Maya Kaimal Foods | Photo courtesy of Maya Kaimal Foods
The Hudson Valley is renowned for encouraging creativity—in the arts, music, and in the culinary world as well. These three food and drink businesses just may inspire you to turn a great idea into a brand.
Growing up in Boston, Maya Kaimal had her fair share of Indian cuisine. Her South Indian father had a notebook full of recipes that he perfected throughout her childhood. Her American mom was a passionate cook, too, as well as a staunch Julia Child fan. Fast forward to Kaimal’s stint as a photo editor at Saveur magazine and the release of her first cookbook, Curry Favors: Family Recipes from South India, in 1996, which won the Julia Child Best First Book award. While Kaimal was raised on coconut milk, fermented pancakes, and dals, most Americans at the time associated Indian cuisine with butter chicken and naan. “Indian food requires a lot of ingredients; it’s made by many hands in the kitchen, rarely just one person,” says Kaimal. “It’s not surprising that Americans would be put off by trying to cook it.” After being laid off in 2002, Kaimal decided to pivot from cookbook author (she wrote her second book, Savoring the Spice Coast of India in 2000) to Indian food producer—which she thought was a far better way to inspire and encourage home cooks to try Indian cuisine. She sold her first line of sauces at Gourmet Garage, a small chain of grocery stores in New York City, and over time, expanded her brand organically across the country. For many years, her products were manufactured in Saugerties. Today, Kaimal and her family live in Rhinebeck, and the company’s corporate office is based in Red Hook.
Maya Kaimal Foods offers a variety of Indian products, including simmer sauces, marinades, dal (lentils), chana (chickpeas), and rice. The tikka masala simmer sauce, madras curry, and coconut and kale chana are among the most popular. “I want to find a lot of ways into people’s lives. Indian flavors are still being explored by Americans,” she says. Recently, the company released a line of condiments, including spicy ketchup and green and red chili sauces.
Trish Pepe Lauden and Diane Aemisegeo’s memories of growing up revolve around one thing: cocktails. Lauden’s parents were always entertaining friends in her Bronxville home, and even built a custom bar in their family room. Lauden jokes that by age six she was able to stir up a mean Manhattan. Five miles away in Yonkers, Aemisegeo’s parents (Polish and Hungarian immigrants) often hosted parties and large family gatherings—her dad was a chef. The two women didn’t meet in Westchester; both ended up raising kids in Pennsylvania and met on a soccer field. They connected instantly, thanks to their Hudson Valley roots, raising young families, and cocktails—and have been inseparable ever since. After getting together (often) for drinks and spending too much time concocting mixers (because they couldn’t find any they liked), they decided to create their own line.
ROOT Crafted Cocktail Mixers launched in 2018 and now offers six varieties: Au Pear (pear, lemon, orange); Lemongrass (lemongrass and elderflower); Granada (pomegranate, lemongrass, lemon); The Hound (grapefruit and cherry); Hibi Hibi (hibiscus, elderflower, lime); and The Cuke (cucumber, lime, elderflower). Their goal is to make it simple to whip up great-tasting cocktails at home: The ratio of 1 part alcohol and 2 parts ROOT is foolproof. “All of our blends are drinks we have enjoyed for years,” says Aemisegeo. “And the beauty of ROOT is that it blends with literally any spirit. Believe us, we’ve tried them all!” Look for two new blends scheduled to launch later this year.
It all started in 2017 when Denise and husband Ross Weale were gifted homemade English muffins from their friend, Eric. They could not get over the flavor and freshness—and vowed they’d never go back to store bought again. The couple, who both have culinary degrees from Johnson & Wales University, started baking their own English muffins and gave them to friends and family during the holidays. Of course, everyone loved them, igniting a lightbulb moment: should we get into the English muffin business? At the time, Denise was an empty-nester and managed a pottery studio in Briarcliff… but frankly, her days were becoming more and more mundane and the yearning to use her degree again heightened. One day while on a walk around the block, the two encountered a piece of trash—a Thomas’ English Muffins box. “We took it as a sign to begin our journey. Thomas’ started small and look where they are now,” Denise says. Almost five years and a new production facility later, you can find that discarded box hanging in their office at Dam Good English Muffins.
The punny company name was inspired by the New Croton Dam, 15 minutes from Dam Good English Muffin’s 2,250-sq-ft acility. Inside, a group of women (who Denise considers her new family) tirelessly bake clean-label sourdough English muffins. “People today don’t want to put chemicals or artificial ingredients in their bodies,” explains Denise of her decision to create an all-natural product. The four varieties—original white, multigrain, whole wheat, and cinnamon swirl—are griddled fresh every day and sold at dozens of Valley-based retailers like Baked By Susan, restaurants, and online retailer FreshDirect.