MacArthur Genius grant recipient Will Dichtes photographed at Cornell University for Northwestern University

Imagine a material so porous that little more than a gram of it contained the same surface area as a football field.

It sounds like the kind of made-up miracle substances you usually hear discussed solely in the realms of sci-fi or comic books, like Adamantium, Unobtanium, or Nth metal — The kind of elemental MacGuffins that exist to explain away the fantastic powers of those that use them. The primary difference is that supramolecular chemist Will Dichtel has taken his material out of the world of science fiction. In fact, he’s on the verge of taking this and other revolutionary nanomaterials out of the lab and giving them practical real-world applications that could potentially change our planet for the better.

A scientist currently attached to Northwestern University’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, and previously Cornell University, Will was recently awarded a MacArthur fellowship for his research into these porous polymers (called covalent organic frameworks) and their potentially revolutionary uses in the fields of water filtration, chemical fuel storage, and battery development.

For those not familiar with the MacArthur Genius Grant, it is an annual award and financial grant of $625,000 given out to approximately twenty individuals in a variety of fields who have demonstrated creativity, self-direction, and innovation in their area of practice. Aside from Will, other 2015 inductees include Hamilton composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates, and puppeteer Basil Twist.

While his work is firmly rooted in changing the real world, Will’s constant challenging of assumptions and wide-ranging skill set has allowed him to pursue avenues of research and practical application in chemistry that for all intents and purposes have made him a scientific superhero in his own right, one who could literally make people’s lives better with his work.

Chemist and MacArthur Fellow Will Dichtel

Legendary Buffalo Sabres winger/enforcer  and Sports broadcaster Rob Ray

It’s time to throw down your gloves and start swinging when Legendary Buffalo Sabres enforcer Rob Ray is in your studio. (maybe not, I’m pretty sure I’d come out on the losing end of that one)

For a guy with such a fearsome reputation on the ice that the NHL has a fighting rule named after him (better keep your jersey tied down when resorting to fisticuffs from now on). I’m happy to say that Rob (aside from being very friendly) was actually sitting for this portrait to help some very special and in-need dogs find their forever homes as part of an ongoing campaign that I’ve been working on with Partners + Napier to help promote a wonderful animal rescue called Diamonds in the Ruff. 

I spent most of my teenage years watching Rob go toe to toe (skate to skate?) with guys like Tie Domi and Steve Webb, but since he’s made the transition to being part of the Sabres’ broadcast team (alongside Rick Jeanneret and fellow former Sabres enforcer Brad May) Rob has made an even bigger impact locally by being incredibly active in helping a number of Buffalo based charities and community organizations like DITR. I’m so glad he could be a part of this project that combines my love of Buffalo Hockey with helping these amazing animals.

Theres so much happening here right now, and a lot of it is good. Buffalo is a city that many people once wrote off, but we’ve been getting a lot of attention lately. Travel + Leisure just named us America’s favorite city, our restaurant scene is exploding, we have amazing artists and museums, and people are finally starting to make some noise about how much they love this city. We’re not perfect, and we’ve got a long way to go, but its amazing to see so many people so excited about what’s going on here lately.

But the best part?

The people.

On that note I’m so excited to share this small selection of portraits from a recent series I shot for Buffalo Spree that features some of the key personalities in Buffalo’s style, music, design, and art communities. These are just a few of the people doing their small part to make this city amazing again. Be sure to visit Spree’s site to see the rest of the collection.

Fashion Consultant - Rabiyyah KhanRabiyyah Khan – Fashion Consultant.

Phillip Brunner - Addiction counselor and photogrpaherPhillip Brunner – Addiction counselor and community advocate.

Amy HartmanAmy Hartman – Artist and educator.

Saint Opal - Buffalo NY vocalist/musician$aint Øpal – Musician.

Lulu - DjLulu – DJ and professional smartypants.

Tiffani MooreTiffani Moore – Creative consultant.

Brandon Davis - Creative Director of Block ClubBrandon Davis – Creative director of Block Club.

Chae Hawk - Team RadioChae Hawk – Progressive rap cinema artist.

Joseph Stocker - Founder and creative director of Bureau menswear in Buffalo NYJoseph Stocker – Founder and creative director of BUREAU.

You can see a bit of what went into this production in the video below.

