Going Green

A new Dutchess County eatery blazes a trail as our region’s first truly green restaurant.



Going Green

 

Red Devon Market-Café-Restaurant

 

Sustained Effort

 

The Dutchess County eatery Red Devon takes the concept of going green to a whole new level 

 

By Jan Greenberg

 

 

Julia and Nigel Widdowson with their grass-fed Red Devon cows. “We started with nine in 2002, now we have 20,” says Julia. “They’re very docile, sweet animals”

Photo by Jennifer May

 

Many area restaurants have jumped on the eat-local bandwagon in the past several years. But that’s just the beginning for the Red Devon, a new market-café-restaurant located in the tiny Dutchess County hamlet of Bangall. While completely committed to serving up fresh, local, organic food (including grass-fed beef), the owners of the Red Devon also constructed the building according to “green standards,” incorporating the most cutting-edge, environmentally friendly methods and equipment.

 

Welcome to what may be the Hudson Valley’s first truly green restaurant.

Built by Julia and Nigel Widdowson, who raise Devon cattle (an old English red-hued breed) on nearby Temple Farm (hence the restaurant’s name), the eatery is the embodiment of the couple’s commitment to political, environmental, and agricultural change. “This whole enterprise is mission-driven,” says Julia. “I am passionate about supporting local farming and environmental issues.”

 

In 2005, the duo purchased the old Stage Stop Restaurant — a local landmark once owned by James Cagney. They chose to work with Damon Strub — the founder of Queens-based NOMAD Architecture, a firm specializing in green and sustainable design — on its renovation. “We’re basically recycling an existing building. But it turned out that the building was in real disrepair,” says Strub. “It took a while to figure out what was usable and what had to be corrected, but we ended up salvaging and saving a lot of existing materials.”

 

Strub incorporated a wide variety of green building practices into the project. “Some of the things we had never heard of,” says Julia. “What’s interesting is the way everything works together. Some things are highly technical, and some are regular old design things that anyone can do, like reusing timber. We use recycled windshield for bathroom stalls, and recycled tires for carpeting in the front lobby. I have to say that the tires are ugly as sin, but no one is going to notice it.”

 

Many of the Red Devon’s green features are not readily noticeable. A 20-ton-capacity ground source heat pump provides heat and air conditioning. The rooftop solar hot-water system uses evacuated tube cylinders that are designed to work efficiently in the Valley’s cold climate. In the summer, it provides 100 percent of the restaurant’s water and roughly 49 percent of the projected yearly hot water load. The compressors for the refrigeration units are located in the cellar, minimizing heat and noise as well as energy. The single largest energy saver, though, is the variable volume kitchen exhaust hood. Unlike conventional hoods which run at full speed all day long, heat- and smoke-detecting lasers automatically adjust this hood’s speed according to need. The result: a projected 39 percent reduction in energy use.

 

More visible is the reclaimed yellow hard pine, which was used to renovate the original bar (once a regular hangout for Cagney, who lived up the street). “That is just basic recycling,” says Julia. “But it looks great.” The cabinets and back wall of the market area are made from wheatcore; most of the lighting comes from fluorescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, which consume about 20 percent of the electricity of conventional incandescent bulbs. This summer, tall meadow grasses will be planted on the roof of the main dining room, which will help keep it cool.

 

In addition, “We’re composting everything,” says Julia. “It’s a critical part of the whole mission.” To that end, the cups are made of corn and the spoons are crafted from potato starch. “They’re matte, not shiny like plastic,” says Julia. “They are a little bit bendy, but you can certainly dig into a bowl of hard ice cream and they’re not going to snap. We keep a 12-page document in our magazine rack which describes all the green features, because I’m incapable of describing them all.”
For Manager Kelley Jefferson, a Culinary Institute graduate, the day-to-day operation is challenging. “Being green impacts us immensely,” she says. “We won’t use bottled water unless we find one that is local and in glass. We use only compostable, recyclable containers, which are dramatically more expensive than conventional plastic. We separate the trash and compost on-site. Everything takes a lot more time and patience, but the benefits to the environment make it worthwhile, and exciting.”

 

The folks in the kitchen have also faced their fair share of challenges. Midway through the construction, James Jennings came on as chef. At the time, Jennings (whose former Red Hook restaurant, Bois d’Arc, is still fondly remembered by many area residents) was teaching at the Culinary Institute. “We were looking for a chef,” says Julia, “and I was telling a friend that I remembered this great little restaurant we used to go to where the chef always made sure you knew what farm your food was coming from. A few days later, my friend called me and said, ‘I’ve got him!’ Jim and I met, and it turns out that we are both from Texas. He is an avid conservationist and land protectionist. We were on the same wavelength.”

