ricotta_squash_pasta_440.jpg"} Nichole Dupont raves about District Kitchen & Bar, Pittsfield, MA's homage to the gastro pub. | Rural Intelligence Mixing It Up: Connecting Farmer And Landowner | Rural Intelligence The Riverview Cafe reopens in Stuyvesant, NY with a slightly more upscale menu and decor, and the same great community vibe. | Rural Intelligence Recipe: Apple Ricotta Tartine | Rural Intelligence Jake and Silka prepare a hearty dish of red cabbage and apples that perfectly feeds your autumn hunger. | Rural Intelligence Alana Chernila offers a pumpkin muffin recipe with the real deal: roasted and pureed fresh pumpkin. | Rural Intelligence The New Entry Sustainable Farming Project is spearheading a | Rural Intelligence Italian Market, an old-school deli around the corner, has been Hudson locals' best-kept secret for three years. | Rural Intelligence Silka and Jake whip up the perfect autumn party dessert: an easy clafouti fit for any fruit. | Rural Intelligence Third Annual Sandwich Summit: A Rye Look Between The Bread | Rural Intelligence Recipe: Any Green Pesto | Rural Intelligence Bimi's Cheese Shop in Chatham, NY sells European cheeses and locally-produced items. | Rural Intelligence The Butcher & The Baker offer a recipe for chicken in 40 cloves. | Rural Intelligence
Rural Intelligence: The Online Magazine for Eastern New York, Western Connecticut and the Southern Berkshires
Tuesday, December 01, 2015
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Chez Nous Bistro

Nejaime's Wine Cellars

Berkshire Coop

Guido's Marketplace

Chatham Wine & Liquor

Haven Cafe & Bakery

Baba Louie's

52 Main


Red Devon

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Open House: PlaceInvaders Dinners Pop Up In Great Barrington

By Amy Krzanik

If you’re anything like us, you love to see how other people live — how they decorate and use their space, what they collect. You also love being the first to experience a new restaurant — the more eclectic, the better. On Friday, Dec. 4 through Sunday, Dec. 6, you can do both at once when PlaceInvaders, a team of pop-up dinner party planners, takes our two loves and combines them for a one-weekend-only secret dinner party.

While the location of the three dinners and two brunches won’t be released until the day of the first event, we can tell you that it’s in a Great Barrington, Mass. home with lots of space. PlaceInvaders owners Hagan Blount and Katie Smith-Adair are excited to have room to move after beginning their business in Brooklyn two years ago and having so far created events mostly in urban areas.

What began as monthly events in the New York City area has become a full-time job, and Smith-Adair and Blount now travel the U.S. year round in a truck with a purple trailer towed behind. Hagen, who is not formally trained but has years of restaurant experience, is by all accounts an amazing chef. “He’s the kind of person who finds the best thing to eat in a new city and then thinks ‘How can I improve on this?’” says Smith-Adair. As for her, Smith-Adair, who formerly worked in marketing and tech start-ups, now serves as host, flower arranger and anything else for which the event calls.

A friend in Hillsdale, N.Y. recommended the Berkshires as one of their stops and the Invaders agreed that it had all the ingredients they were looking for. Smith-Adair says, “I’m excited because there are a lot of interesting locals, and I enjoy meeting adventurous and social people who like to try new things.”

The couple likes to get to town early, in order to meet with local farmers, wineries and distillers, and make use of the best the area has to offer. Smith-Adair considers it to be one of the most fun parts of the job. “We get to meet people who raise animals and grow food, and talk to them about what they do.”

The meals they create are based, in part, on what fresh and interesting items they discover. That could mean anything from foraged berries and mushrooms to fresh-caught salmon, based on the season and location. The duo has some staple recipes they’ve honed over time, like grilled oysters in different iterations, and others that are inspired by what they find from local partners. For their Berkshire pop-ups they’ll be featuring meat from The Meat Market in Great Barrington, along with vegetables and flowers from Sol Flower Farm in Millerton, beer from Big Elm and wines from Domaney’s, and their signature drink will be based around Berkshire Mountain Distillers liquor.

Each event is guaranteed to have a five-course dinner, which includes a passed appetizer, wine and a signature cocktail served while guests mingle. For their Berkshires debut, Smith-Adair is leaning toward a sparkling mulled wine she calls “Christmas in a glass.” A sit-down dinner follows, where members of the guest list, capped off at 24 per meal, can get to know each other. 

PlaceInvaders Pop-Up in Great Barrington, Mass.
Friday, Dec. 4: Dinner at 7 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 5: Brunch at 1 p.m., Dinner at 8 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 6: Brunch at 1 p.m., Dinner at 7 p.m.
$125 for dinner and $75 for brunch.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 11/10/15 at 12:48 PM • Permalink

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Chefs Weigh In On A Tradition At The Tipping Point

By Andrea Pyros

Should restaurants do away with tipping and switch to a service-included policy?

News that famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer plans to eliminate tipping in all 13 of his Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants has chefs, restaurant owners and diners all taking notice. Meyer’s “hospitality included” move, which will impact renowned spots such as The Modern, Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, is aimed at making salaries fairer between the front of the house, where tipping is allowed, and the back of the house (think dishwashers, cooks and reservationists) as well as addressing other industry issues. Meyer’s prominence in the dining world means the decision will have major ramifications. We looked to some of the Rural Intelligence region’s top food professionals to find out what they think about the issue, and how it might affect our area.

Josephine Proul, Chef and Owner, Local 111, Philmont, NY

I was right in the middle of getting a worker’s comp audit — I passed it just fine — when I heard [about the no-tipping policy]. I have to pay each month to worker’s comp and project how many wages I am going to provide. Tips are not included. My first thought was, “I can’t do [service included], no way, my worker’s comp is already so high.” I’d pay more sales tax, more withholdings, more worker’s comp; everything would go up.

