A Day at the Farm
The premier Hudson Valley dining event of the year, Hudson Valley Restaurant Week (HVRW), is made possible by a group of influential leaders in the regional farm-to-table/eat local movement, who know the dynamics of the valley's food system and have helped shape the region's culinary reputation.
We took the HVRW Advisory Board members out of the kitchen and onto the farm for a day and asked them to share their perspectives on the Hudson Valley—now, then, and the future.
Self-taught chef and restaurateur Peter X. Kelly’s restaurants are consistently ranked among the top restaurants in the nation. The highly respected chef/owner of Xaviars Restaurant Group, (at various times comprising Xaviars in Garrison and Piermont, The Freelance Cafe and Wine Bar, Restaurant X & Bully Boy Bar, and X2O Xaviars on the Hudson), Kelly was named 1998 Restaurateur of the Year by the New York State Restaurant Association, and that same year he was nominated for the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast. For an added feather in his cap, he defeated Bobby Flay in a 2007 Iron Chef America showdown.
Prior to 1998, the Hudson Valley was this sleepy area—it might as well have been in Canada in terms of the attention it got from Manhattan. Everything was dominated by fine dining and a handful of ‘old school’ restaurants. Continental Cuisine reigned supreme—that’s where all the stars and quality was. The paradigm is changing. It’s part of the casualization of dining. You don’t need to have Veal Oscar to have a serious meal—you can do [pizza] for a celebration and feel like you went out. That wasn’t an option 20 years ago.
With his philosophy of “simple cooking done well,” CIA graduate David DiBari rocked Westchester and the Hudson Valley in 2010 when he opened his first restaurant, The Cookery, in Dobbs Ferry, and he shook things up again with DoughNation, his mobile, wood-fired pizza oven, and a funky chic pizza place, The Parlor. On top of that, word’s out that he’s slated to roll out two new concepts and locations. Highly regarded for his nose-to-tail cooking, DiBari actually eats very little meat. He prefers fish and vegetables.
[Being a chef] is my creative outlet. At the end of the day, I really enjoy it. If it’s your ego you’re doing it for, then stop, because you’re killing yourself. As you grow and add more, the question is how to keep control, quality and focus. I always want and look for someone who is better than me—not just someone who can cook as good as me.
Executive chef and owner of Terrapin Restaurant/Bistro/Bar in the Village of Rhinebeck, Josh Kroner was an early adopter of the “buy local, buy sustainable” movement and an advocate for kids cooking and eating healthy. He received the 2014 Victoria A. Simons Locavore Award, established in 2010 by the non-profit Columbia County Bounty to promote connections among chefs, consumers and farmers. The recently redesigned and renovated restaurant celebrates 20 years this year.
When I started Terrapin, within months of the start of The Valley Table, the idea of local food was completely absent from the food scene—it was amazingly difficult to get any local produce, even in the middle of the season. Seeing the farm-to-table movement thrive and grow is a continuous inspiration. The energy behind the movement is great, and I think it’s only going to get bigger. Personally, I’ve been taking an interest in farming my own land. I have chickens, a couple of goats and my own kitchen garden at home. That’s where I like to spend time when I’m not at the restaurant.
Until he opened Cosimo’s on Union restaurant in Newburgh in 1993, the focus of Nick Citera’s family-owned Cosimo’s Restaurant Group was 60 fast-food pizzerias in malls across the country. Today the group has four successful, grand-scale brick-oven restaurants—all with serious wine lists—where the focus is on quality ingredients. From the mozzarella to the sauces to the roasted peppers—each is made fresh in-house every day, reinforcing a commitment to support local farms that’s unusual for restaurants that run at this pace.
When we opened Cosimo’s 25 years ago, it was shocking how people interpreted the food—they just didn’t understand it. Back then, a cappuccino could have been mistaken for a plate of pasta. Today, people want to be catered to—they really want convenience. Social media, online ordering—that’s only going to increase. We have online ordering now. Your order comes in through an iPad and it’s ready to go when you come to pick it up. Delivery has become big, too—Uber Eats, GrubHub and ChowNow have drastically changed our business.
One of the most highly respected restaurateurs anywhere, John Crabtree, proprietor of Crabtree’s Kittle House & Inn in Chappaqua for 37 years, exudes a commitment to hospitality and fine dining without pretension. Early in his career he decided he could distinguish his restaurant by building a great wine list, and in 1994, the Kittle House received Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, its highest honor, a status it maintains today. The historic inn’s 5,000-bottle wine collection is recognized as one of the finest restaurant wine cellars in the world.
You hear how the Hudson Valley food scene is just now really taking off, but there’s always something that came before. It has always amazed me that people don’t think of [The Kittle House] as farm-to-table, probably because it’s what we’ve always done—sourced local, the best ingredients. I was saying how funny it is that people don’t think of us as farm-to-table, and my own daughter said, ‘We are?’ I must be doing something wrong.
An Irish ex-pat and former bartender-turned-interior designer, Agnes Devereux was living in a brownstone in Brooklyn when she and her news cameraman husband decided they wanted a country upbringing and Waldorf education for their kids. They moved to the Hudson Valley in 2000 and opened The Village Tea Room Restaurant and Bake Shop in New Paltz in 2005. Her steadfast commitment to serving only food she’d cook for her family, sourcing from local farms, earned her a reputation as a strong farm-to-table advocate. She’s worked to advance farm connections through local organizations such as Glynwood, Local Economies Project and Good Work Institute.
