Event Review: “New York State of Mind” Benefit and Awards at The NY Wine & Culinary Center (Canandaigua, NY)

Event Name:  New York State of Mind Gala
Purpose:        To educate, engage and excite New Yorkers and the world about New York’s bounty
Location:        New York Wine & Culinary Center, Canandaigua, NY
When:            Saturday, November 22, 2014 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Cost:              $150 per person (charitable donation)

Event Overview

My friend Sharon and I recently attended a fund-raising event at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, located in Canandaigua, NY.  She was kind enough to invite me to attend as her guest – thank you Sharon! The New York State Wine & Culinary Center showcases the best of New York’s agriculture, wine, craft beer and food industries. This swanky event, titled, ‘New York State of Mind,” was created to educate, engage, and excite the world about New York’s locally grown and harvested bounty. In addition, the New York State of Mind  event also featured their second annual awards presentation, honoring establishments in New York State that promote New York food, beverages, agriculture and tourism.

Most notably, however, this event raised funds to support the New York Wine and Culinary Center, which was established as a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization via a combined effort of Constellation Brands, Wegmans Food MNYSOM logoarkets, Rochester Institute of Technology, and the New York Wine and Grape Foundation. Through supportive partnerships with local farmers, wine makers, artisans and entrepreneurs,

The event boasted scrumptious food and wine, as well as (mini) hands-on cooking classes, live chef cooking demonstrations, and a live auction. Valet parking and guest thank you bags topped off the evening in style. All amid the sounds of a classical pianist, entertaining the crowd with his musical musings.

The Venue

The Center’s state-of-the-art facility overlooking Canandaigua Lake, features a Hands-On Kitchen, Demonstration Theater, Tasting Room, Private Dining Room, Gift Shop, and locally sourced restaurant – the Upstairs Bistro. The state-of-the-art Hands on Kitchen features professional ranges, stainless steel appliances, over a dozen work stations, and 15 video monitors.

The Center also serves as an academic destination for culinary students from the nearby Community College of the Finger Lakes (CCFL), who use it for both hands-on classes and lectures.

The New York Wine and Culinary Center also hosts public and private events all year-long. You can visit their website here.  Don’t forget to visit the gift shop, featuring locally grown or made products.

NY Wine and Culinary Center Gift Shop
NY Wine and Culinary Center Gift Shop, Courtesy: http://www.nywcc.com
NY Wine and Culinary Center Summer Gardens
NY Wine and Culinary Center Summer Gardens, Courtesy http://www.nywcc.com

Cooking Demonstrations and Classes

During the “New York State of Mind” gala event, we attended two live chef demonstrations and one mini-cooking class. The live demonstrations, held in the Demonstration Theater, were hosted by a charming chef from Wegmans Food Markets. First, he treated us to a demonstration of how to cook a pan-seared scallop, atop a bed of perfectly prepared butternut squash farro.

NY Wine and Culinary Center "New York State of Mind" - Pan Seared Scallop Class Demonstration
NY Wine and Culinary Center “New York State of Mind” – Pan Seared Scallop with Butternut Squash Farro Class Demonstration

I especially enjoyed his technique of searing the scallop to get a sizzling crust on each side. The secret, he told us, is not to disturb the scallop while it is cooking, other than to flip it just once. He explained that the farro is used in place of rice or other grains in this dish.  It tasted as good as it looked!

In another of his demonstrations, he showed the group how to make Chocolate Hazelnut Semifreddo (ice cream) in our freezer at home, without the use of an ice cream maker.  He used fresh vanilla beans, and demonstrated how to slice the bean length wise and then use the tip of a knife to remove the vanilla beans – where most of the vanilla flavor resides.  He also gave us a great tip – simply place the vanilla bean outer “shell” into a bowl of sugar and after a while, you will have create your own vanilla sugar. The third live demonstration, which we didn’t make it to, featured Pesto-crusted rack of lamb.

