For this week’s Celebrating Local Chefs column, we interviewed Chef and Master Sommelier Christopher Bates and Chef Linnea Shumway of F.L.X Hospitality, a regional restaurant and beverage group that includes F.L.X. Wienery, Element Winery, F.L.X. Table, F.L.X. Culture House (a nano-brewery focusing on sours and barrel-aged beers), F.L.X. Fry Bird, F.L.X. Provisions, Feast & Co. Catering and the newly opened Quincy Exchange and soon to open Maillard Club in Corning. Christopher has spent more than two decades in the hospitality industry and runs the business with his wife Isabel Bogadtke. Linnea is the F.L.X. Hospitality Culinary Director and works closely with Christopher to manage all kitchen operations. We hope you enjoy their responses to our questions! You can follow Chef Linnea Shumway on Instagram at @minimalist.chef and Linnea at @sommelierbates.
Edible Finger Lakes: Describe a favorite cooking creation.
Linnea: Whatever I’m working on at any given moment is my favorite. While my passion centers on the restaurant experience I find myself lost in whatever new project we are working on. I’ve been honored to be exposed to many chefs and sommeliers who have gifted me with their knowledge and I have applied that to my own research and development. I do have a style of dish that has popped up a few times. Christopher and I have designed several dishes that are centered around one ingredient, and feature many textures. We’ve done it with cauliflower and strawberries and that style of dish really gives us the ability to showcase something special in a variety of ways. We really strive to approach everything we do from every angle.
Chris: I would never say I have a favorite anything when it comes to cooking. For me, cooking isn’t a collection of “creations” one amasses, its an ever-evolving creative endeavor. I don’t view cooking as the creation of a dish, as much as I do a philosophy, an approach to how we handle the very thing that nourishes us, and a form of self respect and self care. For me, cooking is about engaging with, lusting for, and carefully listening to the very source of our energy, the ingredients that feed us.
EFL: What do you love most about your job?
Linnea: I have the great pleasure of running both higher end restaurants as well as fast casual concepts with Christopher. My job is never boring! FLX Hospitality strives to impart luxury into all of our restaurants, including the fast casuals. The Champagne and Sherry choices at FLX Fry Bird are premium wines with great variety and FLX Wienery carries bourbons most people can’t find, not to mention the level of service and care we bring. You can also go to FLX Table and have a completely custom wine experience with wines from all over the world. Giving luxury to everyone is a beautiful thing that I’m proud to be a part of.
EFL: Where do you work now and where have you worked in the past?
Linnea: I am the Corporate Chef for FLX Hospitality having the base of my knowledge from Paul Smith’s College and from working at Twin Farms in Vermont. I started at FLX Hospitality as the Chef for FLX Table in 2017 and soon moved on to be the Corporate Chef and took the FLX Wienery kitchen under my watch. Back then we only had two restaurants. Since then we have opened FLX Fry Bird, FLX Provisions, moved FLX Fry Bird to a larger location, opened a Commissary Kitchen, opened another FLX Wienery inside of ROC Brewing, and now we have another FLX Provisions open in Corning with The Quincy Exchange while we work on opening the Maillard Club in the same building.
Chris: I own and operate F.L.X. Hospitality. We began our group seven years ago when we opened our first outpost of F.L.X. Wienery in Dundee, and have steadily grown and expanded since then. Prior to that, I have run small Relais & Chateaux properties in PA and Texas, and have spent roughly 25 years in the restaurant industry.
EFL: When did you first become interested in farm-to-table cooking?
Linnea: It’s not something I’m interested in—It’s just the logical and right thing to do. I grew up growing our own vegetables, making our own canned goods, and meal prepping for the winter. I remember making piles of zucchini bread and breading eggplant with my mother to freeze or gift to neighbors. I’ve carried that into my adult life at work and at home.
Chris: I grew up cooking. And farming. My parents, our neighbors, our community—they all farmed. We all grew up eating food that either we raised, our neighbors raised, or we bought at our friend’s farm stand down the road. I wouldn’t say I ever became interested in farm-to-table, but, rather I grew up amongst some of the greatest raw materials in the world, and using them has always been the core of cooking. We don’t talk much about “farm-to-table” at F.L.X. Hospitality, rather we talk about using products that have a purpose, a story, a reason for being. We believe in supporting not only our community but, small-scale agriculture, artisans and people of passion both near and far.
EFL: How do you use local and seasonal ingredients in your current work?
Chris: Throughout our menus you will find products driven by season, but, that may not always be as evident as we’d like. The Finger Lakes has strongly defined seasons, often not aligning with the “stereotypes” of seasonality. As I type this, in mid-March, sunburnt from yesterday’s beautiful 70-degree day, I know we are all anxiously awaiting those first spring delicacies … the first walk in the woods for ramps, those first spears of asparagus, sweet spring peas, the first foraged morels … and yes, they are popping up on menus all around us … yet, to be true to our regional seasonality takes patience and restraint, because while it may feel like spring, these spring delicacies don’t emerge in the Finger Lakes typically until late May/early June. Sadly, the expectations of seasonality have been distorted, yet, thankfully, Mother Nature does not bend.
