It’s hardly a secret that farm-to-table is the name of the game in the Hudson Valley’s food scene right now. In many a local restaurant, community-sourced ingredients factor front and center on menu, identified with references to specific farms or foraging locations. As for the chefs themselves, they’re on a first-name basis with their Farms2Tables or Hudson Valley Harvest suppliers and make regular appearances at nearby farmers’ markets to collect in-demand ingredients like nettles or ramps.
Farm-to-table is becoming a way of life, much as it once was during the earliest days of life in the Hudson River region.
That’s probably why “State of Ate,” a new exhibit at The Culinary Institute of America, resonates as much as it does. On display from July 18 to December 10, the exhibit delves into the history of New York through the lens of eight key ingredients: apples, beef, corn, milk, oysters, salt, sugar, and wheat. Beginning with the indigenous era and moving to the colonial period, across the Great Depression, and all the way through to today, the collection explores the ways in which each of the ingredients came to prominence and analyzes their lasting effects upon New York’s development.
Chef Brian Kaywork / Photo by Phil Mansfield, The Culinary Institute of America
To learn more about the student-led initiative, which is part of the Applied Food Studies program, we spoke to Chef Brian Kaywork, a lecturing chef and instructor at the college’s American Bounty Restaurant. As part of a special collaboration with the Food History class and the Applied Food Studies class, Chef Kaywork and his cooking and baking classes at American Bounty prepared dishes inspired by the ingredients of the exhibit and the recipes that shaped New York’s culinary timeline for a special dinner on July 18.
Dubbed “Dining Through Time in the Hudson Valley,” the menu began with the cuisine of the indigenous population, then journeyed through time to spotlight the highs and lows of the region’s food landscape. Here’s a short, but sweet overview of what food looked like during each era of the Hudson Valley’s delicious history.
Hors D’Oeuvre Course: Bison pemmican, summer berries, venison and nut cluster, smoked herring, succotash canapé
“It’s really about what you can’t use,” Kaywork observes of the process to create dishes that reflect the cuisine of the earliest days on the east coast. On the list of no-no ingredients, he includes items like cows, chickens, pigs, wheat, rye, apples, and turnips, which were not introduced to the landscape until later. While those ingredients put certain constraints on the possibility of menu options for the dinner, they also allowed the students to learn authentic uses for traditional ingredients during the era.
Berries and game dominated the culinary landscape, while the soft bison pemmican functioned as what Kaywork and his team dubbed the original energy bar.
Left to right: Succotash canapé and Colonial course / Photo by Sabrina Sucato
Course 1: Poached oysters with herb salad, buttermilk shooter, and Indian slapjack
The colonial period was a critical time for Hudson Valley food culture, since it walked the line between Dutch tradition and early British influence.
“We wanted the Dutch to be represented,” Kaywork notes, adding that the British were “pretty passive” in their initial impact on local food culture and “allowed the Dutch to carry out cultural norms.” Buttermilk, as symbolized via a dairy shooter, was an integral product during the time period, serving as breakfast alongside early renditions of beer. So too were herbs, greens, and natural grains, all of which hearken back to the food traditions of the Native Americans in the area.
As for the oysters, Kaywork notes that while oysters from the Hudson River are not the most appealing of options nowadays, they were a worthy choice for settlers to the region. The recipe for them comes from The Sensible Cook (1661), while the Indian slapjack recipe sources from American Cookery (1796), the first truly American cookbook that was written on American soil and designed for American diets.
Course 2: Fresh Green “Pease” Soup with veal meatballs, spinach, and mint
During the late 18th century in New York, the notion of finding an American identity through food shone. Breaking from traditional British sensibilities, American recipes featured accessible ingredients of the region. The fresh pea soup, which comes from Art of Cookery (1747) – which Martha Washington herself owned, was a simple, yet flavorful dish of broth with mint and peas.
Veal, meanwhile, was an easily obtainable and versatile ingredient that added hearty flavor to meatballs or all on its own. In this dish, it made its way onto the plate as meatballs, the recipe for which came from the receipt book of Catherine Cruger Bard (1803), the mother of the founder of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson.
Left to right: Early Republic and Gilded Age courses / Photo by Sabrina Sucato
Course 3: Pike à la Royale
As the name suggests, the Gilded Age was a time for all things glamorous, golden, and over the top. With this in mind, Kaywork and his students flipped through the pages of The Epicurean (1893) by Chef Charles Ranhofer, the culinary mastermind who led Delmonico’s to the height of fame in New York during the late 1800s.
In the early incarnation of the famed Big Apple eatery, which is credited for dishes like Delmonico potatoes and Lobster Newberg, fine dining and supreme luxury were key. Because of this, it was not uncommon for multiple luxe ingredients to appear in one dish. It didn’t matter if truffles and lobster and hard-to-procure seafood harmonized from the outset. If they cost a pretty penny, there was no doubt that Ranhofer and his kitchen could find a way to plate them – and deliciously, too.
“[Delmonico’s] formalized the infrastructure for what it’s like to be a chef,” Kaywork explains. “[It] represented the maturity and growth of America.”
He has a point. Through Delmonico’s and similar institutions in New York City during the time, America proved that it could hold its own against French cuisine, which was de rigueur for fine dining across the globe. The country might have still been settling into its relatively newfound independence and burgeoning traditions, but it was doing so in a way that the world couldn’t help but to take notice.
Course 4: A Meal Fit for a King, with beef, turkey, and duck hot dogs
America’s culinary landscape during and immediately after the Great Depression was not a pretty picture for New Yorkers. Yet it was also one that defined the nation’s independence and hardworking ideals. For this specific course, the students of the Culinary Institute drew inspiration from the hot dog meal that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt served to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth during their visit to the States in 1939.
“We joked about it at first, but then said it’s a pretty pivotal moment,” notes Kaywork. “It put a stamp on defining American food as not having to be over-the-top luxurious to be American.”
Left to right: Post-Depression and Modern Times courses / Photo by Sabrina Sucato
Course 5: Summer berry parfait with coriander sablé
“We didn’t want to have the last course be something congratulatory to the Culinary Institute of America, but we kept coming back to the school,” Kaywork admits, adding that the nation’s culinary landscape might look very, very different if the school never set up shop in Hyde Park. For a sweet finish, the students returned once more to the region’s farm-to-table sensibilities, collecting fresh strawberries from the college’s rooftop garden and turning them into potent, dried chips and sweet, fresh sorbet.
“The agrarian spirit is still alive and well in the Hudson Valley,” he enthuses. “It’s a very outdoors-based community with shades of dining and humanity. We’re very fortunate.”
State of Ate: New York’s History Through Eight Ingredients
Donald & Barbara Tober Exhibit Room, Conrad Hilton Library
The Culinary Institute of America, Hyde Park
July 18 – December 10