Just 140 miles due north of Albany, the Adirondacks’ Lake Placid region is home to fertile farmland, passionately run livestock enterprises, and a highly evolved artisan dairy culture. Yet one familiar catch-phrase that guests at Mirror Lake Inn’s Four Diamond-rated restaurant The View will never hear is “farm-to-table.”
The term is commonly overused, says Executive Chef Curtiss Hemm, that it’s become next to meaningless. A better way to describe what both the inn and the restaurant express is “terroir,” and not in the narrow sense of local wines expressing local soil. To Hemm, the term encompasses “a multi-dimensional, three-hundred-and-sixty degree” view of the northern Adirondacks. Sure, it includes wines, though Cabernet Franc is the star here, not the more familiar Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir. But it also includes New York maple syrup, Gladsheim goat’s milk Gouda from Asgaard Farm and Dairy, aged raw cow’s milk Dutch Knuckle cheese from Sugar House Creamery, and, he adds, “some of the best yogurts in the country” from North Country Creamery.” Terroir can also be found in North Country’s supremely happy Brown Jersey cows, which Hemm passes every day on his way to work.
In their embrace of this concept of terroir, Mirror Lake Inn and The View, with their casual Adirondack elegance, are reminiscent of Europe’s finest ski resorts and luxury hotels, where a robust roster of winter sports, year-round activities, complete spa services, and seasonal, classic-yet-creative European cuisine administer to body, soul, and stomach. The beauty of cooking European-influenced foods in the United States, says Hemm, is that he has a freedom that European chefs lack: “If I want to take skate wing and put ponzu sauce or truffle on it, I can,” he says. “I don’t have to put a caper cream sauce on it.”
Family owned since 1924, the inn passed into the hands of Ed and Lisa Weibrecht in 1976. Their son Andrew is a retired World Cup alpine ski racer and two-time Olympic medalist, in Vancouver and Sochi. Today Andrew and his wife Denja serve as the innkeepers.
Even the annual Ironman Lake Placid triathlon, which changes the complexion of The View in the weeks leading up to the big July event “is part of the terroir of Lake Placid,” Hemm asserts. The View’s house-made pastas come to the fore during this time as carbo loading commences, while alcohol sales decline. “We brought in a whole line of beneficial beverages, too, like kombucha and cold-brew coffee (which is less acidic, and some believe, healthier than hot brewed) and a lot of botanicals and teas.” The spa, too, goes into overdrive, with deep tissue massages and reflexology among the most popular services. In the kitchen, Hemm emphasizes dishes that aren’t “heat denatured,” in other words, raw or cured foods (ceviches, crudos). Preparing them this way keeps their nutrients as accessible to the body as possible.
Taking the Regional Lead in Sustainability
This form of fossil fuel-free “cooking” dovetails with Hemm’s as well as the inn’s emphasis on sustainability. “We’re a ‘last-mile resort town,’ which means that almost everything we get here is trucked in,” says Hemm. “So it’s important to offset everything we do.” Mirror Lake Inn was the first hotel property in Lake Placid to adopt a comprehensive recycling program. A business-wide energy audit in 2021 validated the inn’s adoption of a rooftop solar program, which has reduced its dependence on the local electrical grid by 450 to 500 kilowatt hours a year. Fourteen EV stations are being installed, the inn has switched to more eco-friendly detergents and cleaning products, and a $1.5 million laundry facility has introduced more energy efficient machines.
In the kitchen, Hemm is keenly attuned to minimizing oven use to save energy, and not just during triathlon season. “If I can use a flat-top (cooking range) that’s on, I’ll do that. I don’t want to turn an oven on. I’m a garde manger chef,” he says, referring to the cold station of a restaurant, where salads, hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, and charcuterie are made or kept. In fact, Hemm—who grew up in Peru, NY, studied culinary arts at Paul Smith’s College, earned two certificates of gastronomy from the Cordon Bleu in Paris, and spent two years cooking in Burgundy—published the culinary textbook titled Garde Manger: The Cold Kitchen while he was dean of culinary arts and director of online programs at the New England Culinary Institute. “Cooking is not just the application of heat, it’s the denaturing of food,” he explains. “If I can let acid and time equal cooking then I don’t need to turn on a fossil-fuel oriented implement.”
His zero-waste approach to cooking has led to the addition of some popular menu items. For example, any remaining house-made sourdough bread is transformed the following day into passatelli, a northern Italian dumpling made with the addition of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, and eggs, then cooked in brodo, or broth. “I maximize the use of any food that I bring in. I will pickle juiced lemon rinds and use the zest as a flavor agent in sugars, in Indian chutney, or in a mousseline for a deviled crab salad,” says Hemm. Through actions such as these, he’s cut kitchen waste to almost nothing. Another practice he’s adopted is around the custom-raised, grass-fed and -finished Red Devon beef he sources from Asgaard Farm. “I pay for an entire steer, which includes the fat, and the bones, the entire hanging weight. It’s custom cut for our needs, then I save the prime cuts, ribeye, strip loins and tenderloins, for the holidays, when demand is highest. Everything else becomes the grass-fed, grass-finished beef I use throughout the year.”
