Michael Dimmer And Christian Wilmott - Owners of Marble+Rye and The Black Market Food Truck in Buffalo NY.

It wasn’t that long ago that food trucks were a new thing in Buffalo – fighting for recognition and the clarification of laws regarding mobile dining from the city. Meanwhile, some brick and mortar restauranteurs wrung their hats in worry about these rolling kitchens that had suddenly become competition, but also a catalyst for innovation in the city. We’ve seen trucks come and go – like the sorely missed Betty Crockski (I’ve still got an emergency stash of their sausage and pierogi in my freezer that I’m saving for the apocalypse.) We’ve seen the aforementioned brick and mortar restaurants start to get in on the fun with roving versions of their own concepts (like the great Amy’s Place truck and the lamentable Chef’s To Go) and we’ve seen some of the earliest trucks on the scene start to found new sit-down outposts like Lloyd Taco Factory. But the first to make that transition, and the best of the batch of the new restaurants grown from Buffalo’s food truck scene, came when Mike Dimmer and Christian Willmott of The Black Market Food Truck opened Marble + Rye last year.

Friends since High School, Dimmer and Willmott briefly parted ways when higher learning restaurant work drew them back together after graduation – and inspired the duo  to attend a two-year culinary program in Niagara Falls to get a better grasp of the fundamentals of cooking and restaurant management prior to debuting as The Nines Catering. “Our first events were for family and friends, mostly they went well, but there were the occasional random disasters that come up in business that you never think to prepare for, like having a friend who was helping us out at an event have a massive allergic reaction to a client’s pet…” Willmott related to me.

Tomato, herb, and flower salad. Marble And Rye. Buffalo NY

After four years of catering at night and on weekends, the pair set their sights on the possibility of opening a brick and mortar restaurant, but they realized that the road would be a long one as they continually learned and refined their skills. Dimmer recounted “Many come into the industry with no prior experience, only a mindset of ‘I like cooking, and food, and I love drinking… I’ll open a restaurant’ and if we had that mentality from day one, boy, would we have screwed ourselves. We knew there was a lot more involved and that there would be mistakes and failures that we would have to learn from as we grew this business. In many ways the truck became a natural progression between catering and Marble + Rye. We had been catering weddings and doing these events out of clients’ garages and home kitchens, and it just became so stressful and hard to handle that we realized we needed some sort of mobile kitchen. Food trucks were just starting to blow up in Buffalo, but we never intended to open a truck to put on the road, rather it was intended as a vessel to cater out of.”

On their approach to food, Dimmer told me “Whether it was catering, the truck, or the restaurant, we knew that we wanted to make everything from scratch, that was going to be our goal. If we did sandwiches, we baked the bread and scratch made all of our sauces, dressings, and braised meats. We didn’t want to go the easy route of buying frozen stuff just reselling it. When we started, food trucks were so new in the city that people didn’t really know what to expect in terms of quality and preparation. It was important to us to let people know that even if we were doing fast food that it was going to be fresh, it was going to be quality, and it was going to be house made. It’s a philosophy that we’ve carried through all of our ventures.”

Michael Dimmer - Owner of Marble+Rye and The Black Market Food Truck in Buffalo NY.

When discussing the evolution from truck to brick and mortar, the guys were candid that they had several opportunities to do it earlier but were glad they waited. “We’ve always been looking, always. A couple opportunities came up during the early days of the truck, and fortunately we said no to them. It’s always hard to say no to something like that, when it’s something that you’ve dreamt of for years, but we weren’t one hundred percent behind those ideas, so I’m glad we walked away from them.”

“I think we got to a point where we had hit a ceiling with the truck in terms of how much we could do. There wasn’t as much time for the truck to be out on the street making money, and with the boom in food trucks in Western New York, it was getting tougher to find viable spots to set up. We looked at several places that weren’t great, and it was always that constant internal dialogue you have when you’re not desperate, but you’re really ambitious of ‘can I can make this work?’. But ultimately it was our attorney who made us aware of the former Ellicott Paint storefront that had been sitting vacant for nearly ten years. We loved the neighborhood, but had no idea that so many bars and restaurants would be opening on this block around the same time we did – turning the Genesee gateway neighborhood into a growing dining destination.”