Additionally, you will find products from our friends and neighbors throughout our menus, though restaurants like F.L.X. Table, Feast & Co Catering and The Quincy Exchange are particularly notable for this, as will be the Maillard Club. We have spent nearly a decade forging relationships with foragers and farmers, producers and growers throughout the region who produce products that we believe create something special enough that it doesn’t require discussion to identify. For this reason, we rarely discuss our sourcing or “fluff” up expectations. We believe quite dogmatically if the products we have chosen make a difference, that difference will be evident in the final dish. So, you won’t see the term “local” plastered across our menus, or farms listed next to each ingredient. What you will find are dishes based on the best products that our 10 years of building relationships have yet to uncover, and we believe that makes a difference.
Linnea: Whenever it makes sense we choose to shop locally. Unfortunately during the winter and spring it’s limited to eggs, cheeses, honey, and maple syrup but as harvest season comes around we drive around the lakes picking up whatever we can. The back of my car is often brimming with fresh produce during the summer.
EFL: What local food producers do you work with for your menus?
Chris: Again, we don’t typically discuss our sourcing for ingredients, but, I will say, a few of our favorite products that we look forward to each year are the ramps, knotweed and garlic mustard that I forage myself, as well as the beautiful mushrooms that local foragers provide. The honey from our friends at Miles Wine Cellars, and Hermann Wiemer are top-notch, and the deep, layered maple syrup from Lar-dog are some of our favorite sweeteners. I look forward to everything from my neighbors at Church Street Produce every year, and while it is often in incredibly limited supply, their produce always finds a place on our menus. Oh, and the eggs. Can’t forget the eggs. Those Spotted Duck duck eggs are amazing. Then there is the Cayuga Blue and Sheldrake Moon from Lively Run … Oh, and the elderflower syrup we make from the trees in our yard.
Linnea: We work with Headwater Food Hub and Regional Access to connect us with a wide variety of local farmers. We also use Spotted Duck for their duck eggs, Miles Winery and Weimer Winery for honey, Lively Run for cheeses, and Lar-Dog for maple syrup.
EFL: Why do you think using local and seasonal ingredients is important?
Chris: As stated, the quality of the raw material establishes the maximum potential of the finished dish. Seeking out the best product, from the best people, is paramount to making great food. Products at the height of their season is the only way to capture the best it has to offer.
Linnea: Every choice we make effects someone. Why not put that power to good use and support our neighbors and their passions. We always strive to find the best of the best, wherever it is.
EFL: What’s on the top of your mind right now?
Chris: Vegetables. And our new wood fired kitchen we are installing right now. We’ve spent the last four months working 80+ hours a week in opening The Quincy Exchange and F.L.X. Provisions in Corning, and have had little to no time at home. I am looking forward to cooking over fire again, whether in The Maillard Club, or at home—I can’t wait. It’s been almost five months since I have been able to work live fire everyday (for cooking, not heating), in order to coax the best out of products. And, it’s spring(ish) … so I am craving raw vegetables, sprouted grains, lentils, etc. Anything to capture to life force, vitality, and energy that is building up around us. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a few months of winter veg till those spring delicacies arrive, but, our approach to preparing them always changes this time of year.
Linnea: Koji! I’ve just started playing with it and can’t wait to incorporate it into our new and existing restaurants.
EFL: What’s a favorite cooking technique?
Chris: Once again, favorite is rather impossible for me. Every technique, braising, steaming, roasting, searing, grilling, frying, sous vide, marinating, brining, etc. has its time and place. Everyone of them adds to the great diversity cooking. Everyone will bring forth a new flavor, a new texture, a new appearance from a product. Everyone excites me for a new reason. Wether it is cooking at home, cooking in the restaurant, or cooking on a catering site, we are always striving to make every dish better than the last, and so, these techniques evolve, intermingle, and get interchanged over time. But, I will say, for the moment, I spend a lot of time harnessing the energy of wood for cooking. Whether on our grill table outdoors at F.L.X. Wienery where we produce most of our #Dundoitsocials over live fire, at home were I do probably 85% of my cooking outdoors (and a portion of the 15% remainder in or on our wood stove), or the hearth we have installed in The Maillard Club, there is something special about something so primitive, and I love the contrast against the delicacy of the dishes that can be produced from this millennia old technique.
Linnea: My favorite way to cook is surrounded by smiling faces. Whether I’m at work and having a great time with FLX employees, making holiday meals with my family, or making dinner for my husband. Doesn’t matter what I’m cooking as long as I am quenching thirst, satisfying hunger, and creating a pleasurable experience.
Celebrating Local Chefs is a weekly column that recognizes the work, talent and commitment of Finger Lakes farm-to-table chefs, and how their craft enhances their communities. If you know a chef who you’d like to see featured, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out more Celebrating Local Chefs articles here.