Owner of Moosewood Restaurant lectures on experiences

Posted by Erin Dillon

David Hirsch, co-owner of the prominent Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, NY, visited Skidmore on March 29. Skidmore Nutrition Action Council, also known as SNAC, presented Hirsch in Emerson Auditorium, where he spoke about his experience in the many Moosewood facets.

Hirsch started out with an architecture degree from City College of New York, but soon found himself working at Moosewood after a not-so-exciting job as a Cornell fraternity cook. "[Moosewood] was so much fun, everybody was so pleasant," Hirsh said.

Hirsh has since advanced from his entry-level position and now gives lectures and cooking classes across the country, in addition to his work on recipe development and Moosewood's line of cookbooks.

Moosewood Restaurant began in 1973 and changed ownership in 1976, Hirsh being among the new group of collective owners. Hirsh explained the concept was to serve food that the owners liked to eat. "The feeling was ‘Hey gang, let's open a restaurant,'" Hirsch said.

Meat was on the original Moosewood menu, but soon the menu evolved to be meatless and less dependent on dairy products and eggs and even offering vegan dishes.

Hirsh mentioned the importance of having healthy, "whole" dishes low in fat and rich in vegetable content.

Moosewood is not only vegetarian, but also nutritious. Hirsh's passion for creating a truly healthy meal seems obvious. Moosewood uses as many organic and local ingredients as possible.

Because of the frequent menu changes, the chefs have to get creative with what is available. Thankfully, there is a database of 12 Moosewood cookbooks on to rely on.

The collective owners have all contributed to Moosewood's cookbook library. Hirsh has worked on each, "Low-Fat Favorites" and "Simple Suppers" to name a few.

The first cookbook was published in 1978, and popularity has since soared. "There are more customers, people making pilgrimages," Hirsh said.

Hirsch emphasized Moosewood's role as a trendsetter in the vegetarian scene. The restaurant has been thriving for the past 30 years, its popularity increasing with each cookbook sold.

"The menu has to be up-to-date in terms of what people want," Hirsch said, "our menu changes every day."

And what do people want? "Everyone disagrees about what healthy is," Hirsch said.

Still, he has seen interest in vegetarianism grow. "A lot of our customers are interested in having meatless meals — some are vegetarians, most are not," Hirsh said.

Attendees nearly filled the auditorium, eager to question David about everything from local produce to his favorite type of veggie burger.

One student asked about Moosewood's motive for serving vegetarian cuisine.

Surprisingly, Hirsh said that ethics and nutrition — while vital to Moosewood — were less important than "playing with the challenge." Moosewood clearly operates in a quite imaginative and experimental manner.

When a student inquired how Moosewood has maintained its popularity for so many years, Hirsh responded, "We became a destination, that made an enormous difference."

Moosewood Restaurant has proven to be a dynamic business, catering to the mores of our generation and drawing people to Ithaca despite the town's remoteness.

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