Cocktail - Marble + Rye, Buffalo NY

The menu at Marble + Rye changes regularly, reflecting not just the seasonal availability of ingredients, but also the creative drives of Dimmer. Standouts during my last few visits included pickled onion rings with green garlic aioli (as addictive a drinking snack as there ever was – pair with a beer or one of Willmott’s signature cocktails and you’ll be at the bar all night ordering plate after plate of them as me and my friends were), a salad of heirloom tomatoes and flowers with marigold vinaigrette, whole wood-fire roasted fish, an ever changing assortment of house-made pastas, beef tartare with local potato chips, and the M+R burger, a signature take on their standard house ground burger that changes regularly – on my first visit (just a few days after my wedding – that’s how excited me and my wife were to eat here!) it was accompanied by an incredibly deep and rich seaweed mayonnaise that was such a perfect complement to the rest of the burger that it almost seems common sense to throw some sea vegetables on my next batch of sliders. Dimmer is vocal about his desire to design a well-curated menu – one that goes through seasonal and timely changes but always offers something that is both familiar and new for diners. It’s an approach that lets them be reactive to their guests’ experiences and refine their bar and kitchen offerings on the fly.

Willmott concluded “I think places like Vera Pizzeria and the Blue Monk really started a movement here in Buffalo, establishing an eating and drinking scene that had already become the norm in other cities, but was new here. It started to give people an alternative to the factory bars and old white table cloth places and became about offering thoughtful plates with better ingredients, better drinks, and little pretension. It’s somewhere fun and reasonably priced where you can both get dinner and hang out for drinks after. We want to stay true to that approach and we’ve seen a huge shift in the clientele to one that is more adventurous and receptive to this new approach, and as those positive changes come it’s reflected well on the city as a whole.”

Michael Dimmer And Christian Wilmott - Owners of Marble+Rye and The Black Market Food Truck in Buffalo NY.

Buffalo Bills Quarterback EJ Manuel
Buffalo Bills Quarterback EJ Manuel is a dog lover. Him and his pit bull Titan have been together since EJ’s college days – and they’ve even been featured on the NFL Network together. EJ understands the importance of giving dogs a healthy and loving environment and is dedicated to helping change the negative and often unfounded stigma surrounding pit bulls and similar breeds.

As many of you know, I’m a dog lover too, and I donate a lot of my time to working with local rescue organizations that help dogs in bad situations find loving new homes. Lately I’ve been teaming up with Diamonds in the Ruff – A Buffalo, NY based rescue and adoption organization that helps rescue animals, finds them foster homes, and ultimately works towards placing them with caring families.

Adoption portraits are great and can really help individual animals, but there’s a much bigger audience out there who needs to be made aware of the amazing work that the volunteers at these rescues do for these animals, so Diamonds and I wanted to take it to the next level with our collaboration. We’ve been working on a very special series of videos and portraits that pair well-known animal lovers from WNY with adoptable dogs from DITR –  EJ and Vera are our latest subjects, and they make an amazing team.

EJ and I aren’t the only ones who are enthusiastic about Diamonds and helping WNY’s dogs – we’ve also partnered with Max Brown and Scott Allen of Partners + Napier, a Rochester, NY based advertising agency, and Mark Montalvo of Skin Digital Retouching. Max actually adopted his own dog Bella from Diamonds, and Mark has generously donated a lot of the retouching work for the adoption images I’ve created the past few years for the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter.

Vera has been with Diamonds in the Ruff Animal Rescue for a while now. Now it’s time for this wonderful, happy girl to find her forever home. Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Help us spread the word about Diamonds, whether you’re a dog lover, #Billsmafia, or just a fan of my photography – You can visit DITR’s Facebook page to find out more about the organization and adopting Vera here.

Buffalo Bills Quarterback EJ Manuel with Vera , an adoptable pit bull from Diamonds In The Ruff Rescue in Buffalo, NY

Time to say goodbye to last year and say hello to a new one by sharing the very image I made in 2015 – this portrait of musician Ryan Moynihan. I’m looking forward to what the new year holds!

