’em. Furthermore, in the minds of the hoards of cable-subscribers addled by late-night infomercials, the must-have, labor-saving device comes with a shrieking Australian pitchman—or Suzanne Somers. And, really, neither figure inspires much confidence. The prestige of the eccentric basement-workshop inventor, futzing obscurely with flywheels, cogs, camshafts and/or flux capacitors has passed out of vogue, it seems, and given way to the punk glamour of the eccentric, tattooed and fauxhawked video-game programmer.

But even if you’re familiar with no code more sophisticated than the one on your car alarm (which is going off right now, by the way), or if you’re nervously awaiting the verdict of the MGM v. Grokster case before introducing your software that allows for the boosting, er, sharing of music directly from the brain of the artist during composition (pre-copyright! It’s brilliant!), you may still have worthy non-computer-based ideas aplenty. People are still inventing actual, nonvirtual objects, and improving old ones:

Like these, found at the Web site of local patent and trademark law firm Schmeiser, Olsen and Watts: U.S. Patent No. 6,732,965, which was awarded to Clyde Bascue Jr. for his Fly Fishing Reel with a Device for Enabling or Disabling a Preset Amount of Drag. That sounds useful. Everybody wants to control the drag, right? Or No. 6,769,147, which went to Shawn Stubbs, for his Multi-Use Broad Bladed Knife. You’ve got your Swiss Army, your Leatherman, your Celtic two-handed broadsword—but what toolbox would be complete without No. 6,769,147? Or the Stake Impact and Removal System, which we can only assume is something for the hardcore goth kids; or the Customer-Engaging Food Merchandising Module, which must be, like, some kind of Triscuit-pimping cyborg—which would be so freaking cool; or the Covalent Attachment of Polymer to Cell to Prevent Virus Bonding to Recepter. . . . All right, you’re probably not up to that last one. But those others, that’s stuff you could do, probably.

If you’re still not convinced, not sure that your idea is worth the effort, you can go to the Web site of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (www.uspto.gov), which has tons of info designed to be helpful to the hopeful inventor, including a list of what types of creations do—and do not—potentially qualify for patents. Officially, the patent is given to an inventor “to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention throughout the United States or importing the invention into the United States.” In other words, it is intended to prevent any Tom, Dick or Harry from snatching your idea, cutting into your market and robbing you of your well-deserved fortified manse in the hill country of the Pacific Northwest.

You can get a patent for a process; machine; article of manufacture; composition of matter; or for an improvement of any of the above. On the other hand, at the moment, you cannot get one for laws of nature; physical phenomena; abstract ideas; or inventions that are “not useful”—like perpetual-motion machines. (Yeah, we don’t get that, either. Impossible, yes. Not useful? Must be a Cheney thing.) Nor can you get one for an invention that is “offensive to public morality.” (As of press time, we have been unable to get the list of patents denied on the basis of moral offense—though we are really, really, really trying.)

Furthermore, your brainchild should be novel, nonobvious, “adequately described or enabled (for one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention),” and claimed by the inventor in clear and definite terms.

Given all these (somewhat vague) conditions, it is not surprising that the site suggests—though law does not require—that you get yourself a lawyer to help you with the process. But don’t let that intimidate you. The site is chock-full of pointers and warnings to help the unpatented avoid pitfalls and scams, and get patented. There’s even a Beginner’s Kit in PDF, if this is your first foray into the field.

And don’t let naysayers squash your ambitions. It’s true that for every “better mousetrap” optimist there’s some cynic cautioning you from wasting your time reinventing the wheel; but where would that advice have gotten the holder of U.S. Patent No. D488,281, which was awarded in April 2004 to Byung Duk Min—for Bubble Gum. You’d have thought it was older, huh?


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