Hot New Chefs

Things are reaching the boiling point on the restaurant scene. Meet five local chefs who are bringing new energy and expertise (not to mention amazing eats) to the Valley.



Hot New Chefs

 

The Hudson Valley restaurant scene is hot, hot, hot; meet the chefs who are making it happen

 

By Jan Greenberg

Photographs by Michael Polito

 

 

Chefs are all crazy. You have to be, to be in a profession where you’re standing on your feet for 13 hours a day and running around like a lunatic,” says Eric Gabrynowicz, head chef at the Tavern at the Highlands Country Club. Well, they may or may not be crazy — but they sure are interesting. That’s what we discovered when we brought together five hot new chefs for a fun and food-filled photo shoot. Some of them are piloting their own new restaurants; others are stepping in to take over legendary establishments; one of them has been in the region for a while, but has remained (too much) under the radar. Two things they all have in common: stellar culinary backgrounds and the desire to take the already exploding Valley dining scene to the next level. Meet the folks behind the food — in their own words.

 

Eric Gabrynowicz

Tavern at the Highlands Country Club, Garrison

 

In January, Eric Gabrynowicz bid farewell to his job as the sous-chef at Manhattan’s über-trendy Union Square Café and headed north to take over the kitchen at the Tavern at Highlands Country Club, a rustic retreat in the hills of Garrison. It’s a good match for this local boy’s obsessive farm-to-table philosophy: the Garrison’s own two-acre farm supplies an abundance of fresh, seasonal produce. His well-honed skills are already helping him produce a variety of inventive dishes. For our shoot, he showed up with a frittata — a bright blue frittata. “Those are Adirondack blue potatoes. I love them,” explained Gabrynowicz. “I serve that once in a while. People really like it.” We have to agree.

 

 

age 26 

hometown Montgomery, Orange County 

kitchen mentor My grandfather was a professional waiter. He came to the U.S. to work at the 1939 World’s Fair and waited tables at three restaurants on 49th Street for over 40 years. 

fond food memories Every Sunday my grandfather cooked an extravagant traditional Italian dinner. To this day I think he is the best chef whose food I have ever eaten. 

lessons learned When I was 12, I got a job stocking coolers at a local deli, but I was a punk and got fired. My father was friends with the owner of Copperfields [Café] and told me that I was going to work washing dishes for four hours. I kicked and screamed and he told me that since I was showing no respect, he was going to take my money. I did the job and within six months, I was cooking on the line. 

make or break At Union Square, they say, go to the market and make a dish. It’s 100 percent nerve-wracking. First dish I got on the menu was a simple grilled fish with black olive mashed potatoes and sucrine lettuce. 

most excited to cook for Keith Hernandez and Alice Waters. I was nervous; Alice is a lovely person, but I was cooking for the godmother of everything I wanted to be. 

came to the Tavern To be closer to my family, and my new wife and I want an easier lifestyle — and dogs.  the issue I want a bulldog, and she wants a Golden. 

current obsession Dried cranberries. 

change of heart I cursed the last sous-chef because she stuck me with six cases of dried cranberries. Well, now I’m using dried cranberries in everything I’m serving. We have wings on the menu now and the sauce is made of dried cranberries, chipolte, red onion, and chicken stock. Nobody knows what’s in it, but they’re loving it. 

indispensable dish Chorizo tacos from Azteca Pride Taco Truck in Queens. 

about the job Here I get to walk out and talk to the person who ordered the dish that I love and that I made special. 

on being the big boss It’s nothing I can’t handle. 

where he’ll buy a house we’re not sure, but Ossining is the front runner right now. 

short list for must-visit Valley restaurants Backyard Bistro [in Montgomery] and Riverview [in Cold Spring]. I hear it’s one of the most consistent and awesome dining experiences.

 

Ross Fraser

The Phoenix Restaurant, Mt. Tremper

 

The Emerson Resort and Spa in Mt. Tremper reopened in 2007 to much pomp and circumstance, two years after its original structure was destroyed by fire. The luxurious new Mobil Four-Star spa needed an upscale restaurant to match and that’s why Ross Fraser — once chef at the original Emerson — was lured back to helm the new Phoenix Restaurant. Lucky for us. The Scottish-born culinary superstar has already cooked for British royalty and earned rave reviews at a Delaware eatery and lounge. Now the 120-seat, Asian-inspired dining room at the Phoenix serves up what Fraser calls a “delicately balanced menu combining modern American dishes with Asian fusion and spa cuisine.”