There have been some pretty big tipping scandals lately with the house meddling in the tip pool, which has caused class action lawsuits. If you are a large corporation, then moving to a non-tip system where you are looking for an expense to write off makes sense, but with me it would force me into the red. This would price me out of the market; I could never have a $40 price point. I would have to pull a lot of people off the floor, and it would take away their hours so they might need to find another job. There’s a stigma that the back of the house doesn’t make as much, but the front of the house has slow nights, too.

Maybe instead of taking out tips they should reform tipping so that the pool does benefit the back of the house. We pool tips among the waitstaff here and everyone works together. It creates more of a camaraderie vs. “this is my section, these are my tips.” And I pay my kitchen staff very well because I value their good consistent work. I don’t know why these restaurants are not paying their kitchen help!

I see both sides of it but, long story short, my servers would be so disappointed and this would sink me as a small business owner.

Photo: Roy Gumpel

Josh Kroner, Chef and Owner, Terrapin Restaurant, Rhinebeck, NY

The points that Danny Meyer makes are really valid. It’s a terrible system. I like the system in Europe. There they are professional servers and it’s a professional industry. Here you feel like you’re asking for handouts so it’s hard to embrace the profession. I’m trying to gauge what people’s response to [switching to no-tipping] would be, and people say, “What if service gets terrible?” But why would that be true? Why does anyone do a good job? Because they like their job and they like doing what they’re doing. Not because they’re getting tipped.

It just seems, as an employer, it would be so much better to not have it based on tips, but instead say, “Okay, I am going to train my staff and pay them really well and have the best staff around, do all the right things.” It’s no secret that happy people make good servers and good food, and if you have a staff that is happy then you are going to have a good restaurant. That’s been my success. I try to take care of my employees and I think it shows with the longevity of my staff.

But I’m scared of losing the customers. Let’s say my entree is $28 and now it has to be $33 [to reflect hospitality included]. People will notice that and might not even understand it. They might just think, “Terrapin has higher prices than other places in our area.” You’re going to lose a percentage of customers who don’t take enough time to figure out what’s going on with the higher prices and why it’s set up like that.

We have a tip-pooling system [for the front of the house] but it should be spread out a bit more evenly. I’m keeping an eye on the trend. It’s the customer’s point of view I’m most concerned with in making this change. With Meyer doing this — and I think he’s great for doing it and he’s doing it for the right reasons — it’s probably inevitable, but it’s a challenge for sure.

Chef John McCarthy, The Crimson Sparrow, Hudson, NY

I think we’re probably going to see this [no-tipping] trend more and more. Once more people realize you can do this, and the American diner becomes comfortable with not leaving extra money on top, it’s going to professionalize the entire restaurant industry. I’m seriously considering doing this very thing. We’ve talked about it not only as a way to pay everyone better but to inject some degree of certainty into the equation.

In the city there’s a real issue getting qualified kitchen line cooks and prep cooks, and my experience in the Hudson Valley is that times a hundred. It’s hard to find kitchen staff. There are a myriad of reasons for that, well articulated by Danny Meyer and others, but 45 minutes away we have the CIA educating future cooks who are graduating with significant debt. If there is any hope for getting young people into the kitchen, they need to make more money.

I was a lawyer for many years and the thing that has been missing in this entire discussion is the fact that the tips provided by the customer by law cannot be shared with the back of house. This situation where the front of house is high-fiving [after a busy night] and the kitchen staff are in the back going, ‘Man, we really sweated that out,’ could be made a bit better if the New York legislature would consider allowing such pooling. What we have tried to instill in our operation is that the whole restaurant is considered as one entity, with front and back working synergistically.

The idea is to really consider whether this proposal can be monetized properly so I’m not cutting front of house by 30 percent. That’s not fair to them; they’re doing a job and anticipating a certain level of pay, and I’ve had people here who have been with me since day one. There are many other moving components, too. The IRS now treats mandatory tips differently that voluntary tips. For example, if I have a party of six or more and a 20-percent gratuity is automatically added, the IRS said that’s no longer a tip, it’s salary. It became a huge issue for smaller operations like myself that can’t afford a lot of the accounting and other things that go into compliance to track what was salary and what was tip. Every time there’s a change in regulations and meddling by the legislature, they have the best intentions but an utter and complete lack of understanding of the operation.

I think you’ve got significant tax issues here, and that’s an expensive process, but Mr. Meyer is the standard and I think at the end of the day he’s going to make sure he doesn’t hurt his employees. It’s incredibly brave and he’s extending a significant amount of financial capital and reputation capital to do something he’s thought long and hard about to help this industry. I’m so glad he’s trying it, I really am.

Photo: Tricia McCormack Photography

Rachel Portnoy, Co-Owner, Chez Nous Bistro, Lee, MA

This is very complicated and I appreciate that smart, successful restaurants are putting their heads to a solution, but I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t see everyone jumping in. There is no perfect solution. I’m a pastry chef and I run the front of the house, but previous to that I was in the kitchen where I was working twice as long as the servers and making half as much as they did. I always said, “When I have my own restaurant, I’m not going to have an unfair pay structure.” We pool tips and the staff loves it; it makes everyone work better as a team and that’s what the customer should see.

But I was fascinated when I saw Mr. Meyer say he can’t find kitchen staff, because we can’t find cooks up here, either. I thought it was because we’re in the Berkshires, but it turns out that even in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, there’s an industry-wide kitchen shortage. We pay extremely well, we provide paid vacation and pay for health insurance but we could not find anyone to work in our kitchen! This year what we did was import people on a one-year French visa and we’re housing them, but my husband still can’t find a sous chef after two solid years of heartbreak. I really don’t think it was money related in our case.

The one thing that makes our living possible is the tax credit for all the tips and you’d be giving that up. In Massachusetts last year they changed the tax structure, so if you say parties of six or more are gratuity added, that is now salary and you have to separate it out. Danny Meyer can absorb this because he has a huge empire, but the move to no-tipping is not doable for a mom-and-pop operation like ours. It would kill me to raise prices more than 20 percent. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, but it’s not feasible for places on a smaller scale.

