As fast food culture has metastasized across the globe, the Hudson Valley has emerged as a safe haven for cooks to reconnect with traditions, build community, and fall in love with slow cooking, eating, and sharing meals all over again.
The Valley’s influence on Bobby Matuszewski, owner of the Polish-American delicatessen Quaker Creek in Goshen, began with his grandfather Stanley Sobkowiak, a classically trained garde manger chef (responsible for charcuteries, pickles, and other pantry items). In 1939, Sobkowiak traveled from Poland to Atlantic City to cook at New York’s World’s Fair, and became stranded as World War II began to rage. He had the skill to be an upscale chef in the then-thriving Atlantic City, but he was urged by his wife Irene to settle in Pine Island, a Polish-American farming community in Orange County.
The abundant land inspired Sobkowiak to return to his farming roots. “He grew his own vegetables, raised and butchered his meat, fed scraps to the animals, and raised bees for pollination,” recalls Matuszewsi. He produced top-notch charcuteries and sausage while Irene handled the business side of the farm.
Matuszewski, along with culinary school training, eagerly soaked up his grandfather’s formal skills, but admits, “I was embarrassed that we spoke another language and had a couple hundred chickens. It was like we were from another time.” Morbid sounding, but actually delicious, meals like “duck blood soup” which surely would have frightened Matuszewski’s schoolmates, even if “the blood was mainly for coloring,” Matuszewski says with a chuckle.
Matuszewski and his family are still making their kielbasi and hams the way they always have, only now they’re joined by a legion of foodies, keen on his authenticity; even celebrity chefs Bobby Flay and Anthony Bourdain have visited. He welcomes the change in trend and, in fact, feels right at home.
Across the river in Beacon, newly arrived food blogger and founder of Modern Wifestyle, Katrín Björk (above), is experiencing a sort of food homecoming, three thousand miles from home, just as Sobkowiak did three-quarters of a century before. For much of her adult life, she lived in urban Copenhagen with ample access to Michelin-starred restaurants, but it wasn’t until landing here that she was reminded of the Icelandic country food of her childhood.
Björk learned her way around the kitchen early on, surrounded by a family of farmers, fishermen, hunters, and cooks. “For us, eating a whole wild goose was a regular Saturday night thing,” she explains. As she acclimates to life in the Valley, she finds herself reconnecting by doing things like picking out a Christmas duck from a local farm and searching for wild elderflowers for recipes in her new Nordic cookbook, From the North: A Simple and Modern Approach to Authentic Nordic Cooking.
photos by Katrin Björk
Blogger Katrín Björk shares Danish and Icelandic recipes in her book that debuts this spring.
As she seeks to adapt her cooking, Björk is learning to account for cultural negotiations in the surrounding community by doing so first at home with her mixed family. Prince, her toddler son, is South African, while her husband Jens is Danish. “Prince wasn’t pumped about the duck at first,” she shares, “but has grown to enjoy it and it’s a very Christmasy Danish thing for Jens.”
Another Beacon-ite, Kamel Jamal, is also mediating his culinary heritage within local boundaries. He’s well known for a rapid succession of restaurant openings, including a mission-style taqueria, a pizzeria, a bakery/brunch spot, a Palestinian restaurant, and a vegan restaurant. Each reflects the way his household has always thought about food: as a tool for comfort, togetherness, and love, always indulgent and never pretentious.
The roots of Jamal’s food philosophy and work ethic run deep. Before Jamal’s birth, his mother was forced out of Palestine into a refugee camp in Jordan, where she met his father and had eight children — Jamal was aptly born in the kitchen. They eventually migrated to New York City, and then the Valley, in search of peace and prosperity. Both of Jamal’s pursuits in business and the kitchen reveal a profound respect for his parents’ struggle. He appreciates the fertile ground for new business the area has offered and the “high bar of food quality.” In return, he pours his soul back into the community through his food. Some things, however, remain sacred to his home stove.
Beacon Bread Company photos by philasophia
(L to R) Fresh bread with a touch of olive oil is soul-soothing at Beacon Bread Co.; Kamel Jamal draws on his heritage and a healthy work ethic to continue his culinary success.
When you ask Jamal and his wife what their most personal dish is, they respond in unison: Maklouba — the same answer his sister Kate offers, too. Jamal describes it as “Arabic Paella”, and explains, “every household has its own touch but it usually has lamb or chicken, eggplant, potatoes, cauliflower, and rice.” For generations, this dish has nursed the family through hard times and brought them together in times of celebration. As life continues to bring adversity of all kinds to everyone — like the recent passing of the Jamal family matriarch who led them here — it’s strong family bonds and culinary traditions like these that seem to offer the most ongoing comfort.