Hemm has also reduced the amount of non-reusable plastic packaging that comes into the kitchen. The View does not offer to-go products because he does not want to use single-use plastics. Mirror Lake Inn offers two watering stations where guests can fill up their plant-based carafes with seltzer or still water. The restaurant’s composting program, administered by Blue Line, has helped reduce its use of plastic garbage bags by 80 percent. “That’s sixteen fifty-five gallon garbage bags not going into landfill every day,” Hemm says. Blue Line sends three truckloads of rich compost soil back to the inn each year, which is used to fertilize the herb garden outside The View kitchen, and the flower beds spread throughout the inn and spa property. The flowers grown onsite provide all of the floral arrangements for the inn, spa, and restaurant as well.
An Award-Winning Wine Program
The View’s 800-label wine list, says Hemm who also serves as the inn’s food and beverage director, has a predictably strong selection of California Cabernets as well as Bordeaux wines, along with a strong selection of old and new world whites. His list has earned a Wine Spectator “Best of Award of Excellence” designation, indicating a deep commitment to wine and wine service, a breadth across multiple winegrowing regions, and depth in the form of verticals from top producers. Verticals in The View cellar include Opus One, Continuum Estates, as well as a large holding of Turley Wine Cellar products.
Hemm’s current interest is in expanding The View’s holdings of cool-climate wines, including a strong selection from New York state, along with local beers and ciders. He loves Lamoreaux Landing Wine Cellars, the sparkling wines of Damiani Wine Cellars, the dry Rieslings from Ravines Wine Cellars, and Wölffer Estate Cabernet Francs. Because cool-climate wines are “low ABV, value-oriented, delicious and food-friendly wines,” he’s looked beyond New York’s borders, too, bringing in bottles from South Africa, northern Portugal, Oregon and Central California. “They’re far more versatile for food pairing than, say, Napa Valley Cabernets, which are constantly thumping their chests. They’re wines that might not overpower German potato dumplings, but not everything can be that.”
At The View, he’s noticed that diners are either focused on the beverage and look for food that is going to enhance what they are drinking, or are more food focused and want something to go with their meal. Either way, he adds, servers can recommend pairings, whether it’s a red to match a dish of grilled beef tenderloin, potato purée, petite carrots, baby turnips, and slender haricot vert with a Pinot Noir demi-glace; or a light red or white to accompany a dish of Faroe Island salmon served with succotash, tomato vinaigrette, and a honey herb butter glaze. The local duck hunting culture is reflected in a duck ragu or a duck Bolognese that might appear on the menu.
Hemm fell in love with cooking when he was 14, and realized that he liked this craft that involved “building and creating, and was something that was artistic and systematic.” He could develop skills and have fun, while bringing his strong analytic skills to bear as an executive chef. Now, at age 53, with an established career, he wants do what he can to steward the land and improve his local environment.
In 2013 he bought the family farm he grew up on, 300-acre Hallock Hill Farms, where he offers his Carriage House cooking classes (see sidebar). He’s taken the farm offline commercially, except for oak wood that he sells for lumber. Most of the 60 pastured acres and 250 wooded acres remaining is land he’s designated as a habitat for pollinators and small wild mammals; his goal is to eventually oversee the largest privately owned pollinator habitat in the northeast. Timber harvesting is done based on wildlife habitat needs, including leaving a certain number of stumps for the male grouse. These become perches for the birds as they engage in a thumping or drumming display of loud wing flapping—their way of proclaiming territory or issue a mating call.
“When I go outside to have my coffee in the morning and I hear the thumping of a grouse,” says Hemm, “It makes me smile.”
The Carriage House Cooking Classes
In 2017, Hemm opened The Carriage House Cooking School on his 300-acre Hallock Hill Farms. Located in a carriage house he built with farm-harvested lumber, this is where he teaches small classes of eight to ten people. “It’s a great marriage of my passion for food and what I do here on the farm,” he says.
At Mirror Lake Inn, under the auspices of The Carriage House Cooking school, Hemm heads up culinary weekend getaways for Mirror Lake Inn guests. Up to 40 guests, often couples, sign up for these experiences, which include two night’s lodging at the inn, a welcome reception, hors d’oeuvres, and multiple cooking classes. The last package was a Cinco de Mayo-themed weekend, and the next one, in the fall, will center on the foods of Italy. “It’s a great way for Mirror Lake Inn to share the beauty of the Adirondacks for our neighbors in the Hudson Valley,” Hemm explains. “The weekend getaways are a chance for guests to meet like-minded people. Many guests return for repeat weekends.” •
Photos: Mirror Lake Inn and Curtiss Hemm.