In between demonstrations, we worked our way to the room next door, which houses the Hands-on Kitchen.  In this mini-class, Chef Jeffory McLean walked us through how to cook Thai Panang Chicken Curry.

Panang Chicken Curry, Courtesy: FoodMingleBog
Panang Chicken Curry, Courtesy: FoodMingleBog

I posted this recipe previously here. It was so nice to walk in and have all the ingredients prepped for us, in nice little glass bowls, ready to go into the already heated wok! After we finished watching the stir frying part of the class, the kitchen assistants brought us each a small dish of white rice, on which we simply piled the chicken curry stir fry – and there it was – all done and ready to eat! And, we didn’t have to do any of the clean up!

Other hands-on classes which weren’t able to attend (hey, you can’t do everything) included: Cajun Blackened Salmon with Beurre Blanc Sauce and also Apples Foster.

Culinary classes in the Hands-On Kitchen give the public, students, and industry professionals an opportunity to grow their skills under the direction of professional chefs and knowledgeable assistants.  I previously took a class there on how to make your own pasta. I was a lot of fun – you can read more about it here.

The Menu

Oh, the food and wine! It seemed like the food just kept coming and coming. If it wasn’t a server stopping by with more appetizers, then it was a chef bringing out more culinary creations on the buffet tables. The open bar and wine tasting kept the libations flowing all night long.


Calling the fare at this gala “appetizers” just doesn’t do it justice. New York’s bounty was surely on display for our dining pleasure. Friendly servers meandered through the crowd, offering the following delicious creations in more than appetizer portions:

  • Mushroom Ravioli
  • Linguini Bolognese
  • Vegetable Canneloni
  • Spinach Lasagna
  • Lamb Chops

I tried the mushroom ravioli, spinach lasagna and the lamb chops. The mushroom ravioli was spicy and al dente, and woke up my taste buds. The spinach lasagna was decidedly more mild, but quite enjoyable. The lamb chops, however, were absolutely heavenly.  Portioned as single chops, they could be eaten like a lolly pop – a darn good, savory lolly pop. I was so taken aback by this offering, that I had two – just to make sure that I liked them. Yes, I liked them.

In addition to the roaming servers, the downstairs dining area, called the Sands Gallery, was overflowing with stations of delectable treats. First, we came upon two large platters of the biggest shrimp I have ever seen. These shrimp were at least two full bites each. Perched upon frosty ice and accompanied by lemon wedges and several varieties of cocktail sauce, they were so enticing that I just had to snap a photo (see below). I’m not ashamed to say that I went back for thirds!

NY Wine and Culinary Center "New York State of Mind" - Shrimp Cocktail Platter
NY Wine and Culinary Center “New York State of Mind” – Shrimp Cocktail Platter (one of three platters)

I wandered over to another area where I found huge serving platters of wonderfully grilled vegetables, piled high.  These included eggplant, artichokes, onions, peppers and zucchini.  They were seasoned to perfection, with grill marks that would make even the most seasoned grill master jealous.

Next in the line of seafood sensations were multiple platters of fresh sushi, prepared table-side. The kind sushi chefs told us about the fresh salmon, tuna and shrimp sushi, along with vegetarian options. One chef also explained which sushi offerings were cooked and which were raw. Although I declined the raw variety at first, the chef shown in the photo below continually assured me that the raw sushi was fresh, safe and quite tasty. I agreed to tried some raw tuna sushi, and to my surprise, I liked it! However, it was the cooked sushi that stole my heart.

NYWCC NYSOM Sushi chef
NY Wine and Culinary Center  “New York State of Mind” Sushi chef, Courtesy: Food Mingle Blog
NY Wine and Culinary Center "New York State of Mind" - Fresh Sushi Platters
NY Wine and Culinary Center “New York State of Mind” – Fresh Sushi Platters










Wine and Cheese

New York Wine and Culinary Center Tasting Room
New York Wine and Culinary Center Tasting Room, Courtesy: http://www.nywcc.com

Following the demonstrations and classes, my friend Sharon and I visited the Tasting Room. It was there that we found a wonderful assortment of specialty meats and cheeses.  We tasted the salami, capicola, and prosciutto. We later sampled the cheeses, including a savory brie on crackers.