 

 

age 37 

hometown Glasgow, Scotland 

early influence My mother. She was known for two very special dishes: Scottish Mince Round and a unique apple crumble. She also had me prepping vegetables and cutting meats for her. 

comfort food Every Sunday we had a roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, glazed baby carrots, and gravy. 

the accidental chef I was training to be a naval officer, but after suffering a spinal injury, I couldn’t go to sea. I got a job as a server; one night one of the cooks called in sick and I went into the kitchen. 

royal run I worked for the Duke and Duchess of Roxburgh at Floors Castle [in Scotland] which, until recently, was a game shooting preserve. Princes Andrew and Charles hunted there, and I actually once served the Queen. 

working for the royals? Take your average pain in the ass and multiply by five. 

serving celebs Ray Charles once came to the Emerson, and for three days straight he ate fried chicken, corn, mashed potatoes, and gravy. 

always in his larder Pasta, malt vinegar, and good quality cheese. 

living by the beach in Delaware I loved it. The downside is it’s a ghost town come fall.  hard sell menu items The spa dishes. People spend all day in the spa and then come in here for chocolate cake. 

going green We save all our discarded cooking oil and once a month a guy from Woodstock picks it up and uses it to fuel his car. 

ugly Americans Americans are way more demanding. The British look at the menu and just order what’s on it. Here, everyone wants something on the side, a substitution, a particular preparation. But it makes the work a bit more interesting.  home cooking Basically we do takeaway. I hardly ever cook at home. 

best part of the job Finishing a day’s work and knowing that the guests are happy.  current obsession English peas. I love them. They have a season of six weeks. I’m very seasonal, so any day white figs should be available. 

In 10 years? Probably not working the line anymore, but doing food styling and photography. I’m already enrolled in the New York Institute of Photography on-line and I’m sitting on $3,000 worth of equipment. 

his 40th birthday celebration? I want to take a day off.

 

David Martinez

Union Restaurant and Bar Latino, Haverstraw

 

This hacienda-style eatery, which opened last September, may be just what Haverstraw needs to push its renaissance into full swing. “We’re starting to get regulars,” says Chef David Martinez, who honed his craft by working with master chef Peter Kelly at Freelance Café for more than 10 years and now serves up American Continental food with a Latin twist. A word of advice: Don’t miss the ceviche.

 

 

age 44 

hometown El Salvador 

first food memories I lost my mother when I was very young, but to this day I remember her tamales. 

growing up I never expected to become a chef. I was a car mechanic before I left El Salvador 20 years ago. 

big break When I came to this country, I got a job washing dishes at Xaviar’s [Kelly’s acclaimed restaurant in Piermont]. Peter had seen my curiosity and when he opened Freelance, he put me at the cold station, then he moved me to the hot line. Peter trained me very well. 

moving on I was always ambitious and Peter knew that I wanted to open my own restaurant someday. I told him a year in advance and he supported me. He said to me, “David, whatever you need, just let me know.” 

Peter’s favorite dish He had tortilla soup and loved it. 

favorite meal A steak, medium rare; either pinto bean ravioli with chorizo or pupusa (a tortilla filled with mozzarella, black beans, and bacon); and coconut cake, coconut sorbet, coconut ice cream — anything with coconut. 

in the kitchen I cook with my wife Maria. Even when we’re not here, we often try to create new dishes at home. 

in his free time I spend almost all of my time at the restaurant, but on Mondays I try to take my wife out for a good meal or a movie. 

the much talked about ceviche Just shrimp, calamari, mussels, and crab meat tossed with some diced fresh tomatoes, red and white onion, cilantro, and lime juice, and then a little roasted red pepper, jalapeño, and a taste of orange juice. It’s very fresh but a little smoky, sour, and sweet at the same time. 

other twists I use Manchego cheese instead of Gruyère with the French onion soup.  feeling good I got the American dream. My family is here, they’re happy.

 

Ana Sporer

Ruby’s Hotel, Freehold

 

Ruby’s Hotel in the tiny Greene County town of Freehold has been open since the summer of 2002, and the buzz is picking up. Each weekend, diners flock to sample chef Ana Sporer’s farm fresh French-eclectic fare, browse in the second floor art gallery, and listen to a regular Saturday night schedule of local and visiting musicians.

