Tuesday, Jul 17, 2018
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Mary Alice Powell

Food lover’s en­thu­si­asm never goes stale

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Diane Rogers hand picks local produce for her recipes. Here she is shopping at Thurman’s Farm Market on Kellogg Road.

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Seasonal, fresh, local.

Those three attributes in food are not just what Diane Rogers strives for and talks about in her culinary artistry. They are what she does day after day, as she has most of her life.

The summer is understandably Diane’s greatest joy when seasonal, local, fresh produce is at her command.

You don’t know Diane? Let me refresh your memory.

Diane and her sister Sydney Rogers operated Syd and Diane’s in Perrysburg for nine years back in the 1980s.

Customers were assured of upscale foods and warm hospitality by the sisters. The restaurant included grocery shelves stocked with unusual food products.

That Diane was the chef with the creative ideas was no surprise. She began cooking with her dad, Sidney Rogers, at the family’s inn at West Hampton Beach, N.Y., when she was 9 years old.

More than 50 years later, Diane’s enthusiasm for all things food and its preparation is unchanged.

The proof is in the repertoire that her followers enjoy in her role as a personal chef as well as in hot-from-the-oven products ordered. The menu covers many foods the average person doesn’t know how to make or doesn’t want to fuss with, including ratatouille, dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), and lobster rolls.

Ordinarily, Diane sets up sales at the Paula Brown Shop in downtown Toledo from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday, but next week she is adding a Perrysburg location.

She will greet old friends, and hopefully buyers, at “LaGarage” on Thursday. That’s the name Diane and Syd have given to the garage at the Rogers home in Perrysburg, where Syd operates the La Garage at the Guest House, a B&B, and has converted the garage into a classy retreat.

Diane hopes it will be a reunion of old friends, or as she says, “A walk down memory lane.” The address is 120-122 West Indiana Avenue in Perrysburg.

My memory renewal with Diane has been at Thurman’s Farm Market on Kellogg Road, one of her favorite sources for fresh, seasonal, local produce. Every Tuesday morning, when the fresh produce starts coming in, Diane and her dog Chloe arrive at the market at 10 a.m. to shop for tomatoes, peaches, peppers, and whatever else she needs for the recipes she will prepare for the week.

She picks up a peach, gives it a gentle pinch, and says it’s about a day out, making it perfect ripeness for her peach pies the next day. Cecilia Thurman explains the freshly picked tomatoes are an heirloom variety, and Diane decides they are perfect for her tomato pies and gazpacho. When she leaves Thurman’s, the back of her van is loaded with boxes of fresh produce.

“I am definitely a seasonal girl,”she says.

Her Tuesday shopping includes Bench’s Market on State Rt. 2, and she credits owner Dave Bench for the fresh corn salad recipe she is making this summer.

The Toledo Farmers Market is also frequently on her list of shopping spots. In a recent email to customers, she reminds them, “This is a good day to go to the Toledo Farmers Market. There is so much fresh, local produce.”

She also reminds her customers about Kurt Bench’s Shared Legacy in Elmore, Ohio, as an excellent source for seasonal produce.

It’s useless to try to determine the ingredients in the mouthwatering pie crusts, and Diane readily tells it’s from Hollyhocks and Radishes, a cookbook published in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and that if you really want to try it, check out the video www.youtube.com/​user/​sydanddi/​videos.

The crusts are a combination of lard and butter, largely butter, and it’s not just common butter, but Plugra, priced at $7 a pound. No wonder they are rich in flavor and beautifully browned.

“I’m all about education,” Diane says, as she stresses her desire to teach people to cook and to know more about ingredients. She enjoys experimenting with unique ingredients and adding the finished product to her menu.

One summer salad is made of einkorn, an ancient wheat berry.

Syd and Diane moved to this area from New Jersey with their parents, Sidney and Rosemarie Rogers, when Mr. Rogers became manager of Belmont Country Club in 1968, the year it opened.

The Belmont kitchen, like the family inn in the east, gave young Diane new space to explore, watch, and learn.

Mrs. Rogers was not only band leader Guy Lombardo’s sister but had been a vocalist with the band.

Diane refers to her personal chef clientele as “wonderful people who I have cooked for many years.” She limits catered parties to 20 people and likes to please with the unusual.

Arctic char and whole wild Spanish tuna are among the popular fish entrees.

At the holiday season, her well-known jarred cranberry sauce will be in demand and regular customers will expect her sausage, sage, and water chestnut dressing, sold by the pound. Customers like to bring in their own serving pieces for the dressing and other foods, but, she admits, it can be a nightmare keeping everyone’s dishes separate.

Diane keeps more than 200 customers aware of her market visits, her ideas for the finds, and what’s available via email.

Following is a typical email message from Diane (diane@sydanddianes.com):

“Morning All. Yesterday was fruitful so to speak. I picked up some beautiful blueberries and now Michigan Red Haven Peaches, pretty little red and white potatoes, and a flavorful tomato called Whopper. It’s pretty darned tasty. Also picked up the most beautiful eggs and Roma beans from another farmer friend. Just gorgeous and they don’t use any chemicals. With the Spanish pole caught wild tuna, they should make a wonderful Salad Nicoise.’’

Mary Alice Powell is a retired Blade food editor. Contact her at: poseypowell@aol.com.

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