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Beyond the Office: Durkin has a love for gourmet dinners

Penny Dentinger, Tom Durkin and Scott Carlton check the status of the coq au vin. Nora A. Jones

A Rochester resident since his undergraduate days at the University of Rochester, Tom Durkin enjoys cooking with a number of talented gourmet chefs in the area, and gives particular credit to Jan Egger as a mentor who helped pique his interest in food.

Scotty Carlton and Penny Dentinger are also on the short list of talented food masters, along with Erin Sugar and Katie Ireland from Allstate Insurance Co., who are reliable assistants both in the office and in the kitchen.

In the kitchen

About twice a month, sometimes more, Durkin gets together with a group of friends to plan a menu and enjoy an evening of preparing food and partaking in dishes most of us count on restaurants to prepare.

In the fall of 2011, Durkin and colleagues Carlton, Dentinger and Laura Myers donated a “Bon Vivant” gourmet dinner for 6 to the silent auction for Volunteer Legal Service Project’s Art of Lawyering fundraiser. The successful bidder treated her book club to the evening of fun, which featured appetizers by Dentinger, French stew by Carlton and Durkin, salmon by Meyers, and rum cake for dessert.

Anyone who has seen the movie “Julie/Julia” knows that a “must have” for Julia Childs’ recipes is butter.

For Durkin? “That would be sea salt and red wine,” he said.

Dentinger added garlic and pepper to the list of essentials on a recent Thursday night when Durkin gathered a few of friends in his kitchen to prepare a dinner of coq au vin. The literal French translation of coq au vin is “rooster with wine,” but Durkin, like most home cooks, substituted chicken thighs.

Coq au vin simmers on the Durkins’ stove. Nora A. Jones

“The key is browning the chicken in bacon fat, and then using the remaining bacon fat and deglazed chicken particles to sauté the vegetables, always adding the mushrooms at the very end,” Durkin noted. “This seals in the juices and adds flavor that is key to the dish. The seared chicken, along with the vegetables, are then cooked for a few hours in chicken stock and red wine. Once the chicken is falling off of the bone, the meal, which is best served with red wine, is ready.”

Although there were only eight dining that evening, Durkin and his helpers prepared more than 10 plus of chicken thighs, which allowed everyone to go home with plenty of leftovers.

“It’s often even better the next day, once it melds,” Durkin added.

Salad was served prior to the main course, with roasted Brussels sprouts and rice accompanying the coq au vin. Fresh peaches, halved and topped with honey and brown sugar sprinkles, were broiled and served with a side of yogurt for dessert.

The influence of television

Those who watch “Chopped” on the Food Network will appreciate that Durkin and his friends created their own experience, with secret ingredients (that had to be used in each meal) including Bit-O-Honey candy, yams, pork tenderloin and chocolate graham crackers. Five teams took 30-minute turns in the kitchen concocting a wide variety of dishes, with judges designated in advance.

According to Durkin, “the talent was amazing. The quality of the food was restaurant-worthy. One group even prepared drinks in an obvious attempt to influence the judges. The winning team of Karen Schaefer, Todd Sugar, and my wife, Maria, prepared perfectly seared tenderloin with mustard sauce, along with pureed sweet potatoes with Bit-O-Honey, and a salad with green apples, chocolate crumbs and vinaigrette dressing.”

Big Brother

Almost 20 years ago, in his role as a Big Brother to an 8-year-old boy, Durkin observed his Little Brother doing more than just cooking hot dogs for the local Little League. He would add corn on the cob, create potato dishes and sauté sausage with peppers and sauces — all on a charcoal grill.

“I knew then that this little boy had wonderful abilities as a chef,” Durkin said.

Today, his Little Brother,  John Robinson, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is married to his high school sweetheart, and is running a restaurant in Minnesota.


Born in New Jersey, Durkin spent most of his childhood in the Scranton, Pa., area. His father was a special agent for the FBI, and Durkin assumed a law degree would lead him to a career with the FBI.

He met his wife, Maria, at the University of Rochester, and they married when he was at Syracuse School of Law. The Durkins were already parents to their son, Jimmy, by the time Durkin earned his JD in 1985. Today, Jimmy is a non-practicing lawyer who works for the U.S. Patent Office. Their younger son, Mike, is a CPA.

For the past 27 years, Durkin has worked for Allstate Insurance Co., first in the claims department, and then in the legal department for the past 25 years. Though he has tried cases throughout most of New York state, he prefers the Rochester area.

“The best part of my job is working with Paulie, Erin and Katie,” he said.

“Paulie” is Paul Richardson, an Allstate lawyer, who Durkin calls “a real trailblazer, a lawyer’s lawyer and a good friend.”

Community involvement

Durkin is a member American Board of Trial Advocates and of the Monroe County Bar Association, taking an active role on the MCBA Professional Performance and Litigation committees.

He regularly handles domestic violence, divorce and custody cases with the Volunteer Legal Services Project. He is encouraged by his company’s support of programs focused on reducing domestic violence and increasing individual self-sufficiency. 

“The Allstate Foundation selected VLSP’s Nicki’s Hope Legal Clinic as the recipient of a $25,000 grant, in no small part  due to Paul Richardson’s efforts,” Durkin said. “The Allstate Foundation applauds the goal of helping domestic violence survivors move forward with economic autonomy and opportunity.”

“Since the inception of Allstate’s Economics Against Abuse Program in 2005, the foundation has invested over $30 million toward ending domestic violence through financial empowerment. In 2011 alone, the program gave nearly $5 million to the cause,” said Allison McMahon, Allstate Foundation’s corporate relations regional division manager.

Durkin has helped coordinate dozens of Eagle Scouts’ projects, holding the titles community service and Eagle Scout project coordinator, and past president for Pittsford Little League.

He has participated as an attorney coach in the Brighton and Pittsford Mendon high school mock trial programs, and has served as a judge for a variety of mock trial programs at high schools, colleges and law schools.

An avid exerciser, Durkin is most recently inspired by Susan’s SpinYasa and Gali’s Spin classes at Midtown Athletic Club.

Durkin shared a quote by Winston Churchill: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”