For a few hours Sunday night the Proctors arcade was full of local food, local wine and 70 happy locals brought together around one very long table by the smell of maple-roasted butternut squash.
“Out Standing in the Arcade” was the brainchild of Proctors CEO Philip Morris. According to spokeswoman Leesa Perazzo, the event was meant not only to raise money for the theater and Schenectady’s Greenmarket but also to raise awareness for the whole farm-to-table movement.
Morris himself was a bit more modest with his expectations.
“We’re just a county over from Schoharie, New York’s breadbasket,” he said, projecting his voice over the laughter and conversation of the room. “All this good, fresh food is available. It would be goofy not to celebrate that.”
As people milled around, chatting over wine and hors d’oeuvres, Mexican Radio restaurant manager Miriam Walton oversaw a troop of busy cooks in a backroom kitchen.
“This has leeks, kale, mushrooms and apples,” she said, “all sauteed in garlic and butter.”
She pointed as the dexterous hands of a silent cook packed the sauteed mixture into a caramelized squash half, the source of the good smell.
“This is all locally sourced,” she said. “It’s right from the farm to the table. The flavors are much richer.”
On the other end of the kitchen, chicken was braised with goat cheese and dark red and orange vegetables were baked with herbs, all what Perazzo called “righteous” menu items.
She lined up the ingredients from Greenmarket vendors within a 50-mile radius, which was pretty simple as the market is housed in Proctors every Sunday over the winter.
“We wanted to put this on in January to show that you can eat locally all year round,” she said. “People think of local produce in the summer and fall, but farmers have root cellars and hoop houses.”
It might be possible, but eating locally over the winter is a bit of a challenge. Mexican Radio owners Lori Shelden and Mark Young hung out just outside the kitchen, chatting about the local foods they use in their Hudson and Manhattan locations. They’re planning to open a third location in downtown Schenectady and were helping out Sunday in part for the farm connections.
“We can’t get avocados yet,” Shelden joked, “but we’ll wait and see what global warming has in store.”
Most of their vegetables and much of their beef is brought in from nearby farms, but it’s hard to sustain over the colder months. They’ve adjusted to supply fluctuations by introducing a seasonal menu.
Young and Shelden along with most of the 70 guests seemed confident the effort to buy local pays off in flavor, but there were a few who disagreed.
“I don’t really think I’d spend a lot of time trying to buy all my food locally,” said Tim Rapp.
He had just finished a plate of hors d’oeuvres, and though he liked the squash and green olive dip, he couldn’t taste the local earth.
Surprisingly enough, Morris seemed to agree with Rapp, even while making regular Sunday trips to the market.
“I don’t know that Brussels sprouts from the grocery store taste any different than the ones I bought this morning at the Greenmarket,” he said, “but I don’t think that’s the point.”
He told of the poor apple harvest of 2012 — how New York apple farmers lost much of their crops to the unusual weather, all except one Tom Maynard.
“His farm was between a lake and a river, so it didn’t freeze,” Morris said. “He’s never had to put so many apples into cold storage. He’ll be selling them until spring. When I eat one of his apples I know that. You don’t get that from a supermarket.”