Buffalo NY musician Ryan Moynihan

Jake Fraser - Co-Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company in Buffalo New York. Serving the classic Canadian dish of fresh cheese curds, french fries, and hot gravy.

Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company Jake Fraser

What’s your favorite comfort food? Is it homemade mac and cheese? Smothered meatloaf? A big breakfast of biscuits and gravy? Your mom’s tuna noodle casserole? When I’m craving something that’s filling and bad for me after a night at the bar or a day in the snow I turn to something that reminds me of my childhood in Canada – Poutine.

For those not to speed on this cheesy, gravy drenched mound of Canadian comfort food – here’s an overview. Poutine is a dish that originated in Quebec and at its most basic is composed of three primary ingredients: french fries, hot gravy, and cheese curds. And within that essential structure a million permutations exist – allowing an individual plate of poutine to exist anywhere on the spectrum from late-night heart-attack bar food to fine dining fare featuring a host of luxurious add-ons. The fries should be crispy and in that perfect medium between too thick and too thin – I’m partial to the hand cut kind that leaves the occasional bit of potato skin intact on the fry. The gravy will often be a thin turkey or chicken gravy, though veal and beef-based gravies are also popular. This gravy needs to be served just hot enough to soften but not totally melt the final element, which are the squeaky tangy fresh cheese curds (which, if you live in Canada or any of the US border states, you are probably already intimately familiar with. And for those of you who aren’t, it’s something you should seek to remedy as soon as you can – I suggest ordering some from Western New York purveyor Yancy’s Fancy or even trying to make your own at home, because when it comes to making the perfect poutine the freshness of the curds is key.)

Prior to opening Allen Street Poutine Company, Jake Fraser owned two chip trucks at Sherkston Shores in nearby Port Colborne, Ontario, just across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo. He spent his summers serving fries to tourist crowds on the beaches and hitting the bars with friends at night, nights that often ended with a late night plate of Poutine. He wanted to bring that experience to a more permanent venue, so he teamed up with business partner and longtime friend Konstantine Kentros to bring poutine south of the (Canadian) border. “I knew that poutine was the late night bar food of choice in Canada, but was something of a novelty in The States. Despite being known as The ‘All America City’ there are a ton of expats here and there’s a strong connection between Buffalo and Southern Ontario. There’s a great bar scene, the weather is cold, Buffalonians love to have fun, and there was a need for more great late night food options – Poutine is a great match for that culturally. On top of all that, being in the heart of a bar and music-rich area like Allentown is such a natural fit for us.”

The Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine at Allen Strett Poutine Company in Buffalo, New York

My actual lunch on this shoot – Montreal Smoked Meat Poutine

When I first moved from Canada to the US as a teenager it was a rarity for me to come across poutine. What had once been nearly ubiquitous everywhere I went was now mostly relegated to a rare treat that I got to indulge in on family trips back to the homeland. I spent a lot of time trying to explain to my friends exactly what this mysterious dish was, and convince them that “no, you’ll love it if you try it” (I also spent a lot of time wondering why so many of my friends, despite living mere minutes from another country, had never set foot in Canada – though that quickly changed when we all approached adulthood and started taking advantage of the fact that the drinking age in Ontario is 19, at which time poutine became everyone’s favorite post bar food). Thankfully, Jake and Konstantine are changing that perception – Poutine is becoming less of a here-and-gone trend as it has been in the US in the past and becoming a true fixture of the WNY late night bar scene – just as it should be.

As the dish has evolved it’s become something of a framework, much like hotdogs and pizza – a basic structure that’s informed and reinvented by the experiences of the people preparing and eating it. Much as I’ve enjoyed Sonora dogs that capture Southwestern/Mexican flavors, or binged on amazing Georgian Khachapuri, I’ve run into poutine that pulls flavors from all over the world: Indian Poutine with butter chicken and paneer, Trinidadian inspired versions with curry goat, poutines featuring foie gras and foraged mushrooms that would be at home in a fine French restaurant, and Jake even told me of a Korean remix of the dish with kimchi and bulgogi that he’s come across. As a dish that originated in a country that often celebrates its diversity and multiculturalism, it’s no surprise that those varied experiences and palettes have had an influence on its cuisine.

