Trish Aser is the co-owner of the Brown Hound Downtown in Rochester’s Memorial Art Gallery. It’s a bakery, bistro, lounge and catering business that’s focused on using locally grown and sustainable foods. We recently interviewed her about her experiences working with Finger Lakes local food and wine. We hope you enjoy her responses!
Describe your favorite cooking creation.
I had a bacon moment maybe 10 years ago when I started making candied bacon for the house salad at Brown Hound in South Bristol. We were using some local, extra thick cut bacon and it was a marriage of smoky, peppery, savory, sweet meat candy! It got replaced by spiced walnuts in the salad so we started making it in whole strips as a side dish.
What do you love most about your job?
I am endlessly challenged to learn new skills, be it cooking, baking, bookkeeping, or marketing. Restaurant school never takes a recess!
Where do you work now and where have you worked in the past?
Currently, I am tiptoeing through the pandemic at Brown Hound Downtown. It’s been such a rollercoaster. My partner, Joe Scardilla has been building out our new concept in Naples, Old School Café, so I am taking the “dips” in the ride to work on that. Before Brown Hound Bistro, there’s a handful of people who remember Brown Dog Diner. This was my fledgling attempt at ownership—a small concession trailer parked out in front of my apartment when I first moved to The Finger Lakes in 2003. Before that, it’s a long list of stints in front of the house positions and management. Little known fact: I spent one year at a desk at Kodak, mostly standing up because sitting all day was pretty foreign to me!
When did you first become interested in farm-to-table cooking?
It was not a conscious decision. I had worked with two amazing local wine heroes, John Brahm (the owner of Arbor Hill and Brown Hound’s neighbor) and Ron Reals to create my first wine list. It was all Finger Lakes! It just made sense to build relationships with other local businesses. As I drove around the area visiting wineries, I passed endless farm stands and well, the rest just fell into place!
How do you use local and seasonal ingredients?
I’m most proud of our complete NY State bar! We have soft drinks, beer, wine, cider, and spirits all from New York. The craft beverage industry in our state is exploding with options. We also continue to use local products in our menus.
Name a few local food producers you work with now or have worked with in the past.
Lively Run goat cheese and Wohlschlegels maple syrup have been featured on our menus for over a decade. Finger Lakes agriculture has followed a similar trajectory as craft beverage, so we constantly spread the love by changing menus and working with amazing distributors who are also committed to the local scene.
Why do you think using local and seasonal ingredients grown and produced in the Finger Lakes is important?
OMG. I’ve written pages in this. Top 5. 1. Having a relationship with the vendor. Supporting real people in our community, knowing their story, and sharing a passion. 2. Quality product. Smaller-scale and that passion I mentioned result in the highest quality items, grown or produced with love and care, and industry best practices. 3. Less footprint. Local products don’t travel far, have been touched by very few hands and require us to keep inventory very fresh, so not much in the freezer. 4. Flavor (maybe this should be #1). I love to tell the story of a customer who called me to the table to tell me how delicious their meal was. They wanted to know how we got so much flavor into the food. I wish I could’ve taken all the credit. lol. 5. Shared fans. When we support other local businesses, they support us back.
What’s on the top of your mind right now?
Restaurants as a whole are on the cusp of a new business format. Rising costs, changing labor standards, food trends, new technologies, the pandemic—it all pushes a different model. It’s still evolving…
Describe your favorite cooking technique? OR describe a recent memorable cooking experience?
Braising and brining! Beef Wellington was a signature menu item 10 years ago, but today, I’m focusing on less expensive proteins that can be transformed into something delectable, travels well (delivery & catering) and offers a quick pickup.
Is there a recipe for home chefs that you’d like to share?
Quick Candied Bacon
Lay out your favorite local bacon in a single layer on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Bake at 375 until roughly half cooked. Turn oven up to 425. Drain fat, pat bacon with paper towel, cut into 1 inch pieces. Toss in a bowl with a mixture of brown sugar & cracked black pepper (or other spices to your liking—have fun, make it yours) and spread evenly over your parchment, leaving excess sugar in the bowl (unless you want bacon brittle which is not a bad idea!)
Continue baking at higher heat until the sugar is melted and bacon is fully cooked. Cool and break into pieces. Eat as is or use as a topping on a salad, ice cream, or donuts!
Celebrating Local Chefs is a weekly column that aims to recognize the work, talent, and commitment Finger Lakes farm-to-table chefs have for their craft and supporting local farms and the community! If you know a chef we should interview, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.