Servers offered flights of wine (small pours of similar wines grouped together. Sharon tried a flight of Chardonnay, which included Unoaked Chardonnay from Heron Hill’s Winery and Meritage Chardonnay from Wagner Family Vineyards.


NY Wine and Culinary Center "New York State of Mind" - Dessert Table
NY Wine and Culinary Center “New York State of Mind” – Dessert Table


By the time we came upon the dessert room, we thought that we couldn’t eat another bite. We came upon the room by accident and wandered in, wondering what was causing all the commotion.

I think I audibly gasped as I realized what was in front of us – a 20-seat dining room table draped in fine white linens, topped with fancy plates and serving towers of delectable desserts.  From mouse and parfaits, to cupcakes, fruits and other sweets, it was truly overwhelming.

In addition, dessert wines were also offered in the back of the room.  We stood in wonder for a short while and then we proceeded to taste almost one of everything. We parked ourselves by the chocolate section for longer that I should probably admit.

Live Auction

At the end of the evening, the patrons gathered in the downstairs restaurant area for a cash auction. The proceeds of the auction benefitted the New York Wine and Culinary Center. Patrons were extremely generous with their cash donations, garnering the applause of the crowd.  Admittedly, this was my first experience with a cash auction, in which donors give cash to the cause, without the lure of actual auction items.

The auctioneer started by asking the crowd for donations of $20,000 and then proceeded down from there. At the $5000 point, I realized how this worked and I was sure to keep my hands (or any other signaling devices, to myself.  While the center is certainly worth every penny that was donated, I could only watch in wonder as other pledged their tax-deductible support. Thank you to all of those you donated – you surely are a driving force in supporting New York’s local agriculture and tourism.

Also, in addition to the live auction, a beautiful wicker basked containing ten bottles of wine and assorted local food goodies was offered. I don’t know who the lucky winner was, but whoever you are – I am so jealous.  Proceeds from the raffle also benefitted the New York Wine & Culinary Center.

New York State of Mind Award 2014 Honorees

This event also featured the second annual New York State of Mind Awards, honoring those in the state that promote New York food, beverages, agriculture and tourism. The 2014 Honorees are:

Chairman’s Award: Jim Trezise, President New York Wine & Grape Foundation

EAT NY: Brown Hound Bistro (Runners Up: The MarshalLento Restaurant)

DRINK NYAbandon Brewing Company (Runners Up: Black Button DistillingCasa Larga)

GROW NY: Bostrom Farms (Runners Up: The Good Food CollectiveWeathertop Farm & Hopyard)

LOVE NY: Finger Lakes Tourism Alliance  (Runners Up: Visit Finger Lakes, Michael Welch, Publisher at Edible Finger Lakes)

Honorees were featured on individual a tri-pod poster boards, which were all scattered throughout the venue. Each later accepted their award and gave a short thank you speech, during a formal presentation near the end of the event. I was so pleased to see the local New York establishments being recognized for sourcing and championing local sources of food and wine. Congratulations to all the winners and the runners-up.  If any of my readers are in the NY area, I urge to patronize these establishments!

Overall Impression

I was delighted to have had the opportunity to attend this event. Again, I would like to thank my friend Sharon for inviting me as her guest.  It was such a wonderful experience all around, from the food and beverages and the live demonstrations and cooking classes, to the auction and awards reception, I truly enjoyed myself.  It was a treat to take part in an event which celebrates and supports locally sourced agriculture and tourism.  The New York Wine and Culinary Center is a gem of the Finger Lakes Region. New Yorkers (and the world) are so fortunate to have this establishment in our own back yard. The gala was a great way to feature not only the Center, but also local eateries and wineries. I hope that the annual gala continues to be a successful and well attended event for many years.

New York state has so much to offer – won’t you come visit us?




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