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Open kitchens offer visitors unique culinary adventures

Chef Lou Donato from Aurora Cooks!

From a lakefront vista to a nineteenth-century village, our region is brimming with culinary experiences for everyone. Get your appetite ready! Here is a taste of what you can look forward to if you book a spot at one of these four locations.

Aurora Cooks!

283 Main St., Aurora 

“It’s a beautiful place to work. It’s extraordinary.” 

Head chef Lou Ruscitto-Donato authors the dinner programs at Aurora Cooks!, a culinary experience nestled in a picturesque town at the Inns of Aurora Resort and Spa. During peak season, she offers a different experience for every night of the week, utilizing food and wine from the Finger Lakes area. 

From a panadería in Los Angeles to the shores of Cayuga Lake, her career has taken her from coast to coast. When the pandemic devastated the restaurant industry, Ruscitto-Donato was left wondering how she fit into that picture anymore. She saw an ad for Inns of Aurora and decided to throw her hat into the ring. 

“The director asked me what I would do with the space if it were mine,” she recalls. “At that moment I knew that I would take the job because who gives you a restaurant and says you can do whatever you want with it?” 

Ruscitto-Donato was looking for a way to share her love of multicultural cuisine. She also wanted to utilize everything in its season when it comes to grains, fruit, vegetables, and spices as peak times are constantly moving. 

She created the Chef’s Table, a four-to-six course experience meant for an adventurous palate, complete with cocktails and wine pairings. An Italian evening features pastas made by hand, and the American Wagyu experience includes Japanese beef grown locally. She believes in creating meals that are interesting, comforting, and recognizable.

Guests can churn flavored custards and taste local whiskeys and bourbons during another experience, complete with homemade waffle cones. They learn the history of local bourbon and dairy farms and how to pair flavors like fudge and caramel with the whiskeys. 

Aurora Cooks! embodies a culture of young chefs immersed in the same ideology with an obvious passion for what they do. The Kitchen Dinner experience is run by the talented chef Shane Riley, who always has beautiful flavors on his mind. 

The Caribbean experience includes curries, cardamoms, and deep warming spices of the islands. The Southeast Asian experience is inspired by Laos, Thailand, Japan, and India. It features food that’s near and dear to RuscittoDonato’s heart. She says, “My father is from Guam, and I grew up exposed to those flavors.” 

Pleasant Rowland owns the Inns of Aurora and is best known as the founder of the American Girl Doll brand. She has made it her passion project to revive the town of Aurora, one historic building at a time. Only an hour from Rochester, a visit to Aurora Cooks! makes for the perfect getaway. 

Genesee Country Village and Museum 

1410 Flint Hill Rd., Mumford 

This historic nineteenth-century village is the third-largest living history museum in the country, complete with sixty-eight historical buildings to explore. Costumed educators tend to the livestock and keep the hearth fires burning. Live demonstrations take place daily, where these experts can be found making fresh-baked bread, pies, and other delicious foods. 

The GCVM also offers a full lineup of workshops and immersive dinner experiences, from baking and cheesemaking to hearth cooking. Guests can learn how to roast their own coffee and fry their own doughnuts the old-fashioned way using historical techniques in the 1850s Jones Farm kitchen. 

Fundamentals of cheesemaking is one of the most popular workshops here. Classes, such as “Pruning Your Fruit Trees” and “Planting Your Vegetable Garden,” even extend to growing your own food. 

Paige Engard, director of communications, promises, “We’ll be sharing not just nineteenth-century methods but timeless skills that our class participants can replicate at home!”

The Commissary 

250 East Main St., Rochester 

Chef Christin Ortiz shares her passion for food and teaches how to make homemade empanadas, tortillas, pupusas, and gnocchi at the Commissary’s impressive space. Participants can sign up for her classes through the Rochester Brainery

Supporting local entrepreneurs, the Commissary has a roster of members that can offer cooking classes for a private session or an entire class in its performance kitchen. This option easily meets any dietary or allergy needs for attendees. 

Anyone can select a cuisine and choose a date with a particular chef or food company. Rhonda Destino, Commissary president, says “You are a part of the process every step of the way to curate an amazing experience for your team-building event, family celebration, or a night out with friends!” 

New York Kitchen 

800 South Main St., Canandaigua 

This gorgeous space hosts hands-on cooking experiences and classes for all ages. One of the only kitchens around of its size, it comfortably accommodates twenty-four participants, with monitors located at every station for instruction. An outdoor garden is full of raised beds for herbs. 

Executive director Alyssa Belasco says, “Everyone is welcome here, from novice to expert. You come here, experiment, and learn. We do all the cleanup.” When New York Kitchen was looking for someone with her nonprofit experience. A self-proclaimed foodie and wine nerd who loves to “support local,” Belasco knew it was a perfect match. 

Friday and Saturday evenings are Chef’s Table classes and feature as much local agriculture as possible. In the fall there is a “MEAT and greet” with protein farmers and local CSAs, including chef demonstrations. 

Workshops include gnocchi, risotto, scones, seafood, and simple cocktails. Every class starts with a quick introduction to knife skills. Other classes include “Lunar New Year Cooking: dumplings” and “I heart NY: Rochester favorites.” 

New York Kitchen offers a sous-chef academy for adults with autism so they can learn to prepare meals independently. Belasco says, “It’s pretty magical to see.” It also hosted Expeditions for Empowerment, a nonprofit that pairs students with mentors. “Our classes are great for team building. You learn a lot about yourself when you’re forced to be in a space with others making an unfamiliar recipe.”

One class is hosted by storytellers instead of chefs. “Mama’s Kitchen” is led by people who want to share family recipes and teach about their culture, from Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine to Grandma’s secret Italian recipes. 

With the tasting room just next door, guests can sample a flight or purchase wine. In that vein, New York Kitchen has offerings like “French Bistro Cuisine,” “Sweetheart Brunch,” or “Chocolate and Wine.” The only problem is deciding which class to take.

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