Laura Pensiero, Owner, Gigi Hudson Valley, Rhinebeck, NY

I’m for paying people for what they are worth. I know my staff and they serve my clients well—they know the brand, the menu, the beverages. They should be compensated for that, and not by the customers but by the business. I’d rather pay people for their value and let customers tip for “exceptional,” which is what gratuity was supposed to be. I love a career waiter, which is so rare in this country but so common in Europe. If I go to a restaurant in Italy or France, I can watch one waiter run an entire room better than six people can do here. It’s amazing!

Do I really have to re-hire people every spring? I’d rather keep great employees and not have them feel like they have to figure something out for the winter. I understand things from their point of view, but it’s exhausting as an owner because people can’t make an honest wage in the winter based on tips, so they jump to another job. For a small business, like most restaurants are, to reboot, re-hire and train every spring to give customers the best knowledge and great staff, it’s complicated and it’s hard. If there were some sensible arrangement for restaurants to budget, it would be great to spread out payments.

But it’s very challenging, given the setup right now [to switch to no-tips]. Small businesses are taking enough of a beating. If they’d allow us to pay people without being taxed on it unfairly, I would love it, because the tipping system is so wrong on so many levels.

If they want to include a tipping system, let’s do a pool at the end of the night [with the entire staff]. There is no “I” in the restaurant business. Right now it’s a disengaged system; the kitchen works hard to produce great food and they hang out after hours with the people who work in the front of the house who have cash in their pockets, but everyone worked equally hard that night. It seems there is an absurdity to this that anyone would admit. It does not create a team. If we want the best service for our customers, then we want professionals serving them, and we should be able to pay people who are equally invested in the success of the business without being taxed on that!

David Wurth, Chef and Owner, CrossRoads Food Shop, Hillsdale, NY

Servers work very hard and they’re asked to maintain a lot of knowledge about the food and the wine, and they represent the restaurant in a very important way. They are the face of the restaurant and there is a lot of responsibility. That said, the cooks and the dishwasher contributed to that in a substantial way and they too should be rewarded. I understand the goal of the move that Mr. Meyer is making in striving to stabilize and eliminate the huge pay disparity when a server is making $300 on a busy night and another person is making $100.

If a restaurant is able to predict its revenue, then it makes sense to put this policy into effect. At Danny Meyer’s restaurants, he can probably say they are going to make X amount of dollars on any given night; I would think it’s a pretty solid number that he can count on X thousand and divvy it up among his staff. If you don’t have that ability, it’s riskier for the restaurant because they are guaranteeing the wage of the server based on tips, regardless of how much the restaurant makes. As it pertains to our area, we are a seasonal place and we do better business between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and that has to be taken into account. I don’t how this could be done, you have to figure that piece of it out.

It’s challenging and maybe even a little scary, but what owners may get out of it is golden as far as commitment and longevity from the employees. If this brings the [back of the house] up a few steps and they are doing better as a wage earner, it helps everyone. The mood is better, the feeling of the team is strengthened and the customers would pick up on that and want to support a business where there is that feeling of equal pay.

Scott Short, Proprietor, Kemble Inn | Table Six Restaurant, Lenox, MA

This is a complicated issue and goes beyond just server pay made up mostly by tips left by customers. I think that if consumers are interested in more fully understanding the costs of dining out, this extends further than just the cost of labor, but equally important is the cost of food and ingredients that go into dishes.

Restaurant margins are razor thin, and so while I applaud the notion customers have of wanting to have more reliable pay for workers in the restaurant business, I hope that over time this view will extend this fairness to the food purveyors, farms and other ingredient suppliers, too. Quality, non-scary, not-laced-with-chemical ingredients are expensive. When you see a $5 burger, or an all-you-can-eat something or other special, and you wonder how a restaurant can afford to do that, the first question everyone should be asking themselves is “What the heck am I actually eating!?” Stepping back to look at the big picture, this could be a real opportunity for consumers to understand what it truly costs to provide quality food, with quality service, in a delightful restaurant setting.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 11/01/15 at 07:09 PM • Permalink

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Wm. Farmer And Sons Raises A New Bar In Hudson

By Jamie Larson

There’s a lot new in Hudson, New York these days (see this week’s accompanying story). All over town, recently opened businesses are raising the bar in lodging, food, drink, design and style. One of them is bringing all those aspects together in a truly impressive way.

Wm. Farmer and Sons Boarding and Barroom on Front Street has created a beautiful and professional lodging and dining experience. The rooms, coffee bar and other boarding amenities are elegant and comfortable, employing a style reverent of Hudson’s history while acknowledging its modern relevance. But the big gem at the center of it all that’s a gift (not just to guests but also to spoiled locals) is the barroom.

“Barroom” is a bit of a humble misnomer for the two-level, fully formed restaurant. Owned by W. Kirby Farmer (the chef) and Kristan Keck, and designed and built by SchappacherWhite, DPC, the space takes inspiration from the bones of the 1830s building, employing raised, exposed brick fireplaces, dark stone, wood and finished industrial fixtures. Every seating option is unique, from the cozy two-tops by the windows and a single recessed booth, to the long central table and a large round arrangement. And, of course, there’s the namesake bar on the upper level. The space is unified in overall style but the individualized experiences lend intimacy to the large layout.

But no one buys a ring for the jewelry box, so let’s talk food. With full recognition of its laudable competition, right out of the gate the chef, Farmer, has put together a menu that’s on par with the best in town.

For a starter or bar snack you can get boudin balls made with the forage-fed pork from Kinderhook’s Lovers Leap Farm, a grilled octopus salad or a frisee salad with pork belly and cambozola cheese with a grapefruit and sweet shallot vinaigrette. And don’t pass by the mushroom starter. This mix of top-quality fresh mushrooms on puff pastry in a ham-spiked chicken jus shows that umami is a flavor our region’s cuisine has some deep wisdom in.

