I’m a sucker for noodles. And handmade noodles? Piled in a rich oyster-mushroom broth? Yes, please. That’s what’s for lunch today—along with a salad of local greens and feta, a braised pork belly from Vermontville’s Kate Mountain Farm, and a scrumptiously sticky maple-syrup cake—at The Ganzi, Paul Smith’s College’s student-run restaurant.
The prix-fixe menu, which changes weekly to showcase seasonal products, is created by undergrads, prepared by undergrads and served by undergrads in a classic bowtie-apron-suspenders getup. On this early-spring day, there are about a dozen diners in the 40-seat room, a bright space outfitted with twiggy accents and celebrity caricatures.
The latter are a nod to the iconic decor of The Palm, a New York City institution founded in 1926 that’s become an international restaurant chain owned, in part, by Paul Smith’s alum Walter Ganzi Jr.
In 2005 Ganzi partnered with the college to open the upscale-dining training program that would morph into Paul Smith’s own version of The Palm, a fully functional on-campus restaurant that opened to the public in 2013. The name was changed in 2017 to avoid confusion with the original swank steak house.
After mastering cheffing fundamentals, culinary arts and service management students graduate to The Ganzi, applying what they’ve learned in real time. They spend half of the semester working front-of-house—curating guests’ dining experiences under the tutelage of food-and-beverage trainer Amy Coddington-Burnett—and the other half rotating through the kitchen’s work stations.
Today, Brandon Griffin, 20, is handling salads and desserts, from prepping purple daikons and deep frying chickpea-flour croutons to dishing up maple cake and ice cream. His biggest challenge? “Finding my plating style,” he says. (With a smear of maple cream connecting a cube of cake to a dollop of ice cream nested on walnuts, it looks like he nailed it.)
Students also take their turns at the vegetable and protein stations, or expediting orders through the entire process—and everybody does a hitch at the sink. “You have to know how to have empathy for the dishwashers,” says associate professor Kevin McCarthy, who supervises the kitchen.
McCarthy, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, started at Paul Smith’s in 2009 after a decade as executive chef at The Point on Upper Saranac Lake and a couple of years at the Lake Placid Lodge. He made the career change to spend more time with his wife and 15-, 11- and seven-year-old sons, but he says working with young adults has its own rewards, allowing him to teach the next generation “the realities of the business, the good and the bad.”
Part of the job is guiding students to a deeper relationship with food. McCarthy’s syllabus includes field trips to farms, tracking ingredients from their roots and exploring the symbiotic relationships between livestock and crops. “We see the light go on,” he says. “‘Wow, a piece of chicken isn’t just a piece of chicken, a carrot isn’t just a carrot.’”
At Juniper Hill Farm, in Wadhams, owner Adam Hainer explains the hurdles involved in organic certification while wooing his audience with samples. At Asgaard Farm & Dairy, in Au Sable Forks, students sometimes pitch in during cheesemaking. “It’s important that kids see how much depth there is in a piece of cheese,” says McCarthy. And they might expand their palates while they’re at it—sophomore Jeaneliz Mendez didn’t think she liked goat cheese, but the award-winning flavors at Asgaard changed her mind.
When the chefs-in-training get back into the kitchen, they’re encouraged to make everything from scratch. “We have yet to open a single can,” says 19-year-old Connor Caratozzolo. “There’s so much processed food [in this country],” adds Nick Wheaton, 20. “We care about bringing people local, fresh products, where everybody knows where it’s coming from.”
Where it’s coming from is often not very far—vegetables from Juniper Hill and Keeseville’s Fledging Crow; cheeses from Asgaard and Sugar House Creamery, in Upper Jay; potatoes from Tucker Farms, in Gabriels; eggs for that handmade pasta from Saranac Lake’s Moonstone Farm and Forest; pork from Kate Mountain Farm; mushrooms from Pierrepont’s Deep Root Farm. “We have a great relationship with a lot of local farms,” says McCarthy. “Even in the middle of winter, there’s still a lot of product available.”
Another lesson is keeping food waste to a minimum. “Each menu feeds into the next one,” says McCarthy. “Don’t throw away the asparagus trim, make it into soup.” Scraps that can’t be used are sent to Moonstone Farm for composting.
But beyond philosophy and cooking skills, shifts at The Ganzi cultivate efficiency, organization and flexibility. “You can’t just learn how to make hollandaise sauce,” McCarthy says. “You have to figure out how to make it in a hot kitchen, in too-small a space with people working around you.”
Here, students carve out their places in the chain between farm and table. “We put our heart and soul on the plate,” says Wheaton.
If You Go
The Ganzi, in Paul Smith’s College’s Cantwell Hall, is open for lunch Wednesday through Friday during the fall and spring semesters, with five-course dinners offered on Fridays. Seating for lunch happens at 11:30 a.m., 12 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. Dinner is served three evenings a week during the summer term. For reservations, call (518) 327-6355 or email email@example.com. Special events happen throughout the year, including a collaboration with DaCy Meadow Farm, of Westport, at the Adirondack Harvest Festival, taking place on September 20 at the Essex County Fairgrounds. See www.adirondackharvest.com for details.