Autumn Geer, Chef De Cuisine at Brick City Catering, plays a pivotal role at RIT and will be putting her skills to the test this weekend at the annual New York Ice Wine and Culinary Festival, which takes place this Saturday, Feb. 11, at Casa Larga Vineyards. She recently sat down with me to talk about her role in the festival, career path, and what it’s like leading preparing incredible daily food with the Brick City Catering team.
Geer was born and raised here in Rochester, growing up in the food industry little by little. Her journey into the field of cooking began with baking, before being hired as a temp at RIT in the summer of 2004. “That November, I got hired full-time running the deli and bakery, upstairs in the Cafe,” she recalls, “and at that time they were one unit. From there I just showed what I could do and continued to learn, eventually becoming the Sous Chef. About two and a half years ago I stepped into my role as Chef De Cuisine.”
Today Geer works with a team of dedicated students and full time employees. She says that when she was hired she “got to pick and choose my team and build it from the ground up. I’m really proud of how far we’ve come. At this point, I think we have about 10 – 12 student staff and 5 full-timers working underneath me.” Geer and her team work hard to put forth the best quality food possible, whether they’re prepping for the lunch rush, or catering a high-profile event. “We’ve really blossomed into this big, happy family,” she adds. “We spend a lot of time together. Our student employees love to work just as hard as we do, they drive off our passions, and my full-time staff– they’re just absolutely amazing, I couldn’t do any of this without them.”
When asked how to describe a typical day at Brick City Catering, she jokes, “Day by day?” Geer and her team are charged with the monumental task of cooking for an entire campus of students and faculty, while also providing catering services around RIT (faculty/staff lunches at the Gene Polisseni Center: LINK) and events around Rochester. “Because we do mass production, we always have to plan a few days out. Today’s Wednesday, right now we’re prepping through Thursday and into Friday. Tomorrow we’ll continue through the rest of the weekend,” she explains. “I come in every morning and go over the prep list with the staff, compare it with the production book. They’re pretty self-sufficient in that aspect, and they just work off that.” Geer is always on call, even when she’s off campus, citing a recent doctor’s appointment where she happily took several work calls. “They’ll call and ask me any questions that are necessary while I’m, say, working with the sales department, planning out long-term projects, or working with my two sous chefs directly on VIP menus and monitoring what’s going on upstairs [Brick City Cafe] at the same time.”
The New York Ice Wine & Culinary Festival
The annual New York Ice Wine & Culinary Festival will be held at Casa Larga Vineyards in Fairport this Saturday from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Geer has been in charge of catering this event for the past five years, crafting a menu of unique, ice wine infused dishes for the many attendees each year. “It was probably around five years ago, they gave me a call and sort of dropped this whole thing on our plate,” she recalls. “It was right before Christmas break. We took those 10 days to break it down and see if it was something we could do. Realistically what they asked us to create, and these are all custom dishes, was one dessert, which is pretty normal for ice wine, as it is a dessert wine,” she explains. “We started off with five savory dishes which, is where the challenge came into play. There’s a high sugar content in ice wine, and the chemistry doesn’t really work with certain flavors.”
Creating an innovative menu centralized around one ingredient, in this case ice wine, is no easy task, especially when the vineyard includes no kitchen, just “one oven on a loading dock, and some tables.” This showcases Geer and her team’s ability to “make it work” with what they are given when out in the field catering events.
“Basically I’ll look at the ice wine and then, let’s say, what cheeses pair with it. Or what meats could use something sweet to bring them to the next level.”
Balancing flavors is an integral part of cooking, and since ice wine is naturally very sugary, she will substitute it as the sweet component for most of the dishes. “The vinaigrette I’m making calls for sugar, but instead of putting the sugar in, I’ll sub that out for ice wine. Using your basic knowledge of foods, and what you know about them, you just try to pair them with something that makes sense.” She lists some examples of previous dishes for reference: “I made a ketchup one year to go over a cheeseburger slider. We did mango chipotle ice wine barbecue sauce to go over some pulled chicken, so you just try to balance your flavors.”
What’s New This Year?
A new menu must be made for the festival each year, and Geer keeps up with current food trends when crafting each dish. “Banh Mis are a big trend currently, so I showcased that this year. I used duck for them, and people are usually scared of duck, but in this type of atmosphere it really gives you an opportunity to showcase things that people are scared of eating, and make them like it.” Geer gives festival attendees an opportunity to “face their fears” and indulge in different foods they normally wouldn’t try otherwise.
You can buy tickets for the New York Ice Wine & Culinary Festival here. Be sure to come out and enjoy expertly-curated food provided by RIT’s Brick City Catering, drink NY ice wine and much more!