There are also excellent barroom staples including French onion soup, a fried chicken sandwich and a perfectly executed burger in a town of great burgers. The mains as well are based around staple ingredients but elevated by execution and inventive accompaniments. Any tavern demands a steak with fries on its menu and there is an outstanding one, as well as crispy confit Hudson Valley duck with beans and a beautiful trout paired with crawfish, butter beans and a citrus emulsion. Let’s not forget the velvety gnocchi, squash, braised kale and apple in a Parmesan gravy that’s a hearty meatless joy.

Starters and mains range from $10 to $30 and the menu will change seasonally. Specials and dessert options are announced at the table. 

The cocktails at Wm. F&S is a reason in itself for a visit. The drink program was designed by Sasha Petraske, whose Lower East Side bar Milk & Honey has been directly credited for sparking the global Prohibition-era, earnest cocktail revolution. The drinks he created for the Barroom are boldly straightforward, focusing on quality and precision rather than flair. There’s the Water Lilly, made with gin, Cointreau, lemon juice and Violette, and an Old Fashioned for those who actually like Old Fashioneds. Some drinks are only slightly different on paper but create completely separate experiences due to their main component and balance, like the Fitzgerald (gin, lemon juice, sugar and Angostura) and the Brooklynite (Anejo rum, lime juice, honey and Angostura).

Even the more inventive drinks are about making a statement rather than providing a colorful ride up a twisty straw. The Penicillin, with scotch, ginger, lemon and honey is medicinal but bright and the El Guapo, with tequila, lime, cucumber and a dash of Cholula hot sauce has a complex but measured bite.

Tragically, Petraske, 42, died suddenly in Hudson after consulting with Wm. F&S and the drinks at the Barroom are a testament to the relevance and vitality of his prematurely arrested professional legacy.

Wm. Farmer and Sons is a strong new player in the major league Hudson restaurant game. As lodging close to the train station, river and Warren Street, there’s undisputed appeal, but the Barroom makes it a destination for all — and a hard place to leave once you’ve pulled up a stool.

Wm. Farmer and Sons
20 S. Front St., Hudson, NY
(518) 828-1635
Tuesday-Friday, 5-10 p.m.
Saturday, 3-10 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 10/28/15 at 10:01 PM • Permalink

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Burgers & Frites Elevates Fast Casual In Lakeville

By Jacque Lynn Schiller

Area Canadians rejoice: poutine has arrived in the Litchfield Hills. Or perhaps instead of the gravy train you prefer your spuds served alongside escargot sautéed in herb butter? So long as you like them double crisped and airy, you’ll find fries done right at Burgers & Frites in Lakeville, Conn.

Served with an intriguing assortment of sauces such as truffle aioli or crème fraîche and bacon, the hand-cut and twice-fried potatoes are just one of the draws at this unassuming new French-American spot.

Located in a wood-beamed building beneath a chestnut tree, B&F is not trying to reinvent the classic diner wheel, but is offering something refreshingly different around these parts in the form of a fast casual restaurant using local produce and churning out some incredible house-made ice cream and desserts. (I’m skipping ahead of myself, but the largely seasonal treats menu developed by Chef Tommy Juliano, Jr. is something to get excited about.)

But first, the burgers: juicy Pat LaFrieda sourced. You may opt to keep things simple or dress it up by adding frizzled shallots, blue cheese or Nodine’s bacon. The patty is just thick enough, and the snappy bibb lettuce and garden-fresh tomatoes show the little bit of extra consideration that elevates humble to homerun.

The same can be said for the B&F hot dog, served on a buttered potato roll with both traditional toppings like sauerkraut and/or the premium route such as caramelized Vidalia onions.

And yes, veg-heads, there is something on the menu for you as well, though it’s not an expected bean burger. Nope, here you’ll find a massive grilled cheese, thick with melted Cabot cheddar. One can also opt for the build-your-own salad, again with an array of delicious add-ins.

Diners order at the counter, cutting down the wait time and making the eatery more family-friendly. Hungry patrons are quickly satisfied. And just because B&F is “fast casual” doesn’t mean it doesn’t change its menu with the seasons like any fine restaurant.

“Although we have only been open a little over a month, we have already made a number of seasonal changes to our menu,” said owner Patrick Sinchak. “Our salad toppings, our tomatoes are local, our ice cream flavors…we opened making a sweet corn ice cream using corn from a local farm. We are currently working on a mint chocolate chip ice cream using mint from our garden and we are also working on a salted caramel and apple ice cream. We are also selling apple crisp [right] while it lasts.”

All of the desserts are made in the B&F kitchen, including that remarkable small-batch ice cream. Whether swirled into a milkshake or topped with salted caramel, the results are superb. The first time we stopped into the restaurant, I tried the sweet corn with Maine blueberries. I’ve truly never had anything like it — sweet summer corn spun into a cup. The French favorite crème brûlée is well executed and on a recent blustery autumn afternoon, I gratefully consumed a cinnamon-spiked apple crisp as I watched vibrantly hued leaves swirl about outside the solarium. This place is a go-to treat, no matter the season.

Burgers & Frites
227 Main St., Lakeville, CT
(860) 596-4112
Open every day 11 a.m. - 9 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/19/15 at 11:35 AM • Permalink

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Alana Chernila Launches Cookbook #2: ‘The Homemade Kitchen’

Alana Chernila at a recent cheesemaking class.

By Lisa Green

Regular readers of our recipes page might have noticed that our twice-a-month contributor, Alana Chernila, has been absent for a few weeks. Don’t worry — she’ll be back. She’s just really, really busy right now, and for the best of reasons: Her new cookbook, The Homemade Kitchen: Recipes for Cooking With Pleasure, has just been released and it’s a Big Deal, not just for our own community (which she, as a Great Barrington resident, is a cherished part of), but for her legion of fans who helped make her first cookbook, The Homemade Pantry, the beloved resource it is.

