From Farm To Table
More and more local chefs are turning their backs on big suppliers and teaming up instead with Hudson Valley farmers to bring the best and freshest ingredients to their kitchens. It’s a win-win situation. The biggest winners? We diners.
Here, five chefs share their shopping secrets and offer recipes for delicious fall dishes.
By Jan Greenberg
Photographs by Ken Gabrielsen
Miss Lucy’s Kitchen, Saugerties
I can taste it as I’m talking,” says Marc Propper, describing one of his favorite early fall menu items, roasted butternut squash ravioli with a sage brown butter. “I love dishes that are representative of their season.” > > >
With his wife, Michelle Silver, Propper is chef/owner of Miss Lucy’s Kitchen, a neighborhood kind of place in Saugerties that serves food worth going out of your way for. No stranger to the business, Propper was the proprietor of Grove in New York City and Tinto, a wine and tapas bar in Brooklyn, before moving his family up to Saugerties about four years ago, where he opened Miss Lucy’s, named for his daughter.
The restaurant’s mission statement says it all: “We are committed to serving fresh house-made food using the finest produce from local farmers.”
True to that statement, when he’s not in the kitchen, Propper is traveling the area, picking up pork and beef from Meiller’s in Pine Plains; poultry from Northwind in Tivoli; and produce from Pete Taliaferro in New Paltz, Gary Wiltbank in Saugerties, Montgomery Place Orchards in Red Hook, Storey’s Nursery in Catskill, Migliorelli in Tivoli, and Greig Farm in Upper Red Hook, just to name a few.
“In the city you can get whatever you want,” he points out. “Just pick up the phone. But you can’t do that here, particularly on this side of the river for some reason. I usually have to go directly to the farms themselves, which I actually enjoy. It’s part of what I love about living here.”
Most of Propper’s fall vegetables come from Story Farm, a fifth-generation farm just north of Saugerties. What was once a small produce table set outside the house has grown to be a thriving farmstand, with increasing sales to restaurants. It remains a family operation, with a changing but continuous flow of nieces and nephews helping out. According to Irene Story, “Nobody really ever hangs out here. We have a huge family, and whenever anyone visits, they work.”
The Country Inn, Krumville
Four years ago, Larry Erenberg decided to retire to Puerto Rico and sell the Country Inn, his Ulster County restaurant renowned worldwide for its 500-plus collection of bottled beers. The deal was as follows: “No changes, no tablecloths, no TVs, and absolutely no ferns.”
The only exception? “Food improvements.”
Owners Peter and Diane Rinaudo work the front of this roadhouse, which is truly in the middle of nowhere, and looks a little rough-and-ready. But head into the kitchen, and you will see co-chefs Spencer Mass and his partner Jessica Fraser creating seriously good traditional food using locally grown ingredients.
While many chefs give lip service to farm-to-table eating, Mass (an M.D. who also teaches biochemistry at SUNY New Paltz) and Fraser spend much of their free time searching for producers. They hosted the Hudson Valley Slow Food Farm to Chef Dinner in 2005, and Mass maintains a blog in which he describes the restaurant’s specials, the farmers with whom he and Fraser are working, and a list of what’s in season. (Be on the lookout for this fall’s Whole Hog Dinner, featuring Berkshire pork in guises ranging from boudin blanc to roasted belly.)
As the weather turns cooler, the menu begins to feature slow-cooked meats from local farms, obtained through Fleisher’s, the Kingston butcher specializing in grass-fed and organic meats. Owners Josh and Jessica Applestone provide meat to many New York City restaurants and are the exclusive distributors of velvety, white-fatted Ossabaw pigs, the descendants of the prized Spanish pigs. In addition to selling at Kingston and Rhinebeck farmers markets, the couple maintain their year-round, full-service store.
In fall, Mass serves a brouffade, a ProvenÃ§al daube of beef. “It’s a great braise,” he says. “In addition to being delicious, it’s light, very simple, and surprisingly quick to prepare. It also makes great use of a relatively inexpensive cut of meat and develops the flavor and texture of the beef to a point where it truly takes center stage.”
For the brouffade, Mass and Fraser use beef shoulder from Fleisher’s and vegetables and herbs from Farm & Granary, the Warwarsing-based organic farm that sells at Fleisher’s. (Try the farm’s eggs, which are from chickens who peck about on pasture and live in what owners Michael Siegel and Barbara Caldwell have named “Camp Poulet.”) Farm & Granary not only produces throughout the winter in greenhouse-like tunnels, but is among the most sustainable agricultural operations in the area. Thirty-three photovoltaic cells mounted on the roof of the barn provide all the electricity for the farm.
Madalin’s Table, Tivoli
It’s been a full house at Tivoli’s Madalin’s Table since its Memorial Day opening. The somewhat nonplussed but happy owners — Joseph Cicileo, Anthony Cicileo, and Domenic Scarpulla — work the front of the house, while Brian Kaywork heads up the busy kitchen. He is a Culinary Institute graduate who received most of his hands-on training as sous chef to Natalie DiBenedetto, chef-owner of the much-missed Mina in Red Hook. “Figgy was my guide to the Valley,” he says. “She always wanted to keep local and seasonal. It’s hard to find people who are truly committed to that.”
