LAKE PLACID - It's a Wednesday night, and you don't feel like cooking. It's time to head to the Shipman Youth Center for I Love Local Eats.
After taking off the month of July, the I Love Local Eats monthly cooking series is back underway Aug. 21. The series this month featured Kayte Billerman, who runs the Good Bite Kitchen on Main Street.
You are greeted at the door by two girls who frequent the youth center. They are taking $15 donations. All of the proceeds from the events go to benefit programs for them and other kids at the youth center.
Once you have paid the price of admission, which goes toward the youth center's programs, you head into the youth center's spacious dance room, which is has wooden floors and walls up to a chair rail, then a verdant jungle scene painted around the tops of the walls.
About five round tables are set up with white tablecloths and a water pitcher and circled with about six cushioned folding chairs. Green cloth napkins, plastic cutlery and a paper cup are set at each place.
At one end of the room, a rectangle table is set up with an assortment of coffee and tea options donated by Hannaford supermarket, and Hannaford employee Theresa stands nearby, ready to serve them.
In another corner, a long rectangle table is set up with a hot plate, a food processor and a variety of other cooking supplies.
By about 6:30 p.m., the seats have mostly filled up and 93.9 WSLP morning show host Paul Varga, Youth center Director Jon Fremante and Billerman gather in front of the cooking table to get started.
Fremante kicks off the night by explaining that all the proceeds from the event go to support the youth center. The center has a $95,000 annual operating budget, so "every little bit helps," he says.
The youth center serves 150-200 kids, which might be between a quarter and a half of the students at the local high school.
"So it's a pretty big impact on the community," Fremante says.
Then Varga introduces Billerman and explains how her restaurant is 100 percent vegetarian, usually with gluten-free and vegan options as well. Billerman tells him how she moved home after completing cooking school in Colorado and was offered the space where her restaurant currently resides. She was skeptical, but she took the plunge.
She says she gets a lot of customers who aren't necessarily vegetarian but are looking for a healthy, quick lunch.
They discuss her business a bit more, then she jumps into her first demonstration: how to make hummus. Instead of actually roasting a bulb of garlic for an hour, she shows how to prepare it, then pulls out an already-cooked version of the same thing.
"That was really quick," Varga quips.
Then she combines other ingredients into a food processor while talking about the farms she gets her produce from as Fremante and other youth center participants and volunteers distribute fresh water pitchers to the tables that need it.
"And that's hummus," she says as she finishes up. "That's the basics."
Varga brings around the bowl of hummus she has made so people can smell and see it, then the crew brings plates of hummus and bread so everyone can sample it.
Then Billerman demonstrates how to make a black bean veggie burger, and as she does, volunteers bring around extra bread to swipe up any remaining hummus at the tables.
Varga and Billerman talk about the cooking process and other topics, like food that may seem good for you but isn't, as she cooks up some veggie burger patties. Then the crew distributes a small veggie burger topped with an avocado paste and a side of coleslaw to each attendee.
Varga and Billerman sit down while everyone eats, chatting with people and trying a bite or two themselves.
After dinner, each attendee gets a small slice of cake from Cake Placid. Then Varga gets up and thanks all the series' sponsors, including Hannaford, Cake Placid, the Lake Placid News, WSLP and USA Luge, and Fremante gives Billerman a bottle of maple syrup as a thank-you gift.
The youth center has a local farmer who donates all his sap to the youth center, which is boiled down into syrup at the Cornell-Uihlein Farm. The youth center sells bottles of the syrup as a fundraiser, and Fremante said he gives one to each person who is featured in the cooking series.
Dmitry Feld had the idea for the cooking series when he decided he wanted to create an event to try to unite locals and visitors with area restaurants and the youth center. He told the News he brought the idea to Varga, and they developed the concept together.
The series got started 18 months ago, in February 2012, and has featured a number of different area restaurants since then, including Generations Restaurant, Pan Dolce, Caffe Rustica, Mikonos, the Blue Moon Cafe and La Bella Ristorante.
Feld said people sometimes don't go to certain restaurants because of preconceived notions - something they heard from a friend or one questionable experience years ago. So this series gives them a chance to try new things while supporting the youth center.
"It's a great cause," Feld said. "Everybody wins."
Feld said he tries to target Lake Placid and Saranac Lake area restaurants, and it has been popular, with an average of 30 to 50 people attending.
"One show, we had 68 people," he said. "It was packed."
It's also popular among the businesses.
"Any chef that we ask to participate, I would say 90 percent of them agree on the spot," Feld said. "It's a great venue. We want to get the traffic for those chefs."
Most of the time, the chefs feed attendees a full, three-course meal - "Nobody ever walks out hungry," he said. But Cake Placid is being featured later this year, and that will be just dessert, Feld said.
"We welcome anybody who'd like to try local foods to visit us," Feld said.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.