Both books evolved from Chernila’s blog, Eating From The Ground Up, which is as much a personal journal as it is a blog about food. Likewise, The Homemade Kitchen is itself organized in a manner that runs parallel to the way we live, not how to plan a party from appetizer course to dessert. Its sections — Start Where You Are, Feed Yourself, Use Your Scraps, Put Your Hands In The Earth — offer a more experiential approach to making meals, recognizing that cooking, food shopping and spending time in the kitchen allow us opportunities to slow down, observe nature, love our family and friends, and appreciate garlic throughout its stages of growth. Life.

“It came out of phrases that have helped me stay on track in the kitchen, and to make it possible for me to eat the way I want to live,” the Great Barrington native says. “Every time I sit down to a meal, or walk into the kitchen to create one, I have the opportunity to do something in my own way and help me live better.”

Chernila’s writing has a way of making readers feel better, too. Every chapter in the book, like each of her blog postings, is a glimpse into her thoughts and life, but it’s a reflection of our own, too. She tells us about cooking with her family, the people who have shared recipes with her and how to gather the courage to bring a meal to a grieving friend. She admits she is a slow chopper and a messy cook and that her garden grows as many weeds as vegetables. Even her recipes — uniformly compelling, accompanied by photos that make you want to run to the nearest farmers’ market this minute — unfold as if she’s right there beside you, guiding you along, and, like a good friend, encouraging you during those tense moments when you’re not quite sure something is right. In fact, one of her chapters is “Do Your Best, Then Let It Go.”

The Homemade Pantry. Copyright ©2015 by Alana Chernila. Photographs by Jennifer May. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

“Perfection,” she says, “doesn’t really have a place in home cooking.” But feeling good about what you’re doing in the kitchen does.

The book’s official launch happens on Sunday, Oct. 18 at Six Depot Café in West Stockbridge, Mass. Chernila promises “tons of food,” art projects, giveaways and a special gift for everyone who buys the book at the event. Then she’ll be taking off on an ambitious coast-to-coast book tour (she just participated in a panel of other big-name food writers at the prestigious 92nd St. Y).

After the tour, then what? She’ll come back to Rural Intelligence, of course. There will be a package of online cooking courses Chernila recently taped in Denver for Craftsy, a website that offers hundreds of online classes. And yes, she’s already working on a third cookbook set to come out in 2018, but that’s about as much as she’s ready to reveal right now.

The Homemade Pantry, Chernila says, “is a map for how, day in and day out, food shapes my life for the better, in the kitchen and beyond it.” Try a recipe and see if it doesn’t make your life better, too.

Book Launch Party, Sunday, Oct. 18 at 3:30 p.m.
Six Depot Café in West Stockbridge, Mass.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 10/12/15 at 09:20 AM • Permalink

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Arethusa Al Tavolo: From A Dairy To Dining Extraordinaire

Colorado lamb tartare tenderloin

By Jacque Lynn Schiller

By now, you’ve no doubt heard the backstory of Arethusa al Tavolo, or at least of the fashionable names behind the restaurant’s inception. If not, a quick primer: Partners in business and life, George Malkemus and Anthony Yurgaitis of Manolo Blahnik shoes fame bought a farm near their home in Litchfield, Conn. Over the course of the next decade, the dairy and vat-pasteurized milk business prospered, in 2012 expanding into a creamery and retail space housed in the Bantam firehouse, renovated by the duo, of course. Apparently the stylish team likes to keep busy, and a restaurant and wine bar opened the following year, located next to what once was the Village General Store.

What’s often left out of the tale, however, is the attention to detail and love of things done well that is evidenced in all endeavors under the Arethusa name. From the pristine barn stalls of the dairy farm to the crisp tablecloths and large format, playful pictures of the “ladies” of Arethusa (beautiful bovines) that welcome you in the dining room, a dedication to quality and appreciation of locale are always on display.

Quartet of Arethusa Farm deviled eggs

This proclivity towards excellence extends to the oft-changing, Progressive American menu. Chef Dan Magill is certainly reveling in the area’s bounty. Having fun with nearby food finds is often the lost ingredient when moving from farm to plate. Not here. Chef Magill inventively showcases both produce and protein, and brilliantly utilizes the incredible resource that is Arethusa’s dairy goods.

The farm is the exclusive purveyor of all things dairy at the restaurant. Their milk products pop up frequently and in the most delectable of ways, starting with a bite-sized cheese curd arancini as amuse bouche and an appetizer special of thin flatbread with truffled ricotta and farm cheese, foraged mushrooms and caramelized onions, a wonder of flavors. Other “Beginnings” of note are local squash blossoms in a delicate tempura crust and filled with romesco and farmer’s cheese. Served with ratatouille, basil aioli and tomato jam ($16), a salad is something we recommend you do not forego here. The local strawberries, watermelon and black mission figs with house-made ricotta, arugula and crisp prosciutto is delicious and remarkably light.

Villa Vizcaya

For those looking for a bit more heft, a long-running favorite is the quartet of Arethusa Farm deviled eggs. Chef Magill elevates a standard by incorporating surprising – and rich – complements such as foie gras, smoked potato-bacon and jumbo lump crab. If you’re a table of four, prepare to place more than one order or fight for a taste of each half. All of the first courses are actually quite substantial, with lobster and avocado salad or the amazing Arethusa Farm dairy cheese plate solid choices should you want a “small bite” while enjoying a drink at the bar.