Andrew Emerson - Owner and designer of Emerson James Lighting

Light is a pretty dominant element of my life. I think about it constantly — how to manipulate it,  see it, record it, and how to anticipate and predict its behavior. Whether I’m charting the movements of natural light to plan a location shoot or designing and rigging lighting solutions in the studio, playing with light has become an integral part of my day both at work and at home (just ask my wife Erin, she’s woken up to me experimenting with lighting her with my iPhone in the middle of the night). But there’s a certain way of talking about light that seems to be native to those passionate about photography or painting — an excitable and sometimes cryptic form of shop talk that is truly in the realm of the passionate (or obsessive). The kind of talk that Erin dreads whenever I run onto another photographer.

Naturally, I was pretty excited when I met someone recently who was really obsessed with light in a very different way than I was. Andrew Emerson isn’t a photographer or a painter — and his obsession with light and design is expressed in a more practical manner than mine. As the owner of Buffalo, NY based Emerson James, Andrew uses his skills in metal work and industrial design to create unique custom lighting fixtures for businesses and homes.

“I got my start working in a lighting store my senior year of high school. Essentially I was just a delivery guy slash stock guy who did odd jobs around the shop. Eventually it was noticed that I wasn’t a total idiot, so they started to trust me with more responsibilities. I worked my way up to doing minor fixes on lamps and chandeliers and I found that I had a knack for it. I’ve always enjoyed engineering and taking things apart to learn more about them. I spent about ten years there doing restoration and repairs on vintage fixtures,  fans, chandeliers, and working alongside electricians all over Western New York and picking up tips and tricks from them. I’d learned a lot, not just about the construction and fabrication of lights, but also enough to be a quasi-expert on how place and arrange lights in a room.”

Desk lamp designed by Andrew Emerson of Emerson James Inc

“At the time I was building some really primitive stuff, like the block lamps I was selling to Ro furniture. It was really just a hobby. During all of this I had taken an internship with a machinist at my father’s warehouse in Lockport, where I learned how to get screamed at a lot, but I learned a lot from him about basic machining, and he very graciously offered to send me to welding school. I learned to do some halfway decent welding, though I’m still ‘Just a pimple on a real welder’s ass,’ as he would say. It gave me a good start, and it gave me a dynamic skill set.”

The Emerson James’ website boasts “We can make a light out of anything” and I really do  believe it after seeing some of Andrew’s creations. But despite the prodigious and varied skills on display when you see his work, there does seem to be a clear voice that rises to the surface amongst his myriad creations. Some might seek to identify the aesthetic as industrial, and while there are some elements that make reference to the industrial and post-industrial design movements, there is something refreshingly off-balance to much of his work — and Andrew would be the first to eschew the industrial label, preferring utilitarian to describe his design and fabrication style.

“I cringe when I hear it called that, because the industrial aesthetic has just been done to death. But at the same time, it is what we have all around us here in Western New York, the remnants of a very powerful industry that fell apart. Western New York is a very nostalgic city and we often look back at the glory days of that lost industry, so it’s natural for that to hold a lot of appeal for people. At the same time I steal lots of ideas, and I believe in stealing like an artist, but I steal ideas from the way a table is put together, or the angle of a chair brace. I try to take a little part of all the cool stuff I see and put it into a new composition. Most of my personal design is very simple and functional — if it’s a light I want it to light something up. I also like the ability to manipulate things easily, that’s why you’ll see a lot of things like clutch swivels on my designs. I like to have a lot of adjustability.

Andrew Emerson - Owner and lead designer of Emerson James Lighting

The severe symmetry of the purely industrial is muted by the inclusion of naturally imperfect materials like wood and stone, simple bias lines in design or color schemes lend a sense of modernity even when referencing the past, and the organic shapes created by serpentine cables in many Emerson James fixtures adds a balance to the rigidity of his other materials that makes something as ubiquitous as even a power cord a part of the overall design that you will never want to hide.

Emerson James also shares a retail space with with noted Buffalo woodworking and furniture design firm (and alumni of this blog) Wrafterbuilt. Andrew first met his shop-mate, Sean Wrafter, when the two were part of a design team featured on one of those home makeover shows that I’m “secretly” obsessed with — specifically HGTV’s House Hunters Renovation. The two quickly formed a friendship and eventually opened a small showroom together, which later moved the the North Buffalo Hertel Avenue neighborhood.

