When most people think of one of Saratoga’s famous fundraising benefits, cocktail dresses, thoroughbred racing and silent auctions come to mind, but many forget about the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.
Skidmore College Executive Chef James Rose never forgets. Last month, he gave a food-preparation demonstration to showcase some of the food served at this year’s Palamountain Scholarship Benefit, the school’s longest-running scholarship event, which was held Aug. 2. Each year, Rose and his staff must think up a new, creative menu to feed hundreds of people of all culinary backgrounds.
Rose demonstrated how to prepare several dishes on this year’s menu, such as Skidmore College’s famous Farmers’ Market Salad, and a duck and roasted garlic sausage with wild rice salad. The sausage is smoked and made by hand on campus with natural casing.
Keeping things cool
“The menu is driven around the outside venue,” said Rose. “We stay away from using mayonnaise and other ingredients that will spoil easily.”
Dozens of bags of ice are ordered to keep food cold the day of the event, along with use of a refrigeration truck donated by Quandt’s Foodservice Distributors of Amsterdam. They also donate a portion of the ingredients, and some of the produce is used from the student gardens on campus to keep costs low.
Other dishes on the menu were a sun-dried tomato and basil orzo with grated Manchego cheese, lemon chicken with baby artichokes, a seafood raw bar and a sampling of desserts.
The benefit, called Polo by Twilight, raises about $150,000 each year for the Joseph C. and Anne T. Palamountain Scholarship Fund, named to honor Skidmore’s fourth president and his wife for their leadership between 1965 and 1987. It’s the largest scholarship benefit for the school; tickets cost between $75 and $125.
College spokesman Robert Kimmerle said financial aid is the largest growing portion of the school’s budget, at about $33 million. More than half of Skidmore’s students receive some form of aid annually.
Rose — who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and once owned the Union Hall Inn in Johnstown before being hired at Skidmore five years ago — serves about 500 people at the soiree each year. He said the trick is to prepare enough food so attendees feel like they are getting their money’s worth but not to have too much left over.
“We’re creating smaller-portioned dishes, with a wider variety of food so there isn’t a lot of waste,” he said.
More options included
The menu is planned weeks in advance and food preparation begins three days before the event. Rose said the menu has also changed over the years to include more vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options.
“People pay a lot of money to come to the event, so they should feel like there will be something there for them to eat if they have dietary restrictions,” Rose said. “It’s good to know if you pay the money you will get a nice meal.”
Anne Palamountain, who still presides over the event and plays a key role in its planning, said her husband never considered hiring an outside food service for the event as long as the college’s kitchen staff continued to prepare such great food. And school staff still prepare the benefit food after 32 years, although the fare is a bit different from what the students are served in campus dining halls.
During the school year, Rose’s staff serves food to 1,300 each day.
“Do they get beef tenderloin on a regular basis? No,” said Rose. “But I’m proud to lead a team of very qualified people. [The students] are fed well.”
FARMERS’ MARKET SALAD
Recipe from James Rose, executive chef of Skidmore College.
1⁄2 cup rice wine vinegar
1 1⁄2 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch of black pepper
Place blueberries in blender, pulse to chop. Add vinegar, water, salt and black pepper. Pulse to blend.
Turn motor to low and slowly drizzle the oil into the vinaigrette through feed tube or top of blender. Blend only until all of the oil is incorporated.
Serve immediately on salad.
6 cups fresh baby greens
2 large ripe peaches
1⁄2 cup toasted pecans
1⁄2 cup feta cheese, cubed
1⁄2 pint fresh blueberries
Thoroughly rinse baby greens in cold water and dry. Arrange greens on chilled plate, trying to form some height to the greens.
Cut peaches in small wedges, lightly cover in sugar and place on hot grill, being careful not to overcook. Cook enough to get grill marks and then remove to cool.
Arrange cooled peaches, toasted pecans and cheese on salad and finish with a 2-ounce ladle of blueberry vinaigrette dressing.