It’s dinnertime at The Huguenot, and orders for the pasture-raised fried chicken — a Sunday night special — are pouring into the kitchen with impressive speed. Executive Chef Nate Snow ducks out of the din to make a quick call for reinforcements. Minutes later, farmer Kris Karl rolls into the restaurant in his overalls, smelling faintly of manure and hay. But he’s got the goods — a handful of freshly slaughtered chickens. A farmer right in the restaurant? Welcome to the new face of farm-to-table dining.
The Hudson Valley has long been the hub of the rapidly growing farm-to-table movement that has taken root across the nation. The movement has been spurred on both by the awareness of the negative ramifications of how our food is grown, as well as the discovery by the masses of the intense pleasure of eating fresh, locally grown food that actually tastes good. In fact, farm-to-table has become so common that it has outgrown its “trend” status. Nowadays, any chef worth his or her salt is trying to source fresh, local food.
Patrons love the Huguenot’s beef tartare, served with lemon, capers, a cured farm egg yolk, and grilled bread baked at A Tavola
What’s new is that more and more restaurateurs and farmers are forming close partnerships that benefit both parties by providing a steady market for fresh, local foods. Fittingly, the idea for the Huguenot — a new farm-to-table restaurant that opened this February on Main Street in New Paltz — began with chickens. Karl of the Karl Family Farms in Modena first got to know chef-owners Nate and Bonnie Snow while making weekly deliveries of his pasture-raised birds to A Tavola, the Snow’s award-winning Italian restaurant located right across the street. Impressed by the their obvious reverence for good food raised right, Karl approached the couple with the idea of forming a partnership.
“My ideal consumer is someone who cares about the food and prepares it with as much passion as I put into raising it,” says Karl. “And I saw that same passion in Nate and Bonnie and the rest of the staff at A Tavola. So when the spot opened up, I thought, ‘Hey, that might be a good little project to get into together.’ ”
The resulting restaurant has already gained a loyal following. Although the menu is designed to showcase the pasture-raised meat and eggs from the farm down the road, there is plenty to entice pescatarians and vegetarians, too. For example, the seasonal vegetable tart highlights whatever is fresh at the moment; perfectly grilled wild salmon is accompanied by a hauntingly good combination of melted fennel, leeks, navy beans, coconut broth, orange, and watercress.
The Huguenot’s “farm chic” decor is both sophisticated and rustic: Glassware sparkles in the low light; a mix of vintage mirrors lines the dark walls; and an array of soulful-looking, taxidermied animal heads look on from above. All of the animal heads come from the Karls’ farmhouse, including a wild boar Karl hunted down in Florida where it had been decimating a farmer’s crops.
Chicken Two Ways (left) includes grilled breast, confit leg, roasted baby carrots, fingerling potatoes, herbs, charred lemon, and jus. At right, the Huguenot’s team (from left to right): Chef Nathan Snow, farmer Kris Karl, Chef Bonnie Snow, and Manager Derek Williams
Almost all of the vegetables (tomatoes, kale, spinach, corn, herbs, and others) and a good deal of the pasture-raised poultry, pork, goat, ducks, and 100 percent grass-fed lamb and beef produced on the 175-acre farm — go straight to the restaurant. Sous Chef Sarah Sullivan joins Karl and his cousin at the farm to assist in processing the chickens, then turns right around and heads back to the restaurant to prepare the birds she’s helped butcher. “It’s very hands-on. She gets to meet the chicken, process the chicken, cook it, and serve it,” says Nate Snow. “It’s a cool thing that helps keep it all connected.”
Luckily for the folks at the Huguenot, the farm is located just six miles down the road, a privilege Snow says they try not to abuse. “We’re working on not calling Kris all the time so he doesn’t have to constantly drive back and forth from his farm to the restaurant,” he says.
To ensure that diners always get the best of the local bounty, the Huguenot also draws from a variety of other local purveyors, including Big Little Farm, Tweefontein Herb Farm, and Huguenot Street Farm in New Paltz.
“We write the menu based on what the local farms are offering. Doing it this way not only ensures the best food, it also gives us a chance to be creative, rather than just cooking the same thing every day,” says Snow. “Right now there’s asparagus popping up and the ducks are laying so we have asparagus with a roasted duck egg and a creamy chorizo vinaigrette made from the pigs at the farm.”
The benefits of such a partnership are myriad. Small farms get the steady support they need to survive and thrive, keeping farmland safe from development. Animals are raised more humanely. Chefs get the super fresh, high-quality produce and meats they need to turn out top-notch fare that keeps diners coming back for more. Diners get to munch on delicious food they can feel good about. Local economies get a boost. Fuel is conserved and dangerous carbon pollution is avoided. A win-win-win-win-win-win-win…
“We’re just happy to play a role in bringing people into better touch with their food,” says Karl.
