Life in the Finger Lakes had the pleasure of getting to know Josephone Matela from The Red Bird Café in Brockport. This iconic establishment is a favorite with locals and visitors. They are a full service cafe serving soups, salads, sandwiches, paninis for lunch.
LIFL: Which dishes are customer favorites?
Josephine: The Turkey Apple Panini as well as the Butternut Squash Bisqué are popular. The squash is locally sourced from Martin Farms which is located less than a mile from our café. I go and pick up the squash and in a few hours you can enjoy this meal. We locally source our ingredients in most of our dishes from other farms such as Kirby Farms in Brockport. We recently added F. Oliver’s Oil and Vinegars to our portfolio of vinaigrettes and these have become some of our customer favorites.
What is your signature dish, a family favorite that most people cook at home, but with your own unique treatment of that dish?
I would have to say it is the Red Bird Roasted Chicken Salad! Customers say it’s fabulous, and it is the best they’ve ever tasted. Many people have tried to duplicate it but we combine just the right amount of crunch with our slivered almonds, tartness with Granny Smith apples and the sweetness of dried cranberries. These are situated on organic greens and just the right drizzle of poppyseed dressing.
Where did you learn to cook?
I learned from my mother and grandmothers, and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.When I was first married, her book was the go-to for everything!
Having come from a large family, it was all hands on deck to prepare the evening meal as well as help out at holidays. My mother was an expert on getting dinner on the table in 30 minutes and my grandmother could whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies in 5 minutes. When we went to visit my grandmother in the Catskills we would arrive just around dinner (planned of course), and she would call my grandfather to go out to the garden and pick two dozen ears of corn. Shortly we were enjoying farm-to-table, even back then!
How long have you been cooking? How did you get started?
I have been cooking all my adult life. It really started at my first location in a very small store down the street here in Brockport. It started with teas and scones and my guests wanted salad and other items, too. When this location became available we moved, and we’re now located on the Erie Canal and next to the Welcome Center.
Was there any other profession you wanted before you became a chef?
Early on I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. But somehow I was mayor of the village of Brockport from 2001 to 2005. I served the people, now I serve them tea.
How long has the café been at this location?
It has been 15 years at this location. I have to say, I enjoy every day. Someone once said, “Work only becomes work when you would rather be someplace else.” At this time, there is no place that I would rather be, as every day is rewarding professionally and personally.
What about the area inspires you?
I am so fortunate to be able to work with the local farmers to source our food and to be able to deliver that freshness to my guests. We not only have our regular customers, we also have become a destination and I love to welcome new guests to our café.
I am also inspired by the successes of other locally owned restaurants. We work together to insure that all of our customers want to come back to Brockport to shop and dine.
What do you like best about your job?
I love to see my guests happy! We strive to give great customer service and fabulous food. I like to change up the menu items along with the changes of the seasons.
Do you have a “secret ingredient” that you like to put in the food you prepare?