 

 

age 50 

hometown Detroit 

inspired to cook Because nobody in my family cooked. 

education First I went to school for accounting because I knew I wanted to run a restaurant and then to culinary school at Johnson & Wales. I’m back at school now studying management. 

hardest job When I came to New York, I worked mornings and afternoons at the Waldorf-Astoria and evenings at the Russian Tea Room. 

mentor I worked at the Pierre Hotel with chef Joel Sommerstein who had worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten. It was like learning from Jean-Georges himself. There were no short cuts and no compromise on quality. 

Ruby the name? When I was at school, I lived with three guys who gave everyone alter ego names. They called me Ruby. To this day, I don’t know why. 

Ruby the space? I just fell in love with this building. It used to be the Meyers Hotel and everything was art deco. We found almost all the original lamps, bathroom tiles, tables, chairs, and a soda fountain in the attic. This was a place that was just dying to be opened.  full plate I teach everything from soup to nuts at the Institute of Culinary Education four days a week. I go to the city Sunday night and come back Thursday morning to get the restaurant ready for the weekend.  I tell my students you’ve got to be passionate about this field. It’s pretty thankless, and the pay sure isn’t great. 

ideal meal Some amazing arugula from our garden, some kind of seafood, and some fennel. I am really into vegetables. 

food philosophy American with a French twist. I want my food to be fresh, simple, and tasty. 

how does her garden grow We make everything from scratch here and in the summer, practically all our produce comes from our giant garden. I can’t wait, this year we have six different types of tomatoes, all heirloom varieties. 

small pleasure I am so thankful when anybody cooks for me. 

the future I’d like to open four days a week and finish fixing up the rooms upstairs so we can become a European-style pension.

 

Brian Molino

Marché at 74 State, Albany

 

Marché, the chichi eatery at the boutique hotel 74 State, had been open only five days in January 2007 when Brian Molino had the surprise of his life. Without warning, the head chef was forced out during a disagreement with management, and Molino, then the assistant chef, stepped into the top spot. He was just 25 years old. “I didn’t expect it,” he remembers, “but I was excited.” And well-trained. Molino had been the sous-chef at Manhattan’s Craft, the trendy eatery that was the brainchild of Tom Colicchio (now best known as the head judge on the TV hit Top Chef). The Albany Times Union has already praised Molino’s kitchen as “practically perfect in every way,” but the soft-spoken young chef takes it all in stride. “You’re never ready, you just dive in head first. It’s all good.”

 

 

age 27 

hometown Hatfield, Pennsylvania 

culinary inspiration My dad, a pharmaceutical chemist, did a lot of the cooking at home; as a young kid I always wanted to be in the kitchen with him. 

memorable childhood meal My father’s lasagna. He made fresh noodles for the pasta and a terrific Bolognese sauce. It always made me happy when I smelled it in the oven. 

the beginning My family moved to Albany my senior year of high school and I got an internship working in the kitchen alongside Chef Sean McElroy at the Normanside Country Club [in Delmar]. He encouraged me to go the Culinary Institute and I got an associate’s degree and stayed on to get my bachelor’s in 2003. 

best thing about the job I love when it is so busy you don’t have time to think and survival instincts kick in. Sink or swim. 

culinary philosophy I use as many local, fresh ingredients as possible and try to keep the food simple but still elegant. I like to layer, flavoring with some things that are slow cooked and some that are fresh. 

most popular menu item Roasted and braised duck with walnut crêpes and wild mushroom sauce. 

hardest sell Unfamiliar and exotic seafood like hamachi or kampachi.  learning to juggle My brother and I used to practice and play around when we were little. 

juggling in the kitchen? Nah. I usually just throw things at the wall. 

on Tom Colicchio He’s very approachable, but he’s definitely a perfectionist. 

Colicchio taught him To use local and seasonal as much as possible. I learned a lot, not only recipes but how to be more creative and think outside of the box. 

Colicchio’s Top Chef gig I get a kick out of it.  going on top chef I don’t think so. I’m not really good at public speaking and I’d be so nervous. 

celebrated clients Gov. David Paterson comes in here for lunch. 

always in his pantry Salt, butter, fresh herbs. 

in his free time Hanging out with my beautiful wife, sleeping in, seeing movies, going out to eat. But I don’t have a lot of free time. 

the next big culinary trend Molecular gastronomy [a branch of food science that focuses on cooking and food preparation, rather than on the chemical makeup of food] seems to be taking off, in the cities at least. 

what would you like for tonight’s dinner? A nice roast duck with simple roast potatoes, whatever fresh vegetable looks the best from the Troy Farmers’ Market, and for dessert, a nice fruit cobbler or crisp.

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