Why Ohio?

At Crosswinds Grille in The Lakehouse Inn & Winery, excelling at farm-to-table cuisine and working with local producers play important parts in both the inn and restaurant’s success. Chef Nate Fagnilli’s passion for the local food movement is evident; so much so that you will often find him on weekly calls with neighboring livestock companies discussing grass-fed meat or involved in a 6 a.m. text conversation with a farmer.
His menu is filled with items purchased from area farmers and cheese makers, so it changes on a regular basis. It is also based entirely on sources from the region, from the meat right down to the cocktails (created with Ohio-made ingredients) and the house-produced wine.

“I use these foods for two reasons,” says Fagnilli. “One, I like supporting local farmers. There is no reason why in 2016, people can’t make a living farming and I feel I help them to succeed. And two, if farming is done right with the least amount of chemicals possible, the soil is cared for properly, the animals fed correctly and the produce harvested at the right time, we have the most nutritious foods available to us.”
However, those aren’t the only aspects that motivate him. “There are other reasons too, such as carbon footprint and terroir,” he adds. “This term is common in the wine industry, but I feel it plays a huge role in all farming.”

The Challenges – And Rewards

Bringing these local purveyors into the fold didn’t happen overnight. While today these sources are eager to work with Fagnilli, it did take some time for him to cultivate the contacts. “In the early years, it was rather difficult and it has taken a while to build my relationships,” he reveals. “There is a food service company in Ohio called Bon Appetit Management Group. They take care of a few colleges and are huge supporters of local foods. I remember the first summer we opened I would call on farmers looking for products and a common response was, ‘I just sold it all to Bon Appetit.’ While frustrating at the time, this gave me motivation to improve my systems and now it has been four years since I’ve been told this.” 
Presently, the difficult part comes when options abound but the opportunity to take advantage of each one isn’t practical in reality. “I would say at this stage, I do get a lot of calls from other farmers looking to sell us product. The downside to this is that we are only one restaurant and we can’t support every farm in Ashtabula County,” says Fagnilli. “It’s quite frustrating as I want to help as many as I can, but I also have to be profitable and I don’t want to waste food. The beauty of this is every now and then I’ll have someone new show up with an amazing product. One example is Farm 153 in Dorset. I have worked with them in the past, and it wasn’t successful, but that farmer called me this year with some items he wanted to move so I gave him another shot. To my surprise the carrots, turnips and kale were absolutely amazing! The lessons I’ve learned over the years is to always be open-minded and give people a chance; they are constantly learning, growing and evolving just like us.”

Creating Immersive Culinary Experiences

Located on Lake Erie in the heart of Ohio Wine Country (the state’s largest concentration of wineries), The Lakehouse Inn & Winery is situated in a region that is completely unique. Having a winery as part of the inn makes it more than a just a bed and breakfast, so special culinary events are a perfect addition to the guest experience.
“We have been offering wine tastings since we started selling wine in 2002. They have always been popular since many of our lodging guests are coming to the area to visit the local wineries and want to sample the wines,” says event coordinator Andrea Bushweiler. “We are always trying to create innovative events that will set us apart and bring consumers to our facility. While wine tasting isn’t uncommon to this area, it is a draw since we are the only inn here with a winery.”
Knowing how closely tied food and wine are, especially as the trend of culinary tourism continues to grow in popularity and demand, developing events that pair the two was a logical next step as well as the expansion of what could be created solely on the food front. The hog butchering class is one such example. Participants stay at The Lakehouse Inn for the weekend and spend a day learning how to butcher meat. Then they enjoy a three-course dinner at Crosswinds Grille that features select cuts from what they butchered.
The experience includes two nights’ accommodations, full breakfast daily, an Ohio cheese and charcuterie board upon arrival, full-day butchering class, one lunch and dinner. “The hands-on hog butchering class was developed because no one is offering something like this near us right now,” Bushweiler adds. “Since Nate butchers, and our meat and farm-to table are priorities, it made sense to offer it.”
Those who have attended the class have been extremely happy with the event, and the response has been overwhelming positive. Plus, it isn’t just the attendees who are learning new skills either.
“When I teach others it forces me to learn, and when I have to do pairing events, it forces me to research and educate myself,” Fagnilli says. “My whole life revolves around learning. I want to be better tomorrow than what I was yesterday – it’s what drives me. I make many mistakes, but I can almost guarantee I only make the same mistake once. If we don’t make mistakes, we don’t push our boundaries and then we don’t learn.”

Stef Schwalb is the director of content/marketing for BnBFinder.com, one of the world’s most comprehensive B&B directories. You can read more about B&Bs and travel at the BnBFinder blog. Follow along on Twitter at @BnBFinder, Facebook, and Pinterest.

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