“Interior designer Candice Urban-Green of BoxCraft took a liking to my work for some reason, and pulled me into the HGTV project – which is where I met Sean. I think at that point we knew of each other’s work, but we quickly started commiserating about our need to have more control over how our goods were being sold and retailed. Sean needed lights to complement his furniture and wood work, and I needed stuff to put my lights on. It was a good fit, and our design aesthetics really complemented each other.”

Both businesses continue to grow, amassing an impressive list of clients, and Emerson James seems poised to expand into more metal work to accompany the already strong line of retail and custom lighting that has become a regular and welcome sight in some of the coolest homes and restaurants in Buffalo. Be sure to stop in at the Emerson James / Wrafterbuilt showroom at 1376 Hertel Ave in Buffalo, NY.

Lighting designer Andrew Emerson of Emerson James Lighting in Buffalo NY

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You didn’t think that postcards was all I had up my sleeves did you?

Following up on my last post, where I went over the new tri-fold mailers that I had just sent out. I wanted to share with you another promo piece that was soon to be on its way to  some of my favorite people (and some people who I have my eye on getting to know better).

A few years back I did a large newsprint promo that collected a bunch of the stories about artisans and entrepreneurs in the Buffalo NY area that I had been working on. It was my first foray into doing newsprint, and it was hugely successful for me (thanks in no small part to the amazing design work done by Shauna Haider of We Are Branch — who I have been lucky enough to collaborate with for the past few years), and I fell in love with this style of printing. There is something ephemeral and so pleasing to the mix of the images, the feel of the paper, and even the smell of ink. I get the same vibe off of it that people say they still get from reading real print books as opposed using an e-reader.

This year we’ve decided to change it up — slightly. Instead of a large tabloid sized newspaper that was very text heavy, we’ve opted for a small magazine sized piece that has more of the feel of a zine, and serves as something of a digest to some highlights of my recent work. Shauna did another amazing job with the layout of this piece, and we printed it at the Newspaper Club.  In it you’ll see subjects that range from Michael Dimmer and Chrstian Wilmot who own Marble + Rye (who were just featured in Open Table’s 100 Hottest Restaurants in America), to Buffalo Bills’ Quarterback EJ Manuel, to Bobby Finan of Tommyrotter Distillery.

I’ve only done a small print run to start — just enough to send out a select list of clients and people at some brands I’d really love to partner with, but there is a good chance I will do another run soon, so you might just be lucky enough to get your hands on one.

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My new promos are on their way to the mailboxes of editors, art directors, and clients across the US and Canada. For this batch I’m continuing with the very clean and minimlaist trifold format that I really fell in love with at the end of last year (which you can see here in this roundup by Rob Haggart of some of his favorite promos of 2015). This one features a collection of images that includes: actor and historian Guy William Gane, Buffalo Bills Quarterback EJ Manuel, violinist and recording artist Yuki Numata Resnick, US Marine Tony Nash, and attorney and farmer Ginger Schröder.

Keep an eye on the post for those dark gray envelopes with the hand stamped labels — you might be lucky enough to have one coming your way.

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Buffalo, NY photographer Luke Copping - Portrait by David Moog/ Courtesy Burchfield Penny.

Photography by David Moog / Courtesy Burchfield Penney

It’s rare for me to make an appearance on this side of the camera. I’m usually the one behind it — directing talent, trying to set the mood, and trying to make an image that connects. But every few years I come out from under the dark-cloth and get in front of the lens for someone else.

I was invited by David Moog to be a part of his Artists Seen series — an ongoing multi-year project in which David is attempting to create a record of artists working in, or connected to, Western New York. He’s partnered with the Burchfield Penney Art Center  — an amazing gallery and museum dedicated to featuring and archiving work exclusively by artists from the area. The gallery has provided David with a dedicated studio in the museum for him to capture the hundreds of creatives who make up the contemporary artists community of Buffalo and the surrounding areas. It’s an amazing group of artists and I’m excited to be a part of it.

Because we’re both photographers  I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that our short portrait session turned into an amazing conversation about our favorite photographers, David’s history, and the nature of art and creativity. It was a perfect storm of two people who are very enthusiastic about art getting a chance to talk shop.

