When Eli Schloss saw a “fish grow on trees” bumper sticker, the message stuck with him. He uses it in his educational workshops and tours for Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, a grassroots organization created to preserve and protect the Hudson River.
“Really, the health of the river depends on the health of the land,” says Schloss, Clearwater’s tideline discovery program director. Launched in 1969 by legendary folk singer and activist Pete Seeger, Clearwater has taken more than half a million people aboard its boat to show people the estuary’s ecosystem. “The first step in any environment is forming a connection with it, to get people excited about the river, to love it, and then to take roles in actively protecting the river,” Schloss says.
For the first time, Clearwater is reaching further to make that connection—not to other environmental activists, but to the people who buy, make, and eat that estuary ecosystem’s food.
Terrance Brennan (Photo courtesy of Clearwater)
Terrance Brennan, a multiple James Beard Award-nominated chef and CEO of Brennan Group Hospitality, saw the synergy in Clearwater’s mission. So he spearheaded Chefs for Clearwater, a new partnership of leading Hudson Valley chefs, the Culinary Institute of America, and Clearwater, aimed at spreading awareness of critical issues involving sustainability and food ethics, and how it relates to the Hudson Valley watershed. Chefs for Clearwater will illuminate the connection between local agriculture, the health of the soil, and the impact it has on Hudson River ecology.
“For a chef, it’s all about the ingredients, and for those ingredients, it’s all about the soil,” Brennan says. “The chef can be an activist of sorts, but it comes down to taste as most important, and then for me, taking care of the people who provide our food by supporting them, buying their cover crops, and using their bruised tomatoes.”
At the benefit dinner at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park this past Sunday, each chef served one of the five courses, using local ingredients paired with a local wine. Saunders Farm donated a whole certified-Angus, grass-fed cow, so guests enjoyed different cuts of meat from each other, a more sustainable technique for the rancher and the environment, because as Brennan puts it, “You don’t have to slaughter 15 cows to get 30 tenderloins on the menu. I think on those terms.”
Finnsheep Farm loin of lamb with eggplant variations, zucchini blossom tempura, and last-of-summer flavors. (Photo by Terrance Brennan)
Brennan’s first course was an organic vegetable composition from Four Winds Farm. For the second course, Chef Peter X. Kelly of Xaviars Restaurant Group served a warm custard of foraged mushrooms with an apple-red onion compote and chive beurre blanc. The Clearwater Sloop has docked at X20: Xaviars on the Hudson in Yonkers, one of the restaurants run by Kelly, yet another much-awarded chef and James Beard Award nominee.
Peter X. Kelly (Photo courtesy of Clearwater)
“I look at the Yonkers restaurant as the gateway to the Hudson Valley; anything that promotes that, I’m happy to help,” Kelly says of his support for Clearwater. “The work they do is critically important to help the Hudson Valley.”
Besides educating people and spreading awareness, Clearwater fights for Hudson Valley causes that influence the estuary and surrounding land, which affects everyone, Schloss says. The group opposes the re-licensing of the Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant in Buchanan as well as the proposal by the U.S. Coast Guard to allow increased anchorages on the Hudson, which Clearwater and others fear may result in greater barge traffic for crude oil. While commerce is necessary and important, Schloss feels the long game should be focused on switching to clean, renewable energy. The organization also gets involved in land use and development, working with other groups such as the New York Resource Defense Council.
Clearwater, Schloss assures, looks forward to making the dinner an annual event. For more information, visit chefsforclearwater.org.