THE MAN who lured Titus Moody from Allen's Alley to sell Pepperidge Farm breads from his horsedrawn wagon and sent 75 Aunt Jemimas around the country to sing the praises of their pancakes (until the NAACP complained) has switched gears.He's still selling "old timey goodness," but this time his product has more to recommend it than nostalgia. Wild Winds Farms hot dogs and bacon not only taste good, they are cured without sodium nitrite. They share their name with a farm and restaurant in New York's Finger Lakes region that has become a must stop for visitors to the area.
If enthusiasm and know-how account for success as much an an unlimited advertising budget, John McMath will be able to convince a lot of people that they should be eating his nitrite-free bacon and hot dogs.
McMath was once an extremely successful executive in the hard-sell New York advertising scene, but he dropped out 10 years ago. He had become an alcoholic. His personal life was in turmoil and he was out of a job.
After signing himself into an alcoholic rehabilitation program friends advised him to change his eating habits and "get in touch with himself." McMath retreated to what had once been a ski lodge for his family in Naples, N.Y., and cut wood. That was in 1971 and McMath became an over-aged counter-culture hippie. "I decided I wanted to promote the environment," he said. "I had some money [his father invented Halo Shampoo and other equally successful beauty care items] and my aunt had some money so I started to put together some land."
McMath turned his one-time ski lodge surrounding tillable but debillitated acreage into a farm of sorts, traded in his two-candy-bar-and-Coke breakfasts for whole grains, opened a vegetarian restaurant and attracted a lot of long haired young people who were into brown rice and wheat grass. It was great for McMath's health but it didn't do much for his bank account. Wild Winds Organic Farms, as it was then known, was constantly in debt.
It is still struggling even though its image has been altered significantly.
The alterations came when McMath realized idealism was not a marketable commodity and he could not make up the Farms' deficits indefinitely. "For four years we had weedy gardens and long hair.It was impossible to make money. We found that when we pushed nutrition people said "that's fine but we really want to keep eating the way we do until we are sick.' Now we try to attract people by taste and appearance of food. The fringe benefit is nutrition. Three years ago we'd serve only three or four people lunch. Now we have 150. By not dictating to people how they should live or eat, by keeping the grounds cut, the gardens up, our reputation is growing."
McMath hasn't given up all his ideals. Wild Winds is still promoting environmental awareness. All of the vegetables and flowers used in the restaurant and sold to the public are grown organically though some of the other acreage uses "a small amount of pesticides." In another bout with reality, McMath discovered that you couldn't just drop the pesticides willy-nilly. "It's an evolutionary, not a toes and oats and overlooking the incredibly lush green hillside of western New York's magnificent Finger Lakes region.
There are accredited college courses during the winter in environment, nutrition, food service, gourmet cooking, organic gardening and farming. Several agricultural research projects are being conducted by Cornell and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The restaurant also takes advantage of the wild edibles that grow on Muskmelon Mountain, which the farm owns, and along the road: wild leeks, sometimes known as ramp, wild lettuce, grape leaves, raspberries, strawberries and blackberries, cattails, sweet birch for tea. Flowers are integrated into the menu as they come into season: nasturiums, marigolds, johnny-jump-ups and day lily buds. Have you ever had sauteed day lily buds with hollandaise? You'd swear they were asparagus.
In the evolution of Wild Winds Organic Farms to Wild Winds Farms (organic was dropped this year) they are now planting a garnish garden as part of an overall plan to have separate gardens for herbs, fruit, salad as well as vegetables plus an orchard.
Having the garden is "an incredible luxury" for a restaurant says McMath's associate director, Ellie Clapp. "We can sit down in January and decide what will be in the garden. We combine the best of the cultivated with the best of the wild. We may go out and pick garnishes three times during dinner," she said. And indeed, as you sit in the candlelit dining room, looking out through the floor-to-ceiling windows that face the gardens and the mountain, shadowy figures can be seen stooping to collect flowers or herbs.
