A legend and a beloved chef
By Michael Welch
You know that moment in the Pixar film Ratatouille where the haughty food critic is transported back to his youth through one bite of a classic dish? I experienced one of those moments myself because of Dano Hutnik, one of the greatest chefs in the Finger Lakes, who passed away last May at age 69.
When I launched Edible Finger Lakes everyone told me I had to meet this Chef Dano and write a story about him (I did, you can read it here). So, I journeyed out to Seneca Lake and his Austrian-style Heuriger restaurant. It was winter and the sun was over the lake and it was lunch time. I was excited to see the menu of schnitzel, spätzle and pickled salads that I had grown up eating when I was a military kid living in Europe. I think I might have ordered one of everything.
Dano, as anyone who knew him would know, was his usual charming self and came to my table to chat. He told me plenty about the Finger Lakes and what has happening in the food and farm world here, gossiping and joking along the way. But then he went back to the kitchen and sent dishes out. Crispy cutlets of pork schnitzel, buttery tender corkscrews of house-made noodles, tangy bites of purple pickled cabbage and a fantastic glass of crisp Riesling from Standing Stone. It’s going to sound hokey, but I was eating and looking out at the lake, making audible sounds of delight. And then I could feel tears running down my face. I was 12 years old again, in an Austrian restaurant eating dinner with my family after a day on the slopes. The food was that authentic and transporting. I had been eating in German and Austrian restaurants all over America searching to find that culinary experience from my childhood and I had to come to this remote section of upstate New York to find it. But it was worth the wait.
It was heartbreaking for all of us foodies when Dano passed unexpectedly. Fortunately for us his wife, Karen Gilman, is keeping Dano’s memory and the Heuriger humming along and it’s as good as ever. I will continue to miss Dano and his boisterous, funny ways but I’ll think of him with every meal, grateful that he shared his immense talents and passion for creating good food and wonderful memories with all of us.
This article appeared in our 2018 Wine Edition.