And while we’re sidled up, we must make mention of Brian Khoo’s cocktail program. A considered list of classic cocktails concocted with a hat tip to summer, drinks such as The Huckleberry Sunrise, a punch made with 44° North Huckleberry Vodka, Sauza Blue Tequila, plus the juices of orange, grapefruit and lime sounds like an intriguing choice for those wishing to extend the season. So too the Pavan, Prosecco and passionfruit found in the bubbly Villa Vizcaya. Beer and cider selections are abbreviated but trustworthy (think Palm and Dog Fish Head) while the wine selection is a bit more robust. More than 30 wines are available at any given time, with a few tucked safely away in the temperature-controlled Cruvinet system.

Back to the food, and onto the Mains, with a stop in between for the breadbasket – housemade ciabatta with herbed butter sprinkled with sea salt. Someone in the kitchen knows a good thing when presented with it, and the gifts of Arethusa dairy just keep on giving. Now, onto the entrees. My only objection to an otherwise stellar dining experience is that sometimes there seems to be just too much happening with a dish. The desire to use every seasonal ingredient I’m sure is only heightened when you have such amazing purveyors and produce at hand, but dishes such as braised artichoke filled with matignon and foraged mushrooms ($17) suffers slightly from the addition of Tapping Reeve cheese, pickled lentils, sunchokes and tomato fondue. Any of these elements on their own is a standout, but eaten all together, some of the flavors get lost. Still, points for the pickled lentils.

More harmonious plates were presented in the hibiscus dusted Pekin – no g – duck breast with farro ($32) and the pan-seared diver scallops with broccoli, bacon, almonds, sultanas and verjus nage. The more straightforward the recipe, the more unusual ingredients are highlighted and we respect the chef for truly creating signature dishes.

That enthusiasm applies to the dining room itself, bustling with animated servers and tables full of diners talking excitedly between bites. Mind you, we visited on a weekend night so the energy was high. Brunch is a more relaxing affair, but I must admit to enjoying being in the midst of people enjoying themselves, so I don’t mind a bit of din. It lends a celebratory atmosphere to an evening.

As does dessert, and Pastry Chef James Arena keeps you in a party mood with decadent treats like peaches ‘n’ cream tres leche and a chocolate tasting of a mocha hazelnut brownie “ice cream bar,” malted milk chocolate Luxardo cherry trifle and a warm chocolate beignet with Valhona chocolate sauce. I would have been happy with just the latter. The trio made me ecstatic. All desserts are priced at $12 and if you can actually keep your temptation in check, for good measure you still may want to take home a pint of ice cream made on premises next door.

And lest you think that Mr. Malkemus and Mr. Yurgaitis have completed their renaissance of this little strip of Bantam, plans are underway to open a breakfast and lunch spot across the street from the restaurant and creamery.

Arethusa al Tavolo
828 Bantam Road, Bantam, CT
(860) 567-0043
Saturday and Sunday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Wednesday and Thursday 5:30-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 5:30-10 p.m.
Sunday 5-8:30 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 09/07/15 at 09:50 PM • Permalink

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Gaskins Makes Germantown A Destination To Dine

Photo by Michael Kennedy

By Jamie Larson

It’s rare to see the successful intersection of modern, relevant fine dining and a family-friendly, neighborhood restaurant. But at the crossroads in the center of Germantown, New York, Gaskins is proof it can be done with a refreshingly casual sophistication.

Gaskins is gorgeous. The fresh coat of deep blue paint on the outside both stands out and fits in along the streetscape. Inside the old former grocery store (built in 1890), the total renovation is light and airy with white walls, black booths, marble tabletops and plants in the windows. There’s also an elegant bar divided off from the dining room, a huge barn-wood group table with plenty of space in the back and a sizable deck out front, enhanced by the quaint architecture of the town and the farmers’ fields beyond. There’s enough space and atmospheric latitude at Gaskins for a romantic two-top or a table lined with highchairs.

Photo by Michael Kennedy

The food is, of course, locally sourced and lets the quality of great ingredients shine through, but there is also a refinement of flavor and composition to every dish, tipping Gaskins’ hand that it’s playing with a stacked kitchen.

You can start with creamy burrata, punched up with garlic scape pesto ($14) or marinated peak-season heirloom tomatoes paired with peaches basil and chorizo ($12). All the small plates and mains rotate based on seasonality and whim, but a sampling of a recent menu gives you a sense that no matter when you come there will be something that will beckon, like the house-made fettuccine with a rabbit ragu, saffron and olives ($18) or the really classic wood-roasted mussels and clams with potatoes and corn ($21). To accompany, there’s a knowledgeably curated wine list, a bevy of good beer and even a selection of after-dinner drinks.

The Daisy Verde

While we’re on the topic of drink, it should be noted that the signature cocktails, inspired by classics but updated with seasonal ingredients and high-end mixers, are, in all seriousness, some of the best to be had anywhere in the region. Right now the bar is taking advantage of a small herb farm owned by one of its servers. The Other Mariann ($10) mixes herb-infused vodka with lovage, lime and sparkling wine; the Daisy Verde ($10) is a Hudson Valley-fied margarita with tequila, citrus, cucumber and basil. Always topping the menu is The Germantowner ($11), a fusion of bourbon, sweet vermouth and Field Apothecary bitters.

As any local joint should, they have some staples as well, including a stellar burger and fries ($14) and baked mac and cheese ($7) that’s only going to grow in popularity when the weather turns cold. And save room at the end for a cheese plate ($12), lemon polenta cake ($8), stone fruit crisp ($9) or just some great chocolate ice cream ($6).

A decade of New York City kitchen and front-of-house experience has served Gaskins owners Nick and Sarah Suarez well. Between them they’ve worked at Diner, Marlow & Sons, Romans, Franny’s, Gramercy Tavern and The Modern. They also operated a catering company for the last two years, Backyard Cooking Company, before setting up shop and moving into the upstairs of the big building in the middle of town.

The food and drinks menus are a reflection not only of the couple’s technical skill, but also take their inspiration from their life together.