Jake Fraser - Co-Owner of Allen Street Poutine Company in Buffalo New York. Serving the classic Canadian dish of fresh cheese curds, french fries, and hot gravy. Allen Street Poutine Company’s menu features both the classic rendition of the dish as well as regularly updated offerings based on a variety of regional and international influences. Among the highlights are Buffalo-centric versions like a Buffalo chicken poutine and a beef on weck variety featuring slow roasted beef, caraway, and coarse salt as a topping. Sloppy Joe, Philly cheesesteak, and a pulled pork with red cabbage slaw poutine round out the slate of American inspired flavors. Poland is represented by a poutine adorned with pierogi and sauerkraut, Greece comes strong with a rich poutine seasoned with feta, tomatoes, and oregano. A spicy General Tao’s chicken represents the Asian flavor profiles, and a nacho-style poutine brings little Tex-Mex heat to the party. And of course Canada brings it strong with what, in my opinion, is the restaurant’s signature dish – a Montreal smoked meat poutine covered with the restaurant’s signature cured brisket and pickles (and it’s one of the few places in the States I’ve come across that you’ll even see Montreal smoked meat on menu). There’s even a vegan poutine available to make sure no one is left out of the fun.

After a few rounds of drinks on a cold winter night in Buffalo, it’s comforting to know that there’s somewhere me and my friends can go that hits all the right notes: open late, warm, welcoming, and with great food and beer. It doesn’t hurt that for me it’s like having a little slice of Canada sitting right there inside one of my favorite Buffalo neighborhoods.

Cricket Gordon

So happy today to share these images from my recent editorial in Buffalo Spree Magazine on Cricket Gordon and Elaine Pyne, two of Western NY’s most stylish and colorful seniors. As you can imagine, the studio was a total mess afterwards (cleanup actually took longer than the setup and shoot itself – even with all the precautions we took. But it was completely worth it in the end to capture something that conveyed the amazing energy these two brought to set. And I have to give a special shout out to producer Erin Habes who was completely covered from head to toe technicolor rainbow powder after filling in as our thrower.

And if you missed it the first time we posted it a few weeks ago, don’t miss the behind the scenes video at the end of the post for a look at how we created these portraits.

Elain PyneCricket GordonElain Pyne and Cricket GordonElaine Pyne

Spree Style Fashion Shoot from Buffalo Spree magazine on Vimeo.

Emilio

I’m so honored and excited to announce that my ongoing Shelter Dog portrait series was a winning finalist in the American Society of Media Photographers Best of 2015 Awards. For the past few years I’ve been working with local animal shelters and rescue programs in Buffalo, NY to provide adoption portraits of long term canine residents who are in dire needs of finding permanent and loving homes. These intimate portraits really give people an opportunity to connect with the animals and give them something that makes it easy to share these dog’s images and stories over social media – helping them to go viral in the local community and often allowing pups that have been at the shelter for months to find new families in a matter of days.

You can read my interview with AMSP here.

You can see the rest of the 2015 winners’ amazing work here. 

Bram Birch - PitbullPetunia - An adoptable rescue pit bull from Buffalo, NY. Apx 4.5 years old female. Stache

Minnie is an adoptable pit mix currently sheltered at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter

I’ve worked with a lot of dogs from the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter in the past few years, and I’ve bonded with a lot of them and followed their post adoption stories, but this is the first time that the volunteers have given me the awesome and special responsibility of actually naming one of these adorable pups — so I’d like to introduce you all to my friend Minnie — this one’s special to me.

She may look like a little puppy, but believe it or not Minnie is a little older, She’s one of those dogs that’s always going to have that “forever puppy” look. She was surrendered to the shelter by her previous owner, and while she plays very well with her friends at the shelter it is still recommended that this pit mix be adopted into a home with no other small dogs, as she can be a bit energetic and rambunctious when playing. Otherwise she is a sweet, happy, and curious girl who bonds quickly with people.  She hasn’t been at the shelter long, but I’m sure that with your help we will be able to find her a new home in no time.

