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Hamburg Casino chef brings a new meaning to local produce

GROW, GARDEN GROW — Brian Sterner, left, and his culinary team stand in front of a few of 15 flourishing garden beds, part of the gaming venue’s farming effort. Photos submitted by Charles Roberts.
Executive Chef Brian Sterner said that he has always been a fan of local produce. But the top culinarian for Delaware North Companies Gaming & Entertainment at Hamburg Casino at The Fairgrounds in Hamburg recently took it to the next level, adding a small onsite farm, to enhance his locally-sourced menu.

Sterner and the gaming venue’s management team initially asked the Erie County Agricultural Society, which owns The Fairgrounds, to add seven raised beds, but that number soon grew to 15.

Sterner said that what began as a modest gardening operation grew into a small farm, allowing him to gather herbs, squash, tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, Swiss chard, green beans, fennel, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, kohlrabi, eggplant, snap peas and sweet corn.

“I brought it up in a meeting that I’d like to have a garden,” said Sterner, who has been the venue’s executive chef since November 2012. He transferred from the Delaware North Companies Parks & Resorts-operated Gideon Putnam Resort in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

“Our general manager, Ellsworth Gaskill, came into my office and asked if I was serious, because he thought it was a great idea,” Sterner added. “I said, ‘Absolutely. I made it work at Gideon.’ So from there, we went to ECAS, our client, and they were very supportive.”

Sterner and his culinary team have been slowly infusing the locally-grown products into the casino’s buffet and a few of its action stations. Sterner said that the customers have taken notice.

“We’ve been using as much as we can in the buffet and it really makes a difference,” he said. “The guests can’t believe what we are doing – in a good way.”

Sterner said that the produce contains no pesticides “and you don’t have to worry about the distance the food travels; the farm is less than two football fields from our kitchens. And the other great thing is, we get all of our mulch and soil from ECAS, so we know who it’s from and what we are getting.”

The products, which were grown in a greenhouse late last winter and then transferred to the raised outdoor beds, were all grown from seed, except the blueberry and raspberry bushes, which were purchased from Hamburg-based Lockwoods Nursery.

“It’s worked out even better than I had hoped,” Sterner said. “The raised beds allow for better drainage and heat. Not to mention, I think the hot days and cool nights have really helped.”

Sterner has been with Delaware North since 2005, when he became executive chef at Top of the Falls Restaurant in Niagara Falls State Park.

During his tenure there, he contributed some Niagara region recipes for Delaware North’s 2006 cookbook, “Pathways to Plate.”

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