Atelier Ku-Ki Crafts Bento Box Meals in the Hudson Valley

Atelier Ku-Ki, a bento box pop-up, finds a permanent home on weekends in Catskill.

Kristiaan and Yoko Ueno weren’t strangers to the Hudson Valley when they moved up from New York City to the town of Catskill at the start of the pandemic. The couple, both chefs, had visited friends in nearby Hudson many times before. And they’d always been struck by how, in Kristiaan’s words, Japanese food was “very underrepresented” in the area.

So, after being furloughed from their hotel and restaurant jobs, they immediately started thinking about how they could change that in Greene County. Although they’d met and married in NYC, the couple had deep roots in Japan. Yoko is from Tokyo and Kristiaan had lived there for five years.

Their solution: Atelier Ku-Ki, which serves up Japanese food in beautifully designed bento boxes. Bentos are single-portion meals often made for lunch or those on the go. They usually feature meat, rice, and pickled vegetables. The Uenos especially love its versatility. “The bento box is very portable. You can take it home for dinner or to the mountains for a picnic,” explains Kristiaan. Plus, it was the perfect vessel to feature foods from the Hudson Valley. “We are surrounded by these amazing farms, makers, and purveyors of great cheeses, meats, and everything,” he adds.

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Atelier Ku-Ki started as a pop-up in August of 2020, showing up in such places as Village Coffee & Goods in Kingston, Cooper’s Daughter Spirits in Claverack, Time & Space Limited in Hudson, and Left Bank Ciders in Catskill. “Our goal really wasn’t to open a restaurant because we felt we just needed to be portable. People who have never eaten Japanese food before really loved it and what we do,” says Kristiaan.

Yet in March, Atelier Ku-Ki moved into a more permanent location at Made X Hudson, a manufacturing collective, on Main Street in Catskill. Why the change of mind? “Doing pop-ups, we were always going from one location to the next, so having a fixed location provides consistency,” explains Kristiaan. “Our customers regularly tell us that they’re so pleased to know where we’re always going to be.”

Made X Hudson is primarily a retail space for small-scale fashion designers to create and sell their clothes and other wares. But there’s also space in the back for a counter, stools, and several tables. And on Fridays through Sundays, that’s where you’ll find Atelier Ku-Ki’s bento boxes, plus assorted Japanese sparkling water and juices, snacks, and desserts.

Atelier Ku-Ki
Photo courtesy Atelier Ku-Ki

Atelier Ku-Ki features three $21–$22 bentos: vegan, meat, and fish, all served with rice, greens, and pickled vegetables. The fish is typically salmon teriyaki because, as Kristiaan notes, it’s been a best-seller since the early pop-up days. The vegan option features everything from tofu to legumes, like edamame and chickpeas. The menu changes every few weeks, depending on what’s in season. The pickled vegetables might feature red cabbage, Japanese eggplant, cucumbers, or carrots. The meat rotates between pasture-raised pork or grass-fed beef, sourced from Herondale Farms in Ancramdale.

The bento box is very portable. You can take it home for dinner or to the mountains for a picnic.

Other options include salmon and pickled plum omusubi (rice balls) and curry pan, a bread stuffed with curry-spiced potatoes, vegetables, and beef. End on a sweet note with a chocolate caramel tart with fleur de sel or buttermilk pudding. Come fall, there will be soups and heartier fare, like grass-fed beef stew, chicken katsu, and turmeric chickpea curry.

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Will Atelier Ku-Ki ever become a freestanding restaurant? Kristiaan isn’t sure. “I think combining retail and food is something that we’ve always been kind of drawn to,” he says. So for now, the Uenos are happy to bring a bit of Japan to Catskill three days a week. “As much as this is about food, we also want to share and expose people to the culture that we really love—the Japanese culture.”

Atelier Ku-Ki
391 Main Street, Catskill

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