 

“This is a whole new ball game,” says Jennings. “It’s been a huge learning curve. When I had my own restaurant, I knew how to do almost everything and could take care of most problems. These are very different systems, and there has been a lot to understand.”

 

What is not new to Jennings, though, is the premise upon which the restaurant is based — promoting and using local producers and farmers. “We can’t do the impossible, though,” he points out. “For instance, there’s no way I can run a kitchen without a lemon.”

 

But together, Jennings and Julia continue to “source” for the restaurant and café as well as for the market. Among the items are local cheeses from Sprout Creek Farm and Coach Farm in Dutchess County; pickles from Rhinebeck’s Spacey Tracy; honey and syrup from Remsburger Maple Farm in Pleasant Valley; and vinegars from Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in Millbrook.

 

“When we started, we relied on farmer friends to guide us, but now people are calling us,” says Julia. “Obviously there are things we can’t find locally, for instance Jim’s lemons and olive oil. But we did find a farmer down the road who grows organic olives in Portugal, so we use her oil. When we can’t satisfy the triumvirate of local/seasonal/sustainable, we aim for two of the three. When we can’t supply two, we settle for organically grown. But it has been astonishing what we can find locally.”

 

As with any operation these days that works to be regional, livestock is a big hurdle. Most of the beef is from the grass-fed herd at Temple Farm. Additional beef comes from nearby Herondale Organic Farm, which also supplies poultry. Pork is from Flying Pigs Farm in upstate Washington County.

 

Jennings’s menus are, in his own words, “extremely seasonal,” but so far include dishes such as frisée with bacon lardoons and soft poached egg; roast pork with warm apricot and walnut conserve; and roast Red Devon grass-fed beef with caramelized red onion, endive, and oven-dried tomatoes. “Jim’s breakfasts are masterful,” says Julia. “People can’t believe the beauty of his omelettes, his eggs. He smokes his own bacon, he smokes his own trout, and makes something called trout bacon. People have been raving about it.”

 

The market-café has been open for a few months. A big draw are the breads and baked goods made by CIA-trained Madolyn Noll, former pastry chef at Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck. “We started with three tables. We thought people would come in, pick up their food and go home. But nobody went home,” says Julia. “So now we have nine tables, and we’ll be putting more on the porch soon.” The restaurant and bar, which will open “as soon as possible,” will add another 98 seats to the operation.

 

The Red Devon remains a work in progress. But according to Strub, “Initial energy modeling (a mathematical model of the building containing input about climate, building size, equipment, etc.) shows that the Red Devon will reduce consumption to an estimated 57 percent below the requirements of the Energy Conservation Construction Code of New York, the state-mandated building code.”

 

Building green is clearly more expensive up front, according to Nigel Widdowson, who estimates costs were about 25 percent more than conventional construction. “That cost will be recaptured over the next 10 years,” he says, “by the reduced cost of utilities and our energy-saving systems and appliances. But it’s worth the up-front expense. It helps the environment, and it’s the right thing to do.” 

 

A riverside reclamation

 

“It’s not easy being green” doesn’t just refer to Kermit the Frog’s lament. After four years and five million dollars in renovations, the Hudson River’s only waterfront hotel-restaurant, the Rhinecliff, is finally serving its all-day brasserie menu. The eatery is under the supervision of Executive Chef Rei Peraza, who comes to the Rhinecliff via the Microsoft Conference Center — and is well-versed in running a green, environmentally responsible kitchen. Although the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the kitchen works hard to maintain a contemporary green status. The appliances are high efficiency and Energy Star rated; all cleaning products and paper goods are green and biodegradable. Waste is composted, and used frying oil is collected for reuse by a biofuels company. And the water of choice is tap, not bottled.

 

Owner James Chapman chose local architect David Borenstein to work on the building’s renovation. “We wanted to keep the work as local as possible, and a local architect was the first choice. It was a very complicated project,” says Chapman. “But at the end of the day, from extensive recycling and reusing original materials, buying stone and wood locally, and using environmentally friendly materials such as soybean-based foam insulation, we can fairly say we are operating on green principles.”

 

Produce is local; milk is provided by the happy cows of Hudson Valley Fresh. The bar menu features local “Potted Pig,” grass-fed beef burgers, and grilled bone marrow (a snack that’s growing in popularity). For dinner, there’s local asparagus, green garlic soup, and a saddle of locally raised spring lamb. And as for the view — what could be greener than sitting atop a bluff that overlooks the Hudson?

 

Founded in 1990, the Massachusetts-based Green Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit organization that guides restaurants towards environmentally friendly practices. Currently, more than 123 establishments are certified (although none of them are located in the Valley). In order to be certified, eateries must recycle waste and be Styrofoam-free; they must also complete four environmental steps, and commit to completing at least one further step after joining the group. The Red Devon goes well beyond these minimal standards for certification, and Julia Widdowson says that they may work with the association in the future.

 

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