I came up here and I just could not believe there were no restaurants that were doing farm-to-table. We were surrounded by farms, but I couldn’t get local meat—I was buying organic chickens from Pennsylvania. Now everything is so much easier. I can be on my phone or go on the farms-to-tables app and see what’s new and order stuff and get it here by Wednesday from farms all over the valley. I can get liquor, wine, beer, gin, vodka—the breadth of what you can have is amazing. Little by little [the Hudson Valley] is building up a brand—the idea of artisanal, quality—it’s wonderful. It’s attracting people. It’s an alternative to Brooklyn.
One of a new generation of chefs redefining the scope of the professional kitchen, Rich Parente began his culinary career at the age of 13, making pizza at a local deli. He fulfilled his dream of studying at The Culinary Institute of America, and worked as a chef in New York City for several years before he and his wife Cassie opened Clocktower Grill, a rustic restaurant in Brewster dedicated to serving local, seasonal fare. In 2016, the couple bought a 10-acre horse farm in Connecticut where they raise animals for use in the restaurant.
We’re enjoying our own farm, pushing ourselves and learning as much as possible from other farmers. We raise Berkshire pigs, sheep, Scottish Highland cattle, pigmy goats—a total of 47 animals at the moment. It has changed the way we think about animals, a new appreciation. It may be a lot of work giving them the best life we can while they’re here, but it is super gratifying. The first animal we harvested and served actually brought a tear to my eye. It also has brought great awareness [about] restaurant waste—we started composting everything that is compostable, and all vegetable trim [goes to] the pigs. It has made us more aware and appreciative of the food we eat and serve.
In 1998, Glenn Vogt was on top of the world, or, to be more precise, he was on the 106th Floor of the World Trade Center, working with one of the most prestigious restaurant teams in the world at Windows on the World. In 2000, Windows was the largest grossing restaurant in the United States with $40 million in revenue, serving 5,000-plus meals a day. Vogt returned to the Hudson Valley after 9/11 and became partner/general manager and wine director at Crabtree’s Kittle House in Chappaqua. In 2013, the partners opened RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen in Tarrytown.
RiverMarket was really created to showcase the farms and farmers who are raising and growing their food naturally, sustainably and humanely. We wanted to stand on a soapbox about it. What’s next? There is already a slow movement of young people wanting to be farmers moving out of the city to the Hudson Valley, awesome people who want to get back to basics, raise a family in a healthy environment and grow great food with natural, sustainable farming.
Owner of Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill in Cold Spring and Perch in Marlboro, Cathryn Fadde, has had a life-long career in hospitality. Hired as a stewardess for Eastern Airlines, she left as a flight attendant 18 years later when the airline went out business. She sold fine Italian wines as a rep and in 1998 opened Cathryn’s Tuscan Grill in Cold Spring to bring Tuscan food, fine wine and a year-round restaurant to the village. She opened Perch in Marlboro in 2015.
I remember seeing [the] first issue [of The Valley Table] at Salmagundi Books. It was the first thing I saw that basically spoke to local food and it made me think how to incorporate more local into an Italian restaurant. Pasta? No. Cheese? Yes. I did a Restaurant Week menu that spoke to as many Hudson Valley products as I could source. It changed the focus of the restaurant. I believe if you establish yourself as offering a quality experience then people will come. The [Restaurant Week] board reflects the demographics of the region—she’s a chef and she’s not; you’ve got young chefs, you’ve got an Iron Chef; all of them have their own business. It’s a great demographic that represents the business in the Hudson Valley.
Mary Kay Vrba
Mary Kay Vrba is president and CEO of Dutchess Tourism, Inc., the official marketing organization for Dutchess County. “Distinctly Dutchess,” her award-winning campaign, uses the arts, history, food and agritourism experiences to attract visitors to the region. She is currently arranging to take local chefs to the UK for media events promoting Dutchess County and the Hudson Valley.
Everyone talks about the Napa Valley—which is beautiful—but the Hudson Valley has so much more: world-class culture and contemporary art venues, history from the Revolutionary War to today, outdoor hiking, biking, kayaking and, of course, food that has no match. It’s all here. In 2016, visitors spent $143.4 million on food and beverages in Dutchess County; in 2017 that increased to $153.8 million. The restaurants that have opened, the breweries and distilleries in cities, the farm markets—all have had an impact on our growth. People are looking for local experiences, and the Hudson Valley food scene certainly provides that, and more. Just look at Beacon—two breweries, a distillery, artisan syrup maker and coffee roaster...
The Culinary Institute of America recruited Tim Ryan to its faculty in 1982 to develop and run the college’s American Bounty Restaurant, which celebrates American cuisine with regional, seasonal and sustainable ingredients—a groundbreaking idea at the time. A 1977 CIA graduate who earned a doctorate in education from the University of Pennsylvania, became a certified master chef, Culinary Olympics champion and, in 2001, the CIA’s fifth president. Ryan was named one of the most powerful people in the food world by both the Daily Meal and Nation’s Restaurant News in 2016. Under his leadership, lessons in sustainable agriculture and sustainable cuisine have been integrated into the college curriculum. The CIA’s Hyde Park campus today spends about $800,000 per year on local produce, eggs, dairy, and meat, from about 60 farms within a 75-mile radius of the campus.
Food is the number one business on the planet, so there remains a lot of opportunity for people with talent and fresh ideas. The role of the chef has been changing since the 1970s, and today, chefs have evolved into thought leaders, arbiters of cool, change agents and global celebrities. Chefs have also become increasingly business savvy; many of the best-known chefs develop restaurants, product lines, intellectual property and licensing deals into small and not-so-small empires. Whether we are talking about the change in the status and scope of the chef, or the quality and diversity of the American diet, the CIA has had major impacts on both. We continue to push forward on these fronts, and we are confident that even better days for the profession, the food world, and the dining public are ahead.