Photo by Michael Kennedy

The fish tacos ($14), for example, are light and balanced with just the right amount of heat and are inspired by fish tacos the Suarez’s would get when, after a long weekend working, they’d go down to Rockaway Beach. Their personal stories are in the food, like an ingredient you can’t quite place.

Gaskins is simply a beautiful and delicious dining experience. Business is already booming, and for good reason; they’re doing all the little and big things right.

2 Church Ave., Germantown, NY
(518) 537-2107

Open for dinner Thurs.-Mon., 5-10 p.m.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 09/03/15 at 08:22 AM • Permalink

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Oh Crêpe! Is A Sweet And Savory Addition To Main Street

By Katherine Abbott

There’s a tendency to look askance when a new restaurant opens in a location that’s had a series of eateries come and go. Add in the factor of a town that’s valiantly striving to revitalize itself, and the doubt meter rises. But Oh Crêpe!, the newest incarnation in North Adams, Mass., may have found the ingredients to create a long-lasting fixture within one of the town’s anchors, the Berkshire Emporium, a two-floor, rambling antiques store in the middle of Main Street.

And what’s not to like being surrounded by this wild and whimsical treasure trove? A wooden counter runs the length of the compact space. Books line the yellow walls so that, sitting at a table, I am eye-level with Jessamyn West’s “Leafy Rivers” and Mark Hadden’s “A Pot of Bother.” On one end of the counter an old metal milk can has been turned into a water cooler, and on the other, filling me with admiring glee, there are three flavors of Assembly Coffee roasted locally in the central Berkshires. They also have a gluten-free cooking space. 

Oh Crêpe! has a playful inventiveness to it. It’s a sunny space with colors that could have come from the crêpe of the month listed on the wall — lemon curd and whipped cream, garnished with raspberries and mint.

The crêpe in front of me is sunny, too: Mountain Girl Farm eggs, Cricket Creek Farm cheese, fresh spinach and bacon. This is the kind of place that relies on fresh ingredients and presents them simply. The eggs are rich and buttery, the cheese sharp, the spinach plentiful, the bacon lean and the crêpe itself soft, light, faintly sweet and faintly tangy. Together they are splendid comfort food. Prices for the crêpes range from $5-$10.

Finding new local ingredients has become a summer quest, co-owner Benjamin Lamb told me later. Well after I sampled his fare we met near his office in the Paresky Center at Williams College, where he is assistant director for Student Organizations and Involvement at Williams College. He and his wife, Emily Schiavoni, director of Residence Life at Southern Vermont College, live in North Adams and opened Oh Crêpe! together at the end of April.

Lamb and Schiavoni have wandered farmers markets and talked with friends looking for local sources — Skyr and butter from Gammelgården Creamery, muffins from Cakes by Reba, native blueberries.

“One of our main objectives is to leave as many dollars as possible in the local radius,” he said. And, he continued, to foster community between high school and college students, and the people in town. It helps that the two shops have developed a symbiotic relationship: people coming into one will often end up in the other. Oh Crêpe! has already grown a regular crowd coming in for their morning coffee.

“We’re on Main Street,” Lamb said. “We’re a place where people will stop in. The staff have to be cheerleaders for the city.”

Later, I tried the lemonberry crêpe of the month that won the last contest. The tang of lemon, blandness of cream, tart-sweet berries and sharp mint blend together into something rich and suave and unexpected. I’ll go back for more.

Oh Crêpe!
57 Main Street, North Adams, MA
(413) 664-6702
Mon. - Fri., 7:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.; Sat., 9 a.m. - 4 p.m.; Sun., 8:30 a.m. - 4 p.m.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/26/15 at 10:03 AM • Permalink

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The Taste Of Southern India At Home: Maya Kaimal Sauces And Snacks

Photo by Michael Kraus.

By Amy Krzanik

Indian food: a cuisine so delicious when served in a restaurant, yet so difficult to duplicate at home. No matter how many spices and sauces you buy or recipes you attempt to follow, your chicken tikka masala or saag paneer just never has that authentic taste. But that changes once you know about Rhinebeck resident Maya Kaimal and her brand of eponymous sauces and snacks which are here to help you recreate those flavorful Indian meals in your own kitchen.

Kaimal grew up in Boston with an American mother and a physicist father whose experiments carried on into the home with his take on the Indian dishes of his youth. As a child, Kaimal experienced the smells and tastes of homemade curries and kormas on frequent visits to her father’s relatives in southern India.

Kaimal poses in front of her billboard.

An art major at Pomona College, Kaimal worked in magazine publishing as a photo editor in New York City for 15 years, and during that time published two cookbooks inspired by her trips to India. Curried Favors: Family Recipes from South India, which won the Julia Child Award for best first book, came out in 1996 and Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala in 2000. Kaimal felt an urge to publish these recipes because most Indian restaurants tend to be North Indian.

“My family’s recipes have a South Indian bent,” she says, “and there’s a lack of understanding of that cuisine.” But it wasn’t until September 11, 2001, when Kaimal and many others around the country were laid off from their jobs, that she moved upstate (first to Woodstock and then to Rhinebeck, NY in 2006) and decided to change careers.

Toward the end of 2003, she and her husband, bestselling author and Rolling Stone contributor Guy Lawson, officially launched the Maya Kaimal product line. “I took what I learned from the books, and made the food more accessible to people,” she says. “It can be difficult to cook this food from scratch.”

Photo by Michael Kraus.

What really distinguishes the Maya Kaimal line from other Indian foods is their refrigerated sauces. The recipes have a fair amount of acidity as part of the flavor balance – mango, lemon, vinegar and similar ingredients — which helps give them a good shelf life. This allows the company to keep the sauces natural, without preservatives, and without having to adjust the recipes much.

What began with three flavors of refrigerated sauces that Kaimal shopped around herself from store to store in NYC, has grown to six refrigerated sauces including curries, masala, korma, vindaloo and saag; six shelf-stable sauces including spicy ketchup, and two varieties of snack chips.