Be sure to see more of David’s work here

Tommyrotter Distillery owner and head distiller Bobby Finan. Tommyrotter produced small batch vodka and American Gin in Buffalo NY's emerging Larkinville Neighborhood

A new friend passed a recipe on to me recently that’s become a favorite.

1 oz. Tommyrotter small batch vodka
1 oz. Tommyrotter American gin
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 wedge of lemon

Muddle the lemon and Lillet Blanc in a cocktail shaker, then add gin and vodka. Drop in ice and shake, shake, shake. Use a Hawthorne strainer over a fine strainer to remove any excess lemon pulp and pour into a coup glass. Rim the glass and garnish with a slice of lemon peel.

Congratulations, you just made a Tommyrotter Vesper.

You can thank me later… but in the meantime go ahead and mix yourself another one to sip on while you read the rest of this post.

Bobby Finan is the one who passed this recipe on to me – he’s also the creative and technical mind behind Tommyrotter, where he produces small batch vodka and American gin in a converted 114-year-old paper box factory in Buffalo, NY’s emerging Larkinville neighborhood. A one-time student of economics who turned his back on the world of finance to embrace liberating changes in New York State’s Farm Distillery Law, Bobby has become one of a handful of pioneering craft distillers operating in the Buffalo area – and though Tommyrotter wasn’t the first of these distilleries to pop open a bottle for the public, their singular focus on quality, presentation, and drinking experience has made them many’s favorite (mine included) amongst this small pack. They’re even starting to garner attention outside of the spirits world, as their branding and packaging just received a major award in the much lauded Communication Arts Magazine.

Tommyrotter first grabbed my attention because of their gin, a distinctly intense pot distilled take on the classic form of the spirit that manages to be both familiar and novel to tasters. It leads with floral, citrus, and piney juniper notes but quickly transitions into dark warm spicy flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, grains of paradise, and ginger – making for an herbaceous and incredibly cocktail friendly spirit perfect for the wintery climates along the northern border.

Tommyrotter Distillery Small Batch Vodka alongside a signature Tommyrotter Vesper

Like cornflakes, penicillin, and Velcro, an accident played a big part in elevating Tommyrotter’s gin into something spectacular. “I wanted to make a gin that was accessible, and that I personally liked drinking, but also one that wasn’t just a summer-time spirit for people to drink with tonic, something that had some complexity that worked year-round and was at home in more refined cocktails like Negronis. So we decided to create a flavor profile that combined these darker winter spices with classic gin notes, resulting in something intense and complex. That intensity was furthered through a happy accident. As we approached our target opening date and were in the last days of refining our recipe, I was fatigued and sleep deprived, creating half size test batches of our product that weren’t quite perfect, but with one particular half sized batch I mistakenly used the amount of botanicals I would have used in a full sized one, and it ended up creating this incredibly flavorful but balanced taste that ended up defying most gin making logic, but it tasted awesome and we said ‘this is it’.”

Buffalo, like many others, is a city that embraces the local, but Bobby and others of his mindset are realizing that just having a locally produced product isn’t enough – and have their sights set higher. In his view, local needs to be coupled with extremely high quality (and a splash of true uniqueness) to really get the point across – resulting in a beverage that isn’t just a great local spirit, but a great spirit period. Thankfully, quality and uniqueness are both attributes that Tommyrotter has in abundance – and in a sea of bars dedicated to interminable offerings of small batch bourbon or craft tequila, the presence of an exemplary craft gin is both exciting and refreshing.

Many think of Buffalo as a beer town, with our long history of German and Polish brewers to our current resurgence of great craft beer, to our grain silos painted to look like a six pack of Labatt’s Blue – so a craft distillery in an emerging neighborhood may seem like something of an anomaly, especially one receiving so much well-deserved praise in such a short time. But one thing that Tommyrotter has in common with many of the area’s best breweries is a constant drive for both refinement and experimentation. Bobby’s experimental drive is embodied in what he hopes will be Tommyrotter’s next offering to passionate fans – a much anticipated barrel aged gin steeped in used bourbon casks.

Bobby shared one final recipe for those who like a little amaro in their cocktails – the Tommyrotter Fernet Rinse Negroni

Swirl a few drops of Fernet Branca to coat glass and ice.
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Sweet vermouth
1 oz. Tommyrotter American gin

Stir and finish with a slice of orange peel.

Enjoy.

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.

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