There are no signs at The Dutchess.
As you drive toward the secluded retreat in Dutchess County, it’s hard not to wonder if you’re lost. Perhaps you took a wrong turn somewhere? No, your GPS is still going strong and, oh, wait, it wants you to turn where?
Turn you do, albeit very hesitantly. Once you exit the main road in favor of its rocky, rough-hewn tributary, you say goodbye to the Hudson Valley you know and enter a farm-to-table paradise unlike anything you’ve experienced before.
That’s the point, of course. Even though it’s in the heart of Dutchess County, The Dutchess remains largely a secret. Even for Hudson Valleyites, mentions of a secret hotel with an unparalleled restaurant program draw blank stares.
“You’re sure it’s in Dutchess County?” they ask. “Yes and no,” you say. For in truth, The Dutchess is a world of its own.
Geographically, the venue is something of a microcosm in the Hudson Valley. On its rolling 252 acres, towering tree lines harmonize with muted buildings that look as if they’ve been there forever. On the grounds, three different spaces welcome guests for overnights and extended retreats. The first is The Inn, a reconstructed barn that was dismantled from its original location in western New York and rebuilt at The Dutchess. A way away, The Guesthouse dates back to 1820 and houses rooms for four people. Then there’s The Stonehouse, a breathtaking work of architecture which has original framework dating back to 1797.
The farm itself has origins in the mid-1700s, when it originally served as a resource for a local estate in the area. Nowadays, the grounds are maintained by Zach Wolf, as in the Zach Wolf who earned his keep while apprenticing under Jack Algiere at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County. In keeping with his background, Wolf cultivates farmland that is currently working toward a biodynamic certification. To do so, he considers the farm as an organism that lives and breathes naturally through a harmony with local wildlife, minimal outside interference, and planting based on planetary rhythms.
Wolf works in collaboration with Rameet Chawla, the chairman of app development company Fueled and the owner behind The Dutchess, to maintain the farm’s organic, hyperlocal growing practices. Together, the esteemed grower and the tech visionary implement sustainable systems like geothermal heating, onsite water filtration, a flower garden, a solar field, and, by the end of this year, multiple greenhouses. They produce so much on the grounds that they donate approximately 80 percent of the surplus to local food pantries.
After all, a farm is nothing without people to enjoy it.
That’s where Mark Margiotta enters the picture. Margiotta, a Poughquag native and Culinary Institute of America graduate who cut his teeth at Brasserie 292 in Poughkeepsie and in the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park (named the fourth best restaurant in the world in 2018, in case you’re wondering) is the culinary mastermind at The Dutchess. Going a step beyond the farm-to-table ideology that dominates the Hudson Valley’s culinary scene, Margiotta transforms nature into art.
His work begins at the farm, which rests just a short walk away from The Dutchess’s onsite eating experience (because “restaurant” just doesn’t cut it). There, he plans the harvest for coming seasons alongside Wolf, who expertly forecasts everything from how many tomato seeds to plant to when to dig up the sweetest baby carrots. Back in the kitchen, Margiotta follows mostly vegan, gluten-free, and farm-sourced guidelines to concoct his menus. He utilizes raw ingredients from Wolf and from Poughquag’s Maple View Farm, whose farmer, Kyle Nisonger, studied under Wolf.
Yes, Margiotta jokes, there is a bit of competition between the two of them.
Once the produce overflows in the kitchen, Margiotta gets to work with his brother, Jesse, to curate menus that change daily and feature flavors and pairings that give true meaning to the notion of “dirt candy.” On any given evening, diners could sit down to a table covered in just-picked vegetables with stems still attached, awaiting that first bold guest to pick one up and take a bite. During warm summer nights, they could be outdoors at a rough-hewn table tucked somewhere on the property’s expansive grounds. A fire pit might be glowing nearby, quietly crackling as it delivers the perfect blister to just-picked tomatoes.
Margiotta’s secret to success (aside from the unparalleled farmers in his midst) is that he doesn’t like limits. The chef refuses to let dishes confine him, preferring instead to swap ingredients and menus according to the harvest and his own creativity. Similarly, he doesn’t allow himself to be stuck to one location, either. Although The Dutchess does have a dedicated kitchen and dining area, Margiotta often moves diners out to the farm, the pavilion, one of the barns, or even the surrounding forest, where he sometimes forages for flora and nettles.
And now the question comes…exactly who are the mysterious guests Margiotta feeds? (And feed them he does. He and his brother recently went three months without a single day off.) The short answer is that they could be anyone from anywhere. The Dutchess operates as a word-of-mouth establishment, which means that only those “in the know” can stay onsite. Although Margiotta is tight-lipped about his clientele, he admits that visitors could be anyone from London tech companies on a group retreat to Los Angeles producers planning an experiential dinner or New York City creative designers in need of an upstate getaway. High-end and low-key are the buzzwords here, since all guests share in common the desire to disconnect and escape, even if only for a little while.
Indeed, the notion of escapism lies at the heart of all The Dutchess does. From waving goodbye to tried-and-tired dishes at a Margiotta-curated dinner and chanting a slow “om” to the beat of handcrafted gamelatron chimes made by former Hudson Valleyite Aaron Taylor Kuffner inside the yoga barn, which is still supported by 1759 American cedar pegs and logs, to relaxing in the onsite spa or participating in one of the venue’s regular farm talks with guest farmers, escape is a way of being at the Dutchess County destination. To that point, even the move to turn off the road to enter The Dutchess grounds is an act of escape in itself.
With that in mind, The Dutchess is not for everyone. If you need a television near your bed or room service at night, you more than likely will not be happy here. If you’re curious, adventurous, and willing to set aside any preconceived notions of what a secret hotel and restaurant should or should not be, however, then The Dutchess may very well be for you.
So are you curious?
If the answer is yes, then you’re in luck. Although The Dutchess is still a secret for now, it may not be for much longer. Every so often, Margiotta opens the gate to invite inquisitive diners to The Dutchess’ restaurant for unforgettable meals that dance with the colors and flavors of the Hudson Valley.
Want in on the list? Step one is to reach out to The Dutchess via its beautiful, albeit incredibly minimalistic website. You won’t find photos or menus or anything beyond a name and a simple contact form, but that’s part and parcel with the destination anyway.
Are you ready to discover The Dutchess?