"We want people to see that the internal and external environment can be in harmony and that being ecologically sound can be delicious, too," McMath explains as he contemplates a piece of cheesecake he says he shouldn't be eating. McMath, who is 50, is as addicted to sweets as he ever was, but more self-disciplined. "Now I have them about once a week; before maybe 10 times a week plus all the soft drinks." He also eats a lot of whole grains, which he believes help to stabilize blood sugar. But like so many earlier concepts he discarded, McMath is no longer a vegetarian.
He is, however, the same idea and promotion man who was so successful in his advertising career. The problem is, and he admits it, he's not a manager.
And that's where Ellie Clapp comes in. At 27 she's the even keel that keeps the place afloat and keeps "John from going off in 10 different directions. John many own this place," one long time employe explained, "but Ellie runs it."
The farm's revenue comes from the restaurant, a natural food shop, a basket shop, a vegetalbe stand and the voluntary contributions at the gate. But all of those things are not enough to keep the place in the black.
After putting $1 million into it, he is limiting himself to $25,000 a year for capital investment. He has allowed for a deficit of up to $18,000 a year leaving him enough money to "still support my ex-wife, family and self." He went back to work for an advertising agency in Rochester, N.Y., 45 minutes north of Naples, first full-time but now part-time.
He has begun to concentrate his energies on finding more markets for the nitrite-free bacon and hot dogs and he has brought out a Wild Winds Farms wholegrain bread which is being sold in one large western New York supermarket chain.
The nitrite-free hot dogs, which are only 20 percent fat compared to the standard 30 percent fat allowed by government regulations, became popular by word-of-mouth and went from use in the Rochester school system to Rochester supermarkets. From there they spread throughout western New York and have gained a foothold in the northeast. Then McMath wanted to branch out so, as a marketing veteran, he chose California. Colorado and Florida. The first two are environmentally aware and all three attract a lot of tourists who then bring the word back to their homes.
So far McMath has been fairly successful but he is bucking the odds. He can't call his hot dogs "hot dogs" because they do not contain sodium nitrite. His "beef hots" must be sold from the freezer case rather than the regular meat counter to keep them from spoiling and they are more expensive than ordinary hot dogs.
Despite these drawbacks the hot dogs are in 4,000 supermarkets. The bacon, which was brought out later, is not doing as well.
Both products have excellent flavor. A tasting last year comparing Wild Wind Farms hot dogs with six other nitrite-free hot dogs put Wild Winds on top in the superior category.
According to the manufacturers' representative handling the Wild Winds Farms account, RMI, Inc., the product will be in distribution within the next few weeks in the Washington-Baltimore area.
Here are a few of the delicious dishes served at the restaurant. SOLE WITH BROCCOLI AND PERNOD HOLLANDAISE (4 servings) 1 bunch broccoli, about 4 stalks 5 stalks fennel 1 large clove garlic Butter Salt and pepper to taste 4 fillets of sole 1 quart bouillon Hollandaise sauce 1 teaspoon Pernod
Steam broccoli, including tough stalks, then puree in food processor or blender with 1 piece of fennel, garlic, salt and pepper and 2 to 4 tablespoons butter. Broil sole in bouillon with pats of butter on top of each fillet. Place sole on top of broccoli puree on heated platter. Make hollandaise sauce and flavor with pernod. Pour hollandaise over sole. Garnish with fennel. SQUASH BLOSSOM OMELETTE