Salads & appetizers $8-$14; entrées $16-$27
36 Main St., New Paltz. 845-255-5558; www.thehuguenot.com
Fresh eats: Grazin’ is located on Hudson’s Warren Street
Of course, Karl isn’t the only farmer who’s “taken the bull by the horns” in creating a local market for his grass-fed meats. Dan Gibson, owner and operator of Grazin’ Angus Acres farm in Ghent, did just that in the fall of 2011 when he opened Grazin’ in Hudson just seven miles from his farm. “We sell a lot of our stuff at the Greenmarket in the city, but I was very frustrated by my inability to get traction here in Columbia County so I decided to open my own damn restaurant,” says Gibson. “I’m an impatient guy!”
Gibson started farming in 2002, after 9/11 made him reconsider his life as an executive in the city. Inspired by Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book on creating the perfect meal, he became passionate about this new approach to growing and eating food.
Gibson describes the diner as an organic burger joint featuring the fresh, 100 percent grass-fed beef from his farm. “Our most popular burger is the Uncle Dude — a six-ounce burger topped with house-made chipotle mayo, jalapeño relish, a slice of Hudson Valley cheddar, bacon from the farm, garden greens, and tomato — if it’s in season.”
The menu, however, shows considerable sophistication — with special entrées like savory granola-encrusted venison tenderloin served with confit onions, potato purée, and a red wine-dark chocolate reduction; or a grilled smoked pork chop with mustard-ramp sauce served over a potato pancake with a dollop of chive quark and green salad.
Grazin’ is a certified Animal Welfare Approved restaurant — the only one in the country — a distinction that Gibson takes very seriously. This means that all the animal products used by the restaurant must meet rigorous standards that ensure the animals have had the space, setting, and care needed to live their lives as naturally as possible. “I love that as the restaurant expands, we’re able to convince more farms to become Animal Welfare Approved because we’re happy to pay them more than anyone else will for beef, pork, and dairy that is done right,” says Gibson. “Our biggest challenge lately is finding enough AWA dairy. Some weeks we can’t serve ice cream at the restaurant because we only have enough milk and cream to make butter.”
Grazin’ uses only local suppliers, including Hawthorne Valley Farm in Philmont and the Farm at Miller’s Crossing in Hudson. Most of the ingredients travel less than 11 miles to reach diners’ plates. Says Gibson, “We want to make sure that everyone who comes to this restaurant gets it — that this is part of something that is different, fun, and special.”
Lunch & dinner Thurs., Fri. & Mon.; all meals Sat.-Sun.
Soups & salads $4-$9; entrées $10-$17
717 Warren St., Hudson. 518-822-9323; www.grazindiner.com
The interior at Farm to Table Bistro exudes a country-chic vibe
Further south in Fishkill, Farm to Table Bistro’s menu proudly shares the provenance of its mostly organic, locally sourced food — apples from Meadowbrook Farms in Wappingers Falls, bread from the Famous Cohen Sisters in Ellenville, cheese from Sprout Creek Farm in Poughkeepsie, veggies from Taliaferro Farms in New Paltz, and beef from New York Beef Company in LaGrange.
The food is typical American, inspired by whatever is fresh at the local farms. Co-owner Chris O’Brien, a veteran restaurateur whose easy, jocular style has caused more than one diner to remark that he’d make a perfect game show host, says, “Some of our food can be considered fine dining and some of it can be considered down and dirty. We’ve got a smoker out back and we smoke our own meats and fish.” The restaurant’s signature dish is the dry-rubbed, beer-braised short ribs served in a molasses-like sweet beer demi-glace reduction that O’Brien calls “out of this world.”
And food is not the only thing that’s locally sourced; O’Brien crafted the big bar and tables in the restaurant using wood from an old barn outside Coxsackie that he helped take down. The result is homey and appealingly eclectic. An outdoor patio area opened in May, and the restaurant has live music on Friday and Saturday nights that draws a lively crowd for drinks and more.
Cross-pollination seems a fitting metaphor for this new generation of farm-to-table dining. Just as plants produced via cross-pollination tend to be healthier, more vigorous, and more adaptable to changes in their environment, here’s hoping that the unique partnerships being forged between farmer and chef yield a bumper crop of successful restaurants and farms.
Farm to Table Bistro
Lunch & dinner daily. Appetizers & small plates $8-$16; entrées $14-$25
Lawrence Farms Market Square, 1083 Rte. 9, Fishkill. 845-297-1111; www.ftbistro.com