SLINGERLANDS — Speak to John Grizzaffi about food and taste won’t be the first sense he references, neither will it be the second.
It’s a conversation the chef often has when people ask him to describe the contrasts between everyday food and his Farm-to-Table menu at Garden Bistro 24. The difference, he said, is first detected by the eyes and the nose.
“There’s a lot more aroma, identifiable aromas to certain things,” he said, explaining how herbs and berries enhance the flavor of a dish instead of other staples people are used to in processed foods. “I think a lot of the aromas are lost in transport. When you turn around, aromas are what follows next after sight, and I think it just makes a major difference.”
Garden Bistro 24 opened its doors as the first eatery in Slingerlands’ Vista Technology Campus nearly a decade ago. He opened it with his father, Charles, in 2013 as a casual restaurant with French influence. Over the years, patrons have recognized it as a place they can go to shrug off cooking dinner, throw on sandals and a pair of jeans, and grab either a signature crab cake, burger or something else off the seasonal menu.
Grizzaffi is a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park Known for its food focus and world-class resources, the college is renowned for offering degrees in applied food studies, culinary science, food business management and hospitality management. His kitchen is devoid of microwaves and freezers.
Grizzaffi curates fresh food from a dozen different farms, all of whom are listed on the restaurant’s website. Outside of the fish made available along the East Coast, meat and vegetables are obtained from farms within the Capital District. One of those places in which he obtains vegetables is from the Bethlehem Central Middle School.
The middle school gardens produce thousands of pounds of produce every year. Fresh lettuces, spinach, bok choy, radishes, garlic scapes, Swiss chard and kale are grown and used throughout the school district’s seven schools. The food the students cultivate are regularly donated to the Town of Bethlehem Food Pantry, and used in the dishes Grizzaffi creates every October since he opened his restaurant. Every Tuesday in October, Garden Bistro 24 offers three-course meals featuring vegetables from the school’s gardens.
“The students, they learn how to sow it, and grow it, and care for it,” he said. “Then, as we like to say, we make sure they learn how to finish the product, how to prepare it. … It’s just a great, great learning process for the kids.”
For Grizzaffi, there’s nothing fancy about his restaurant. The food is welcoming and authentic, and it brings kids to the table. And, if it’s to be a night without the kids, venture on to Garden Bistro’s heated patio for a chicken pot pie, a craft beer or some wine.
“We hate the word ‘fancy,’” he said. “When I was a kid, a nice restaurant had to be considered a fancy restaurant. As an adult, absolutely not. I don’t crave fancy food. … A great restaurant is a simple restaurant; and that is, to provide a great environment and food.”