In Whites: Aspiring chef brings community together with food

PHOTO PROVIDED Shown in this photo, provided by Nicholas O’cchino, is Colleen Masteller, an aspiring chef who hosts pop-up dinners called In Whites, hosted at the Sawhorse Cafe. The In Whites give Masteller a chance to express her creativity through food while also using locally sourced ingredients.

Fresh, locally sourced ingredients from farmers are brought to the community table at the Sawhorse Cafe, 300 Washington Blvd. Aspiring chef Colleen Masteller has hosted five pop-up dinners called In Whites, allowing her to express her culinary creativity while using locally sourced foods.

“The pop-up dinners are done in the style of a tasting menu which basically means it’s quite a few courses, typically between eight to 10, and they’re small,” she said. “You get a lot of really small, intensely flavored things throughout the course of three to three and a half hours.”

Everyone sits at a community table, typically people keep to their groups they attended with, but people start sharing in conversation and laughter over the food, normally around the third meal, during the three hours, she said. The event is relaxed, laid back, full service and B.Y.O.B.

“People seem really enamored with the idea how everything is locally sourced, and a bit of why I do the dinners is I want to bring attention to how many amazing farmers and craftsmen you have in the area, I think central Pa. is just filled with so much amazing produce and local cheeses and bread and all of this incredible food,” Masteller said.

The In Whites are ticket-based to help control prices, and anyone can purchase a ticket, she said. The event is open to the public, although there are only 16 seats. She is hoping to host another pop-up dinner before the end of summer. She advertises for the events weeks in advance through social media, flyers and her newsletter.

Those attending the events typically eat at the Sawhorse, as the pop-up dinners are hosted in the space, but at the past couple In Whites, there were new people that Masteller hasn’t seen before, something she loves, as she can meet new people, she said.

The community has responded positively to the pop-up dinners, as all five dinners have sold out, she said. “It’s very flattering and heartwarming.”

At the In Whites: For Her, Masteller’s fifth pop-up dinner, she served a lot of greens during the spring — asparagus, shoots and microgreens and bright tart lettuce — along with a rich broto made with “slow-roasted and intensely flavored” Misty Mountain bones, strawberries from the farmer market and fresh turnips, she said.

Locally sourced food is “better — the shorter the time, the distance it can take to get from a farm to a table, the better.

­It’s fresher, it’s got a more vibrant taste, it looks better and it’s just really exciting, creativity-wise, to build menus sort of around what we locally have in Pennsylvania. It provides a lot of inspiration,” she said.

Wanting to stick to her roots, Masteller learned about the Sawhorse Cafe (owned Jesse and Hannah), which already was working with seasonal and locally sourced food, something she was interested in, she said. She is a line cook and baker for the Sawhorse.

She was brainstorming ways to do something on her own that also included the Sawhorse, and that same week, Jesse told Masteller she could use the dining room to plan her own dinners, she said. Masteller planned her first pop-up dinner the next month.

“I was itching to do my own thing and I think (Jesse and Hannah) picked up on that, and they wanted to … provide an opportunity,” Masteller said. “They offered to basically let me do what I wanted there.”

Many of Masteller’s contacts for locally sourced food come from her connection to the Sawhorse Cafe, she said. Masteller learned a lot from the two at Sawhorse Cafe about locally sourced foods, as they are true to their ethics and values for local and sustainably sourced items.

Some of the farms Masteller used for her dinner were Beaver Run, Misty Mountain, Beech Grove, Walnut Run, Green Bee, Wolf Hollow and Eck’s Orchards, she said. She also gets help from her crew members, Angela Maneval, Kendra Riggle, Thomas Gallup, Andrew LeGrand, Cameron Goodworth, John Keefer, Kelly Masteller and Nicholas O’cchino.

Masteller was hesitant to become a chef because she doesn’t fit the bold, outspoken and in-your-face personality of a chef, as she is reserved, shy and quiet, she said. But, “I have really found myself in my cooking style when it’s all about community and bringing people together.”

Masteller has loved and been cooking since a child, she was always in the kitchen, her mother cooked and grandparents own the Nippenose Tavern in Bastress. In high school, she took a culinary course through a Career and Technology Education class, she said. Her teacher encouraged her to go to culinary school to cook and got a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania College of Technology.

“I’m lucky because I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do,” she said. “To do that on an even bigger scale in the city that I grew up in where I learned to cook in is really fulfilling to me, so everything I do is sort of based around that — connecting people and bringing them together.”

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