Help spread the world about this sweet adoptable girl by sharing this post or her Petfinder page — where you can find all the relevant info about meeting or even adopting her.

Minnie is an adoptable pit mix currently sheltered at the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter

Donkey photographed at Asha Farms Animal Sanctuary in Newfane NY

I love the work I do with rescue dogs — it’s incredibly rewarding to me and it helps to find new homes for wonderful dogs who have come out of some really bad situations — but all too often we lose sight of the other animals that face abuses in our world. The ones that need help and are commonly denied it because we have institutionalized the disconnection we have from our traditional food sources — the “meat comes from the store” mentality. We have become the largest consumers of meat in the world, and have over-industrialized much of our agricultural production. Because of this, many of us have never seen a cow or chicken up close, let alone considered the impact they have on our day-to-day lives or how our habits of consumption affect their wellbeing and ethical treatment. While not everyone may agree with eating meat, or conversely with living a vegan/vegetarian lifestyle — I think that it’s important to acknowledge that there are people trying to change the lives of these animals for the better.

Asha is a farm and livestock sanctuary in Newfane, NY that has been rescuing and giving a long-term home to livestock and working animals that have faced illness, abuse, and near slaughter. They have been in operation since 2012 when former HSBC Bank executive Tracy Murphy, spurred on by her research into abusive farming practices and animal research, left her job to start the small shelter farm that quickly grew into Asha Sanctuary and its associated vegan and cruelty-free foodways education programs. Tracy has amassed quite a group of animals at Asha, many saved at the last second from auction or slaughter. I’d been looking to work with a more diverse selection of animals and I was focused on finding a group that was involved in rescue or animal rehabilitation. Asha Sanctuary’s name kept popping up over and over again in my research, and serendipitously Tracy reached out to me at almost the same time to inquire about the possibility of creating some new animal images to use in Asha’s fundraising and educational materials — so it was something of a perfect match.

Cornish Game Hen photographed at Asha Farms Animal Sanctuary in Newfane NYCow photographed at Asha Farms Animal Sanctuary in Newfane NY

We worked with Albert, a young calf who was rescued at just a day old —abandoned and separated from his mother and found with his umbilical cord still attached. Albert was in bad shape until he was nursed back to health at Asha by Tracy, where he now has the chance to be the playful and sweet animal he has grown into. Seeing him run around the pasture, eat fruit, and chase the other animals reminded me so much of the way my dogs act. Albert has a great affinity for people and the attention they give him, coming right up alongside you and rubbing his head against your hand until you pet him. It’s amazing to see how much he has imprinted on Tracy and how affectionate he was towards my team – essentially acting like a big puppy the whole day.

Turkey photographed at Asha Farms Animal Sanctuary in Newfane NY

Another one of our favorite subjects was Abraham — A turkey who was rescued from slaughter by another sanctuary before coming to Asha. He has been debeaked and wasn’t in the best health when he was first rescued due to the cramped quarters he had been living in. But much like Albert, living at Asha has given Abraham a whole new outlook on life as he can roam the property and freely interact with the visitors and other animals. He also has a thing about shoelaces, as he managed to untie mine three or four times during the course of the shoot at Asha.

Michael the goat from Asha Sanctuary in Newfane NY

Finally, Michael is a young goat whose main interest in life seem to be head-butting me every chance he got. I really wish we had grabbed some video, because he was like a little ninja, coming out of nowhere to bop me whenever he could. It’s pretty normal for goats, especially young ones like him, but it certainly made for an entertaining day of dodging him and having my assistants watch my back to make sure the little guy wasn’t trying to sneak up on me to show me he was the boss. It was actually pretty cute, like a little kid who thinks he’s a tough guy.

You can visit Asha during any of their open hours to meet and bond with these wonderful animals. You can also help sponsor the care and treatment of individual animals as many of their newer residents have ongoing medical needs due to the their previous treatment and neglect at the hands of others.

Red Chicken photographed at Asha Farms Animal Sanctuary in Newfane NY

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