The brand’s chickpea chips launched last year and one of the flavors, Sweet Chili, won gold in the “Outstanding Savory Snack” competition this past June at the Fancy Food Show. The annual event is held by the Specialty Food Association, which also chose the Kaimal brand as one of only four makers to advertise on subway posters and a billboard by the Lincoln Tunnel.

Photo by Jessica Bard.

“It’s nice to get this recognition,” Kaimal says. “We’ve managed to be successful while also staying true to our values — making high-quality food without taking shortcuts or trying to cut costs with lesser ingredients.”
And people are noticing. The products have earned nods in publications that cover cuisine (Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Saveur) as well as lifestyle magazines GQ, Men’s Journal, InStyle, Newsweek and others. A brand-new line of naan chips (in three flavors: sea salt, rosemary, and almost everything) has launched to a great reception and, no doubt, will be on the shortlist at next year’s Fancy Food Show.

You can find Maya Kaimal simmer sauces and snacks at Guido’s Fresh Marketplace, Olde Hudson, Sunflower Natural Foods in Rhinebeck, Otto’s Market in Germantown, Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, and selected national supermarkets. Or go online, where you can shop and also find Kaimal’s own recipes for traditional dishes, as well as inspiring ways to add Indian flavors to wraps, burgers, grilled vegetables, fish, meatloaf and even sweet potato chips.

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Posted by Amy Krzanik on 08/17/15 at 04:47 PM • Permalink

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Kiln to Table: Local Ceramics in the Dining Room

Davis Ceramics dinner party

A dinner party with dishes by Mary Anne Davis

By Jamie Larson

Being able to locally source just about any conceivable ingredient is a gift from our region to the restaurant chefs who cook here and we spoiled diners who eat here. But a number of area restaurants are not only locally sourcing the food on the plates, but the plates themselves. This emerging culinary trend is not just a convenient way to further enhance the beauty of a dish. It is also a way to more holistically support our local, sustainable economies and showcase the stunning work of highly skilled regional ceramicists who deserve our attention.

Fish and Game plating

Pasta and plate at Fish and Game

“You want to know who’s growing your food and who’s making your plate,” says Zak Pelaccio, chef-owner of the hyper-local restaurant Fish and Game in Hudson, New York. “(Fish and Game) has a very personal feel. It becomes this family thing.”

All the dinnerware at Fish and Game comes from artisans Pelaccio personally knows, all within a three-hour drive from the restaurant, including Tivoli Tile Works. A marriage of clean elegance and natural shape and edging, Caroline Wallner’s vessels become a piece of the restaurant experience. “The two inform each other,” Pelaccio says of dish and food.

Davis Ceramics setting the table

Setting the table with Davis dishware.

Mary Anne Davis sells her beautiful wares from Los Angeles to Manhattan but she says there’s something fitting about seeing work made at her studio in Spencertown, New York used as intended by her neighbors. You’ve probably held one of Davis’ pieces without knowing it, like when you reached into the beautiful little bowls at The Flammerie in Kinderhook for some of their red beet died salt. She also just finished making her annual 50 mugs for the FilmColumbia Festival. As an ardent supporter of active local-centric economies, Davis sees restaurants supporting craftspeople as well as farms as the future of sustainability.

“It’s the next level, for the consumer to support local artisans as well as local farms,” says Davis, who will be participating at NY Now at the Javits Center this weekend (August 15-16). “I’ve tried to establish a way of making that’s responsible and friendly.”

Other local restaurants that are using more unconventional, regional ceramics as well as other kinds of locally made goods, from furnishings to fabrics, include Community Table in Washington, Connecticut, Crimson Sparrow in Hudson and The Corner at Hotel Tivoli in Tivoli, New York.

tivoli hotel dish

Plate or painting? Dinner at The Corner.

Throughout both restaurant and rooms, Hotel Tivoli uses an extensive and gorgeous trove of ceramics from the Tivoli Tile Works. While Wallner just recently moved her studio across the river to Bearsville, New York, the business still has strong ties to the area and the aesthetic remains as always, quintessentially rural Hudson Valley. Hotel Tivoli’s well-known artist-owners, Brice and Helen Marden, were collecting pieces from the Tile Works well before they opened the hotel, and infusing the eclectic hotel with the handmade ceramics adds much to the character of the restaurant and establishment at large.

“The Tivoli Hotel is a very personal experience in a lot of aspects,” says Hotel Assistant General Manager Janett Pabon. “(We) like things that are hand made. There’s a certain sensibility to the way (Wallner’s pieces) feel; no two dishes are the same. They don’t stack perfectly; you have to sort of cradle them. It adds to the uniqueness of every visit.”

One thing this new trend is not is an indictment of the white plate. There’s a time and a place in all art forms for a blank canvas, and local artisans make those, too. The increased use of natural forms in plating also doesn’t mean the kiln-to-table relationship doesn’t take place in more classic fine dining restaurants. The ornate gold and platinum rimmed plates at The Old Inn on The Green in New Marlborough, Massachusetts are made just down the road in Great Barrington, in the world-renowned studio of Michael Wainwright.

A mesmerizing dish by Michael Wainwright.

No matter how elaborate Wainwright’s art may be, it isn’t meant for a wall, it’s meant to be touched with knife and fork.

“I’m making functional wares. I want my pieces to be the frame for the artwork. I want to assist,” Wainwright says humbly. “It’s wonderful to have the Old Inn serve on my dishes; so many people come into my store because they ate there.”

Perhaps the best thing about local restaurants supporting local artisans (of all stripes) is that it just feels better and a bit prettier. It makes for a more uniquely regional experience. Plates made here feel like here. This approach, being adopted by more and more restaurants, gives a diner an even fuller sense that, just by eating out, they are a present part of a cultural and economic ecosystem that is sustainable and profoundly beautiful.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 08/10/15 at 01:59 PM • Permalink