A flaming fire-pit guides dinner guests down a path to the door of a rural barn in Chatham. Inside, they are handed “toddy-san” in earthenware cups, a Japanese-inspired hot toddy with local apple cider and shochu, and pickled or miso roasted canapés blending locally grown vegetables with Japanese technique.
The Barn on Bushnell is the upstate headquarters of The Chef’s Collective, a globally roving pop-up dining experience from New York City-based chef David Israelow. Since 2018, Israelow has been collaborating with partner chefs from Iceland to Tokyo and L.A., bringing them back to the Hudson Valley in a form of cultural and culinary exchange. For their first barn feast, Israelow spent six days hunting, fishing, and foraging with Japanese chef Kan Morieda in search of hyper-local ingredients for a “Wild Things” menu. More recently, supplementing his formal training at the International Culinary Center in New York and the Tokyo Sushi Academy, he completed a farming apprenticeship at Hawthorne Valley Farm, now a primary source for dinner ingredients from pea shoots to farm-raised rose veal.
With snow on the ground, a nine-course kaiseki dinner in December showcased seasonally attuned courses and Israelow’s quest to “inform the new American farm-to-table cuisine through the introduction of ‘shun.’” Shun is the Japanese concept of seasonality in which ingredients are used at their peak as an expression of a moment in time.
A first course — sakizuke, meaning “first bite” — featured hazelnut kudzu dofu, a softly set rectangle in a puree of chestnut squash, the hazelnuts reflecting a future crop from trees planted in the grounds last year, the squash put up for storage. In the owan, a lidded soup course, a kombu-dashi broth made with filtered snow — collected outside the barn in an approximation of the soft mountain waters of Japan — portrayed the barrenness of winter with a lone, simmered turnip beneath a cascade of turnip shavings like freshly fallen snow.
Israelow describes The Chef’s Collective dinners as “an exploration of what it means to eat” and the “relationship between land and farmer and the chef whose job it is to use things that aren’t necessarily easy…to utilize and serve resources that farms have in abundance and home cooks less often choose.” He doesn’t stop there. In addition to collaborating on dinners at Clover Hill in Brooklyn, and connecting city-based restaurateurs with the abundance of Hudson Valley farms, he is producing a documentary, “Anatomy of a Meal,” to be screened in the Hudson Valley, NYC, and Tokyo this spring.
Ticketed seasonal dining pop-ups at The Barn on Bushnell in Chatham, and other cities, are featured on thechefscollective.live.