Saute squash blossom in butter with a pinch of salt. Make omelettes as usual, place blossoms inside and fold over. Make a tomato puree flavored with a pinch of garlic, sage, parsley and orengano. Place a ribbon of sauce on top of each omelette. WILD WIND CREAM OF POTATO AND WILD LEEK SOUP (6 to 8 servings) 4 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced 6 cups water 30 wild leeks (1/2 when 1 inch size) cleaned and trimmed (good leaves may be saved and chopped for garnish), cultivated leeks may be substituted 1/4 pound butter 1/2 cup heavy cream 1 bay leaf Salt White pepper 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped fine 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine Garnish: 1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped fine Boil potatoes in salted water until soft; saute leeks in 1/4 pound butter until translucent, in blender, puree potatoes and leeks together, using water and pan butter. Pour into soup pot, stir in heavy cream, 1/8 pound butter and bay leaf. Put over low heat for 20-30 minutes. Remove bay leaf, season to taste with salt and white pepper. Stir in parsley and chives. Simmer till serving temperature. Garnish with chopped chives (or chopped leak leaves). VEAL CHORON (4 servings) 1 pound veal scallops, cut into 4 servings and pounded thin with mallet Salt Flour Butter for sauteing 8 canned artichoke hearts, rinsed and drained 8 tablespoons crabmeat Choron Sauce (see below)
Lightly sprinkle salt on veal, dip in flour and sauce in butter for a few seconds on both sides.Remove veal and place on heated platter. In same sauce saute pan heat artichoke hearts, remove and place on veal on platter. Saute crabmeat lightly in butter and place decoratively on veal. Top with Choron Sauce. CHORON SAUCE 1/2 tablespoon each fresh chervil, tarragon, diced shallots 1 bay leaf 1/4 cup red wine vinegar 2 egg yolks 1 1/2 cups melted butter 1/2 cup tomato puree
In small pan combine herbs, shallots and bay leaf with vinegar. Heat until vinegar is reduced by 2/3. Remove bay leaf. In medium bowl, add reduction to egg yolks and whisk over pot of simmering water. Whip until yolks begin to thicken. Take off heat and add approximately 1 1/2 cups melted butter whipping briskly and constantly until sauce rises. Add tomato puree -- approximately 1/2 cup or until sauce is pink in color. Strain sauce through cheese cloth or fine sieve. SHRIMP SCAMPI A LA WILD WINDS (4 servings) 1 cup melted butter 2 tablespoons diced fresh oregano 2 tablespoons diced shallots 1 tablespooon pressed fresh garlic 1 tablespoon diced wild leaks (cultivated leeks or scallions may be substituted) 36 medium shrimp, peeled, cleaned, sliced on backs 3/4 way through 1/4 cup dry white wine Heat butter in pan. Saute oregano, garlic, leek and shallots until shallots are translucent. Add shrimp, saute until tender. Add wine; leave on heat for just a moment. Place in 4 casserole or au gratin dishes and pour sauce over shrimp and serve. WILD WINDS CHEESECAKE Crust: 1 cup sifted, unbleached white flour 1/4 cup sugar 1 stick chilled butter 1 egg yolk, beaten 1 teaspoon each orange and lemon rind 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon orange liqueur Mix flour and sugar; add butter in small pieces. Then add egg yolk, orange and lemon rind, vanillla and orange liqueur and blend until well combined. Knead into ball and chill. Press into bottom and sides of buttered 9 inch spring form pan. Chill. Filling: 2 1/2 pounds cream cheese 2 cups sugar 3 1/2 tablespoons flour 2 teaspoons each orange and lime rind 1 tablespoon each of vanilla and orange liqueur Pinch of salt 5 eggs 2 egg yolks, room temperature 1/4 cup half and half 2 1/2 kiwis, thinly sliced
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Beat cream cheese in electric mixer until smooth and light. Add sugar, flour orange and lime rind, vanilla, orange liqueur and salt until well combined. Beat in eggs. One at a time, and egg yolks. Beat well after each addition. Stir in half and half. Pour batter into prepared shell and bake cake in middle of oven for 11 minutes. Reduce oven to 300* and bake one hour. Do not open oven during this time.Remove cake from oven and cool for 1/2 hours. Arrange sliced kiwis decoratively on top of cake.