Geneva hotel embraces farm-to-table values
By Sarah Barden, Photos by Jan Regan
When you picture a salad at a hotel restaurant, which comes to mind: mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers and Italian vinaigrette? Or kale, Moroccan spiced chickpeas, ginger turmeric carrots, Himalayan red rice, sprouts and tahini? As it turns out, you’ll find both on the menu at F2T Kitchen & Bar.
Located inside the Ramada Plaza by Wyndham on Geneva’s lakefront, F2T Kitchen is a fresh start for the hotel’s eatery. In January, Chef Samantha Buyskes—a prolific Finger Lakes figure known for Simply Red Bistro and Kindred Fare, among others—took the helm to re-brand and transition the existing concept to farm-to-table.
From the outside, it seems that corporate and customer expectations for the restaurant’s offerings might not be compatible with a locally-sourced menu.
“There [are] standardized ideas of what people expect when they stay at a hotel; they have a certain expectation of what their food might look like,” Buyskes says. As a result, her job became one of not defying expectations, but finding new and creative ways to meet them.
“I came in and said ‘You don’t necessarily have to redesign a whole menu.’ We have clients who have been coming here for a long time, customers who are used to a club sandwich,” she says. “It was important for me to hold onto the map that was already here.”
So Buyskes turned her focus first to sourcing high-quality ingredients by leveraging relationships with local producers she had established over the past two decades in the region. She incorporates these into familiar dishes, such as meatloaf with cognac mushroom sauce (her own twist on a classic), mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach.
Where others might feel constrained by the seasonality of local foods, Buyskes seeks inspiration. “I haven’t been specific to one style because the ingredients of that particular season—I let them speak to me.” That means topping her red quinoa and flax oatmeal with poached fruit instead of fresh, for example.
Of equal importance to the food was reworking the back of house. For Buyskes, the core of a farm-to-table restaurant is sustainability—the principles of which she applies throughout F2T Kitchen. “It’s about the work environment you’re creating for your staff,” she says, explaining that offering dignified employment with responsible pay matters just as much as buying local greens.
Buyskes implemented her vision piece by piece. The restaurant never closed, so every change was made while also serving three meals a day, catering banquet hall events and hosting community wine pairing dinners. Renovation of the space occurred in early spring, with plans to turn a black statement wall into a storyboard of the folks behind the food. Buyskes views this as the final component: telling the story of the community and the people she works with to every diner, whether a local or a visitor.
Sarah Barden has always taken every opportunity to try new food, which now includes leading tours with her husband through their business Ithaca is Foodies Culinary Tours (ithacaisfoodies.com). When she’s not working, she’s still eating—which she documents on Instagram @ithacaisfoodies.
Jan Regan is a longtime Geneva-based photographer happiest when capturing the people, places and things of the Finger Lakes – and beyond. More at: janreganphotography.com.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 edition of the magazine.