Ana’s Empanadas puts an exotic twist on local food

Ana and Rob DiTursi with their children

[Originally published in the Rutland County Express on 1/13/10]

It’s Saturday morning. Still foggy from the night before, you amble — coffee in hand — into the Winter Farmers’ Market. Immediately, you’re overtaken by the sights and sounds and smells of Rutland’s weekly local food bazaar.

They say you should never shop for food on an empty stomach so before you begin your adventure, you’ll likely need something to eat.

If you take a sharp right upon entering the old Strand Theater space that houses the Winter Market, you’ll find Ana’s Empanadas.

For three years, Ana and Rob DiTursi have been preparing and selling the authentic Argentinean treats throughout the Rutland area.

To be sure, there’s no shortage of great prepared food at market. Over the last couple years there has been a rise in prepared food vendors — each creating unique culinary offerings that put Rutland’s local farmers and growers front and center.

The DiTursis met in New York City in the mid-1990s in an instance of serendipity that Nora Ephron couldn’t have penned better.

Ana was a ballerina, who came from her native Buenos Aires to dance for a company in Manhattan.

Rob, who was renting from someone involved with Ana’s company, was in the process of moving out due to the frequent dance rehearsals held above his apartment, when they met by chance when Ana’s rehearsal was rescheduled for the same day he was moving out.

“If that rehearsal didn’t get moved, we never would have met,” said Rob.

At the time, Ana spoke little English and Rob spoke no Spanish.

Seven months later, they were married.

Ana continued to dance and teach ballet in the New York area while Rob worked as a manager at Babbo, Mario Batali’s first restaurant in Manhattan. Ana soon took a job there as well, working as a hostess among other roles.

After 9/11, the DiTursis began to take stock of things. Their first son Luca had just been born, and the couple wanted to find a better life for their growing family.

“We decided to get away,” Rob said.

In July 2002, they moved to the Rutland area. Growing up, Rob had uncle who owned a house on Lake Bomoseen. He had come to visit through the years and was familiar with the area.

Rob took a job at the Killington Grand. Ana began teaching ballet locally. She also continued to teach at a school in Staten Island, regularly making the five-hour drive back to the city.

While the empanada business happened organically, the seeds were planted long ago. As a child, Ana’s mother taught her how to make the traditional Argentinean food, which is as common there as pizza is here.

In New York, Ana’s friends would often ask her to make the treats for parties and other occasions, all the while urging her to go into business for herself. She finally made the leap after a visit to the Rutland Farmers’ Market, where a vendor was selling empanadas that, upon inspection, Ana found to be less than authentic.

So she decided to show them how it was done.

In her first week at market, Ana prepared just 50 empanadas and sold every last one.

Looking back on that first week, she chuckles at how basic their operation was compared to today. “We had a card table, a tiny sign and 50 empanadas,” she said.

Since then, their operation has grown steadily.

Soon, Ana realized this was not going to be a one-woman show. Rob left his job at Killington to join Ana, bringing with him his experience in food service.

Ana is quick to show her appreciation for the role Rob plays — the business may be called Ana’s Empanadas, but she happily acknowledges it is an equal partnership.

Last winter, they opened a cabin on the slopes of Killington, at the base of Needle’s Eye, to the delight of skiers and riders.

During the summer months, they sell at farmers’ markets in Dorset and Woodstock in addition to Rutland, and have begun to appear at area concerts and festivals.

In December, they also moved into a new kitchen at 54 Strongs Ave. in downtown Rutland. In addition to a much-needed commercial kitchen, the space — which they rent from friend and owner of the Waffle Cabin, Peter Creyf — also features a storefront where their fresh, homemade empanadas can be purchased all week long.

In the kitchen, Ana and Rob have the operation down — large batches of dough, or masa, are mixed and rolled out; the filling, or rellenos, is placed inside; then, they are sealed, marked and baked.

The result is a light, slightly sweet crust that gives way to a warm, tasty blend of any number of flavors from the traditional tangy-sweet Argentinean-flavored beef to the zesty chorizo and cheddar that melts in your mouth — all finished off with their signature chimichurri sauce.

According to Rob, during the winter months, they will prepare on average about 3,000 empanadas a week.

A key part of that preparation is sourcing and highlighting local ingredients. From the start, Ana and Rob knew that was going to be essential.

“When we came up here nine years ago (local food) didn’t exist,” Rob said, noting that that they had “become accustomed” to eating locally in New York, where it was much more common.

“It blew my mind,” he said. “We were right in the middle of it here (in Vermont).”

At market, Ana and Rob shop as much as they sell — gathering their ingredients for the week from fellow vendors like Hathaway Farms, Boardman Hill, Sunset Farm, Foggy Meadow … the list goes on.

At work, Ana and Rob keep the family close by. Their two sons Luca, 10, and Nico, 3, busy themselves with toys and games while their parents cook.

Being far from home, Ana still manages to keep in touch with her roots. Both the boys have been raised speaking Spanish and English, and she travels to Argentina at least once a year.

Her mother also visits regularly, lending a hand in the kitchen while she’s here.

“She’ll make three empanadas for every one I do,” Ana says with a laugh.

With a solid product in place, the DiTursis are looking to continue expanding, selling at more mountains in winters to come and getting into even more markets and festivals in the summer.

Looking at their business model, Rob is pleased with what they have accomplished. With his experience, he could easily be working on the higher end of the food industry, but he is content right where he and Ana are — making good food with quality local ingredients that everyone can afford.

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