Debra Whiting, 52, executive chef and co-owner of Red Newt Cellars Winery and Bistro in Hector, NY was killed last night in a car crash. According to Greg Tumbarello, business and office manager of the winery, she and her husband, winemaker David Whiting, were driving home after visiting friends and family in Vermont.
David Whiting is currently in stable condition after being airlifted to the Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse.
Debra Whiting was a noted chef and force behind the growing locavore movement in the Finger Lakes. Under her guidance, Red Newt Bistro became a showcase of locally sourced, seasonally evolving menus paired with a vast selection of Finger Lakes wines.
Whiting was also a founder and president of the Finger Lakes Culinary Bounty, an organization for food producers, wineries, chefs and other tourism and hospitality industry members aimed at developing the culinary tourism movement in the Finger Lakes.
“Debra was my personal hero,” said Lisa Hallgren, co-owner of Ravines Wine Cellars and the Ravinous Kitchen, and a close personal friend. Comparing Whiting to the pioneering Finger Lakes winemaker Willy Frank of Dr. Konstantin Frank’s Vinifera Wine Cellars, she added “Debra was the Willy Frank of the food industry here. She was invaluable in promoting local foods – produce and cheeses – along with local wines.”
Debra Whiting, originally from Atlanta, Georgia, was a microbiologist by training and juggled careers as a lab supervisor at Cornell University with an upscale catering business before opening Red Newt Winery and Bistro with her husband in 1999.
“She recognized the quality level that’s here in the Finger Lakes,” said Tumbarello. “Expressing the local feel and supporting local farmers was her biggest mission. She and Dave were committed locavores – that was part of their mission since day one.Red Newt Bistro is closed today but scheduled to reopen tomorrow. The tasting room and winery remain open for business.