With plenty on his political plate, Patrick dines at Railroad Street Youth Project dinner

Democratic presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is acknowledged Saturday, during the Railroad Street Youth Project's Culinary Arts Apprenticeship Dinner at Crissey Farm in Great Barrington.

GREAT BARRINGTON — Deval Patrick, presidential candidate and known Berkshire foodie, took a break from the campaign trail Saturday night to dine on a gourmet meal prepared by South County teens.

Patrick and his wife, Diane, who live part time in Richmond, were among about 200 guests to attend the Railroad Street Youth Project's annual Culinary Arts Apprenticeship Dinner at Crissey Farm, an event that features the work of young apprentices to local chefs.

"When I was first running, they were just getting off the ground," Patrick said of his introduction to the youth project during his campaign for Massachusetts governor. "I met some of the students, and some of the adults, and look at it now. It's come a long way."

Saturday's five-course meal was prepared by 14 young people who participated in an eight-week apprenticeship program with professional chefs at Berkshire County restaurants.

Patrick, who officially launched his bid for the presidency in November, made a casual entrance into the venue moments after servers began wheeling out trays of sweet potato raviolis.

While many have questioned the former governor's decision to enter the race with less than three months until primary voting begins, he said his decision to run came long before his announcement last month.

"It was always a path, and I think it's wider than I realized," Patrick told The Eagle before dinner. "And I'm later, I'm not late, because all the candidates who've been in it for months and who've spent time and money have not closed the deal."

Patrick said that he was "ready to go" and begin his campaign a little over a year ago, but two or three weeks before he was ready to make the announcement, his wife was diagnosed with uterine cancer.

"And that's the sort of thing that brings your feet right back to Earth," he said.

Instead of entering the race then, Patrick said, he focused on his wife until she recovered.

"And praise God, when we celebrated 35 years of marriage in May," he said. "She's cancer-free, and she's doing terrific. And without her being all in, it wouldn't be possible."

This election isn't just about the character of the candidates or President Donald Trump, Patrick said, but rather "the character of the country."

"I mean a half a dozen of the candidates are my friends, and I talk with them, and I still sense that there isn't anyone else in the field that has the range of life and leadership experience that I have, and I think it is going to that range of experience to rebuild the American dream."

Patrick said that, coming from Massachusetts, where he served as governor from 2007 to 2015, has given him "some idea of the pathway to get lasting change" on the big reform issues like health care and criminal justice.

"But I think the other part, that other candidates are not talking about, is the importance of growing the economy out, not just up, but out to the middle and the marginalized. And there are lots of towns, just like Pittsfield, where the economic engine has changed over the years."

In many of those areas, the "basic bones" and infrastructure of a successful economy are there.

With additional investments into education and infrastructure, "then you have the ingredients for how you build a sustainable economy that is for everyone, everywhere," he said.

"I got a lot of those insights about ways in which people feel left out and left back by campaigning in Massachusetts and listening to the people in Western Massachusetts, and the folks in Central Massachusetts, you know, the Merrimack Valley and down on the South Coast," Patrick said. People "who felt like Beacon Hill was just about the neighborhood around Beacon Hill."

In the weeks that followed Patrick's announcement last month, there were questions about whether his campaign could build enough stamina this late in the game. Reports noted the size of his staff compared with those of the other candidates.

One Politico headline referred to the campaign as "eensy-weensy." When Patrick canceled a last-minute speaking event at Morehouse College on Nov. 20, after only two people showed up to attend, that was reported, too.

Patrick, though, said he is seeing a lot of energy around his campaign.

"It's, you know, 60 to 70 percent undecided in all of the early states, and the reception has been incredibly warm," he said. "We had volunteers from every state in America, all 50, sign up within three hours of the website going live. We've been raising at a good clip, and meeting people and building the organization so it feels really encouraging."

Patrick didn't speak publicly at the $125-per-plate fundraiser Saturday, but instead sat with friends and listened intently while the young South County apprentices talked about their experiences in the program.

When visiting the Berkshires, Patrick enjoys local fine dining and cooking at home.

In a 2012 interview with The Boston Globe, the candidate listed John Andrews Farmhouse Restaurant among his favorite places to eat.

Dan Smith, chef-owner John Andrews, is a mentor in the culinary apprenticeship program that was being celebrated Saturday.

"I was just telling these guys to go to Cafe Adam, which is right back over there." Patrick said of Adam Zieminski's restaurant adjacent to Crissey Farm. "You looking for restaurant ideas? I can give you a few."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.