Photos by Melinda Anita Photography
Two Hudson Valley-area purveyors provide seasonally fresh fare and craft cocktails for today’s sustainably minded couples.
Grilled local pork collar, fresh kohlrabi and apple salad, and line-caught steelhead trout with melted leeks all sound like dishes you’d expect to be on the menu at the hottest New American restaurant in town. All of that, and more, is actually what’s being fired in the kitchen at Seminary Hill Orchard & Cidery under Executive Chef Jack Tippet. And it’s not just for guests of the cidery; it’s some of the farm-to-table fare chosen and served for weddings hosted on the orchard’s stunning grounds.
According to Kayce Drasher, owner of KR Occasions and Seminary Hill’s wedding-and-events manager, the food they’re serving is a far cry from the “choose one” menu card of chicken, beef, or mystery whitefish with rice pilaf and mixed vegetables that so often accompanies your RSVP.
“Honestly, vegan and vegetarian options are some of our most popular requests, so we craft a lot of our menus toward those themes,” Drasher explains. “In the past, you’d have one or two vegetarian attendees, but now there are way more. We recently had a bride who requested an all-pescatarian menu, since her guests were mostly pescatarian. We’re finding more and more instances like that.”
If you’ve ever dined at the cidery, veggie-friendly fare should come as no surprise. Much of what’s served in the tasting room translates to wedding receptions. The only difference is that the meal on your special day is coursed out to seven-or-more family-style servings.
Endives with beets and sheep’s-milk cheese and roasted sweet potatoes with sunflower seeds and anchoïade — a Provençal-style spread made from anchovies, olive oil, vinegar, and garlic — are a few bold, seasonal, vegetarian dishes that Tippet and his team are churning out.
But fear not if your guests lean more toward the vegan side. Drasher mentioned that most of the options can be modified to exclude cheese, eggs, or emulsified fish. And if you’re gluten-free, there’s not much of an issue there either.
“Most of our vegetarian dishes can be made vegan,” Drasher says, “and our menu is 90 percent gluten-free as it is and usually doesn’t even have to be requested. All the menus are seasonal, too, and we have three different ones in the spring and summer and another three in fall and winter.”
Chef Tippet echoes that same sentiment regarding seasonal cuisine, stating that Seminary Hill uses in-season produce from local producers, the goal being not to overshadow the natural flavor of any vegetable or fruit. Most of their ingredients are sourced from local farms in the immediate area of Callicoon, PA (namely Willow Wisp Organic Farm), and from local farmers’ markets. But of course, since Seminary Hill is an orchard, it’s expected they’ll incorporate apples or cider into dishes when it’s appropriate.
All of this, however, doesn’t mean Seminary Hill is shying away from meat. Alongside the pork collar — which comes with burnt cream, cippolini onions, and apple cider jus — are other options from the local culture, like venison sausage and Snowdance Farms chicken with chicken skin gravy, which should satisfy any carnivore.
In fact, one of the most popular wedding snacks is fried chicken skin with buttermilk dressing. BBQ is another. “We’re going to offer a barbecue menu for weddings that I expect to be very popular, and it has been requested by several brides,” Tippet says. “I’m from North Carolina, so it will be a Carolina-focused barbecue menu.”
But what’s a wedding without the party? And what’s a party without booze?
Kaitlyn Nuzzi is the owner of Nuzzi’s Tin Tavern, a mobile bar that’s popped up not only at weddings held at Seminary Hill but also at weddings throughout the Hudson Valley. Nuzzi’s bars don’t provide the alcohol but rather a bartending service at your private event. The spirits, wine, and beer would come from the venue or is provided by the client, and Nuzzi’s website has recipes to give her clients ideas on what they might want mixed up the day of. After a guest count, she creates a shopping list that includes spirits, mixers, and everything to make an aesthetically pleasing, tasty beverage.
Nuzzi mentioned that while her customers try to keep costs low by using larger brands of alcohol or beer, she always incorporates some local love into the mix.
“Not many clients are buying from local distilleries, breweries, or wineries, which I wish they did, to support them, but most purchase what’s most cost-effective,” she says. “In May and June, we do have access to fresher ingredients, like basil, blackberries, mint, and strawberries, which all make for good muddled-fruit cocktails. Our rosemary greyhound, watermelon-cucumber margarita, and berry hibiscus cooler are popular in the summer. We’re big on aesthetics. We want every drink to not only taste great, but to look great.”
Nuzzi’s Tin Tavern provides dehydrated-fruit garnish options to adorn the cocktails as well. And when fall hits, locally produced apple cider tends to be a feature ingredient.
“For garnish and produce, we use a local company, True Vine; it’s like a farmers’-market-type tent, and they get great produce from the New York City area, so we get all of our fresh garnish and herbs for drinks from them,” Nuzzi says. “In the fall, apple cider mimosas were super popular last year, as was Jack Daniels Honey, also with apple cider that we get from Pennings Farm Cidery in Warwick.”
What Tippet, Drasher, and Nuzzi agree on is that the sometimes-bland banquet-hall wedding food has seen a switch that is predominantly local, seasonal, fresher, and with more creativity.
“This generation cares about sustainability and supporting local businesses,” Drasher says. “Farm-to-table does exactly that.”