Happily, the restaurant’s owners are enthusiastic about supporting their local farms, some of which are within walking distance of Kaywork’s kitchen. From Hearty Roots, Benjamin Shute and Miriam Latzer’s organic farm up the road, he gets just-picked lettuces, tomatoes, and seasonal vegetables. “I love dealing with Benjamin and Miriam,” he says. “They have a special touch.”
Ken Migliorelli’s farmstand — a short drive south at the entrance to the Kingston/Rhinecliff Bridge — is a source for leafy braising greens. “I stop there every day,” Kaywork says.
For poultry, there’s Northwind, where Richie Biezynski raises chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and sometimes — for the lucky few who know to ask — rabbits. His produce is so popular that when he threatened to stop raising chickens (“I was exhausted, just burned out,” he says) — some of his clients offered to send him to the Caribbean to cool off. He didn’t go. He still raises poultry that tastes of the earth, the sun, and the “hormone-free, simple health food” that he feeds them.
For Kaywork, fall is the most exciting time to be cooking. “That’s when the tomatoes and corn of late summer overlap with fall squashes. There’s just so much! It’s an amazing adventure to be in the kitchen.” The following recipe, one of his favorites, combines the bounty of the two seasons.
Jeff Gimmel & Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel
Swoon Kitchenbar, Hudson
Heralded as “the new jewel on the antiques Riviera” by the Zagat guide, Swoon Kitchenbar in Hudson is a collaboration between the husband-and-wife team of Jeff Gimmel and Nina Bachinsky-Gimmel. Jeff is the chef, while Nina is in charge of pastries and desserts.
The couple met in New York City, where Gimmel was executive chef at Michael’s, and Bachinsky had just completed an internship as a pastry chef at Union Square CafÃ© (and been told by executive chef Michael Romano, “When you graduate, you have a job”).
Gimmel studied in France with Roger Verge at Le Moulin de Mougin and adopted Verge’s philosophy of using “food of the sun, featuring vegetables, olive oil and straightforward preparation.”
Gimmel and Bachinsky traveled to New Zealand to study artisanal wine-making; spent some time at Old Chatham Sheepherding Company in Columbia County to learn cheese-making; and then opened a catering company, Le Potager, in Nantucket, which was mentioned by Food & Wine magazine. They relocated to the Valley (where Bachinsy spent her childhood) and opened Swoon about two years ago.
Gimmel and Bachinsky have a market-driven menu. In the fall, they use pork from Northwind in Tivoli. Though most customers prefer cuts like chops and tenderloin, Gimmel uses the entire animal, making head cheese, lomo (meat which is rubbed with smoked paprika, covered with salt and sugar, and hung to air-dry for about six weeks), and using the tongue in an amuse bouche.
Swoon’s dairy products come from Yasgur Farms and Ronnybrook. Local farms provide the bulk of the produce. For Nina Bachinsky, the fall fruits from Talea and Doug Fincke’s Montgomery Place Orchards provide a basis for a rich assortment of desserts. “I love that the Fincke’s are so excited about the new varieties that they produce each year,” she says. “They really understand the connection between seasonality and taste.”
Bachinsky particularly enjoys Montgomery Place’s fall raspberries. Their season is brief, but the flavor and sugar stand out. As the last of the summery fruits, these raspberries mark a gentle way of going into the fall. One of her favorite dishes is chocolate cannoli, which she serves with a raspberry ice cream. You can buy the cannoli but use your ice cream maker for the ice cream.
Valley Restaurant, Garrison
If the weather holds in early fall, you can still book one of Valley Restaurant’s garden tables and enjoy an alfresco meal in chef Jeff Raider’s bountiful herb garden. But even if you have to dine in the understatedly elegant dining room, it’s hardly second best. Set amid the sloping greens of the Garrison golf course, the restaurant sits in one of the most beautiful spots along the Hudson. The Highlands, their colors slowly changing as the sun sets behind them, are directly across the river. It’s country at its most refined.
Growing up in Yorktown, Raider knew that he wanted to be in the kitchen. After graduating from the Culinary Institute, he did stints at restaurants in New York and Palm Beach before returning to the Hudson Valley to put Valley Restaurant on the culinary map.
This is a restaurant with a part-time gardener on staff and, says Raider, nearly all the produce comes from the vegetable and herb gardens. “In season, we change menus practically every day,” he says. “I talk to the gardener and we see what’s available.”
This fall, there will be butter poached Nova Scotia lobster with spaghetti squash; roasted free-range chicken with wild mushrooms, smoked bacon, fingerling potatoes and parsley; and one of Raider’s favorites, a pumpkin risotto. “I love making it,” he says. “We take different kinds of pumpkins and squash — whatever is fresh and ready — and make a really creamy risotto with toasted pumpkin seeds.”
For dessert, there will be a popular Valley staple: a trio of crÃ¨me brÃ»lÃ©es. Raider changes the flavors depending upon what’s in the garden; in the fall, it’s often sweet pumpkin and bourbon vanilla with lemon basil. Its secret, says Raider, are the fresh eggs that he gets from the nearby farm at the Glynwood Center. “They have a lot more flavor and richness than any commercially produced egg.”
At Glynwood, farmer Whitey Williams oversees a flock of about 225 Rhode Island Reds. The chickens peck and root in the clover, timothy, and orchard grasses and are supplemented with alfalfa, flax, and oyster shell to keep the eggshells hard. The secret to a good egg? “It’s really simple,” says Williams. “It’s the way you take care of the hens. Keep the pen clean, give them fresh water, and let them do what they want to do. These are really very friendly chickens.”