John McNabb, Vineyard Restaurant

In the Chef’s Corner with John McNabb
Executive Chef at the Vineyard Restaurant, Knapp Vineyards
Written by Rochelle Bilow

The Vineyard Restaurant at Knapp Vineyards on Cayuga Lake is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year - and it looks great for its age. Originally able to seat 40 diners, the space now has room for 56 seats indoors, as well as an additional 60 on the patio outside. The restaurant is open seasonally, offering its last service the first week in December, then opening back up for regular lunch and special wine dinners in the spring.

The kitchen is run by John McNabb, an Auburn native who attended Le Cordon Bleu in Pennsylvania and worked at The Breakers Resort in Palm Beach, Florida, before making the move back to the Finger Lakes in 2005. Citing proximity to family and refuge from hurricane season, it’s a move that McNabb feels good about. He’s been cooking at the Vineyard Restaurant since 2007, and estimates that the menu is, at any given time, already comprised of 65-70% local ingredients.

“The locavore movement is real, and it has been critical to the success of restaurants in the Finger Lakes,” he says. The menu changes with each season and is sure to cite ingredients that are locally-sourced, like tender greens and lamb.

McNabb is classically trained, but insists that his style of cooking involves “embracing technique and throwing rules out the window” in favor of unique, “eclectic” food.

He’s looking forward to rising to the challenge of a 100% locally-derived menu, and has no qualms about making it happen. “Every [food product] in the Finger Lakes is fantastic,” he says. “We already work our menus around what’s available, what’s fresh and what’s great.”
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Editor's note: Over the next few weeks we are going to tell the stories of the chefs and restaurants participating in the Finger Lakes Wine Country Restaurant Week Challenge, June 18-24. Some of the chefs have had surprising entry points into the culinary scene in the Finger Lakes. For others, their paths were more planned, more part of a master plan. For all however, the common theme is their passion and commitment to the food movement in the Finger Lakes. Help us celebrate their commitment to sourcing 100% local ingredients and wines during this special week and may Restaurant Week become Restaurant Year.