CANANDAIGUA, NY — Over the rhythmic chopping of carrots and onions for that night’s bolognaise sauce, Asa Mott is multitasking.
First the carrots, then the onions — no tears visible. While his hands and eyes are focused on that night’s dinners, Mott’s thoughts are on the next opportunity to seek out local ingredients that give the tapas and other Spanish-themed foods at Ferona their local flair.
This can be fruitful. For instance, back in the spring for his first week at the Canandaigua restaurant, he wound up with two lambs to work with in preparing dishes. On this weekday, he’s thinking of a Saturday trip to the Canandaigua Farmers Market.
There is the Ferona menu — dotted with dishes like panache, datiles (bacon-wrapped dates) and Ignacio’s or garden paella, to name a few. And then there’s the soon-to-be-specials menu, with more short-term specialty dishes based on what he finds on these food-finding missions.
Thinking ahead: “Personally, I’d like to flood the table with a bunch of small dishes that everyone can share and enjoy,” said Mott, who was owner and chef at the now-closed ButaPub in the South Wedge area of Rochester.
“Just trying to make it more of a tapas place, really,” Mott said. “The chef who was here before me was really good, so there weren’t any drastic changes that needed to be made. Tightening up and making the concept work a little better.”
Ferona — the name is a composite of the letters of the names of owner Rafael Guevara’s three children — opened at the end of 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic ended up closing the eatery for a time.
Mott, who worked years ago with Guevara, answered a blind ad for the chef’s job. Mott, who went to Paul Smith College’s culinary school in 1994, said he’s always loved the flavor profiles of Spanish food, although he noted his first love was French cuisine.
That was before he came across the famed Chef Ferran Adria, considered among the top chefs in the world, and his work at one of the top restaurants in the world, El Bulli. At the time, Adria was into preparing really avant-garde foods, which had their roots in traditional Spanish food.
“My exposure to it was backwards — avant-garde and high end — and then I learned the more traditional stuff later on,” Mott said.
For now, he’s looking to put a subtle spin of his own in the field. Take, for example, the short-grain Bomba rice he’s introduced for Ferona’s paellas.
Mott also does a house-made pasta, with lamb bolognaise and house-made ricotta cavetelli, which will be switched out eventually for a pork ragu, with braised greens and sweet corn and house-made spinach rigatoni.
And tapas, steak, or bistec asado, for when the mood for a more traditional meal strikes the rest of the party.
“He lets me do what I want and supports everything I want to do,” Mott said, referring to Guevara, who also owns the popular Rio Tomatlán restaurant in Canandaigua.
Coming off the stringent pandemic rules and regulations, many are eager to get out once again and enjoy what restaurants have to offer. Many may find themselves inspired to try something new, according to new Ferona manager Hannah Becker.
When Ferona opened, tapas were somewhat of a new dining concept for the area. They are small dishes meant to be tasted and shared, often over drinks and conversations with friends. In other words, a diner can enjoy several dishes at once in smaller portions — more to try, more to enjoy.
Mott’s work also is inspiring co-workers, including Becker.
“He’s so amazing,” Becker said.
Certainly, the interior of this hidden gem in Canandaigua — the entrance is behind the front of the plaza that houses Ray’s Restaurant and Tom Wahl’s on Route 332 — might do some inspiring.
Count Mott among those impressed by the first- to second-floor mural, which was created by New York City artist Cern.
“I walked in and this place is beautiful,” Mott said. “I just have a lot of faith this is going to be a very busy restaurant soon. For the most part, I think everybody’s happy to be out of the house again. We’re only going to get busier and better and move forward.”