Celebrating local bounty is a delicious way to welcome spring. Now, you have your chance: Hudson Valley Restaurant Week (HVRW) is here!
“I’m very excited about trying as many restaurants as I can. With so many to choose from, 14 days doesn’t seem like enough!” says Janet Crawshaw, publisher of The Valley Table magazine and founder of the event, now in its sixth year.
HVRW promotes the Hudson Valley, and participating chefs are encouraged to highlight sustainable and local products on their menus. Even with the seasons in transition, local meats (venison, duck, heritage pork), artisanal cheeses and wines abound. One local Dutchess County-based sponsor, Crown Maple Farm, is issuing a “Chef’s Challenge”: participating chefs who find a creative way to use Crown Maple’s syrup, which is organic and local, in a dish are eligible to win a prize. (And, yes, diners can weigh in and vote online).
Near Red Hook,participating restaurants include Stissing House in Pine Plains; Liberty Public House, Terrapin and Cinnamon Indian Cuisine in Rhinebeck; farther afield, American Glory, Baba Louie’s and Café Le Perche in Hudson; and The Greens restaurant in Copake Lake.
It was while dining at a Manhattan restaurant, featuring Hudson Valley ingredients, that Crawshaw conceived of the idea for the event. Why not organize a Restaurant Week in the Hudson Valley, itself, where restaurants using local ingredients were that much closer to growers and producers? The first HVRW event launched in 2006 with 70 participating restaurants, and has been growing steadily ever since. This year, there are a total of 200 participating restaurants. Crawshaw also notes that a greater variety of cuisines are being represented, from Greek, Argentinian and Moroccan, to French and farm-to-table inspired gastro-pubs.
As a first-time sponsor, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) hosts this year’s kick-off event, bringing together participating chefs and restaurateurs who then have an opportunity to attend a special educational forum on cutting-edge cooking techniques—like sous vide and gel techniques. It’s a reminder that continuing professional development is within easy reach locally.
And, if you’ve never been to the CIA, this is the year to go. Three CIA restaurants are participating: American Bounty, Escoffier and Caterina de Medici.
Crawshaw attributes the success of HVRW to the CIA’s impact on the Hudson Valley region: “Many chef participants are CIA graduates, or employ CIA alums,” she notes.
Many restaurants, especially newer ones, see HVRW as a unique opportunity for diners to discover them, or, in some cases, to rediscover them.
Take Café Le Perche in Hudson. It opened last August and began offering a dinner menu in December. Because the café is, first and foremost, a bakery, customers tend to come in the morning or for lunch, says managing partner Jennifer Boule, who adds: “HVRW is a way for us to expand our reach—and to alert the public that we’re serving dinner.” The Café’s dinner prix-fixe menu options features rustic bistro-style dishes. Diners can anticipate a selection of crostini, house-made chicken liver mousse or salad to start; stick-to-your-ribs entrees, like risotto, coq au vin and beef stew; and indulgent finales, like bread pudding (made with croissants!) and vanilla bean crème brulee made by pastry chef Kiera Cannon.
Ditto for Liberty Public House in Rhinebeck, which opened in mid-September. By participating in HVRW, Patricia Panarella and Sergia Rebraca—mother and son co-owners—hope to gain greater exposure. “Locals and curious foodies know about us, but we want to appeal to a larger audience,” says Rebraca, who describes menu offerings as a “melting pot of American favorites,” like cornmeal-crusted fried oysters with remoulade sauce, Peruvian-spiced rock hen, and sticky toffee pudding, all available on their HVRW dinner prix-fixe menu.
Because winter can be a tough season for restaurants to weather, even well-established restaurants benefit from HVRW, which frequently lures diners out of hibernation. Chefs also have an opportunity to test dishes out that they may want to add to their menus.
Sustainable, local-minded cuisine is here to stay, Crawshaw says. Hudson Valley farms may be a muse for area chefs. But how food is grown and prepared is also an important part of our economy, notes Crawshaw, who is happy to see “an increasing appreciation for all food-related aspects of our community, from agriculture, to tourism and hospitality.”