If you had told me I would soon spend nearly four hours with women twice my age in the garden of a Perrysburg home, sipping crisp Pinot Grigio, noshing on a bulky block of Brie, accompanied by fresh, heady salsas and piquant dips, I would have laughed. Yet, on the first warm day of summer, there I was, only a block away from the downtown, surrounded by raised garden beds, lush trees, in the backyard of a 158-year-old home.
Charming surprises like this are sort of Diane Roger’s thing. It’s been almost 40 years since she and her sister Sydney sank their teeth into the local culinary scene, and Diane is still serving up dazzling epicureans with deceptively simple, inspired creations.
Cool and composed
While most remember the sisters’ upscale restaurant— Syd & Diane’s, a relaxed bistro favored for inspired, gourmet cuisine in Perrysburg during the 1980s— their story of Diane’s decorated career begins much earlier.
“We were very fortunate to be brought up in the entertainment industry,” Diane told me inside Le Garage, a cozy, garden side garage detached from the sisters’ bed and breakfast, The Guesthouse. “We’ve been around hotels and restaurants since we were out of the womb. Hospitality came naturally to us because it’s all we know… food and entertainment, then more food, and more entertainment… and we were lucky to be raised at a time when there was so much respect for the profession.”
Diane takes her craft seriously, but she is nonchalant— likely the result of nearly 60 years in and around kitchens. She knows all the tricks, and she sprinkles her knowledge throughout a conversation. In the middle of a story, she pauses to whisper— ”Want to know how to make pastry flour? 1 ¾ tablespoon of cornstarch for one cup of all-purpose. There, I saved you money.” She reminisces through the decades, quickly dropping a list of unfamiliar names that I feel like I should know.
Her career is storied. She started catering in the Toledo-area in 1979, the year the U.S. Open was held at Inverness. She served private parties, which led to CEOs, which introduced her to upper-class epicureans happy to dish out cash for serious cuisine. Word of mouth led them to cater the opening of the Toledo Museum of Art’s El Greco exhibit, which crescendoed into the opening of their restaurant, Syd & Diane’s.
“We were so busy… a full house six nights a week. We put out a lot of food with six burners and one oven,” Diane remembers of the Perrysburg restaurant. “We cared about food, service, the way the servers presented themselves. Bud vases on every table. Fresh cut flowers everywhere. We had fun along the way, but we really put in our heart and soul.” But after nine years, Diane says “it got to be too much, so I got lucky and sold it.”
Then, Syd and Diane returned to catering, and Diane began teaching classes around town, began going to Farmers Markets and local shops to sell the Syd & Diane’s line of signature gourmet items, such as salad dressings, Big Bang marinade, the famous cranberry sauce, salsas, dips, and more. Diane helped found the Perrysburg Farmer’s Market, which she spent two decades with, and ran a small retail shop in Market Square on Monroe Street for four years.
What else? Diane pauses her oral history of a life in kitchens to laugh and admit, “I’ve been doing food so long I don’t even remember.”
Flavors du jour
Today, the sisters keep things more simple while maintaining her infectious enthusiasm and passion. At The Guesthouse and Le Garage, located at 120-122 W. Indiana Ave. in Perrysburg, Diane grows vegetables and herbs from raised garden beds, makes instructional videos for Youtube, offers cooking classes, catering for private and special events.
On Thursday afternoons and evenings— the night of the weekly Perrysburg Farmers market— she sets up sales of items and catering orders. It’s casual— the hours aren’t always consistent, but it typically begins at 4pm— and the atmosphere allows for conversations between old friends and strangers. The door’s open, and for good reason, curious patrons and gourmands stop in and out, staying for unpredictable amounts of time.
On the menu? Seasonal choices. Exposure to European kitchens at age 20 opened Diane’s eyes to fresh food every day, “it’s what food should be about.”
That European sensibility of using only a few simple, but high-quality, ingredients and exquisite technique to produce deceptively simple cuisine has informed her career. Hospitality and cuisine are in tandem, values that can’t be separated. And Diane doesn’t compromise on standards.
Food is to be savored, she says, and she gives both visitors and herself everything needed to relax and indulge. Because, after all, what’s the point in doing something you love if you don’t love the way you do it?
Diane has two upcoming cooking classes: Thursday, June 7 and Thursday, June 21, from noon-2:30pm. Space is limited, reservations are required. For more details, and to preview the menu, visit sydanddianes.com For reservations, email email@example.com.