On a blue-skied Hudson Valley day last summer, Hudson Valley Wine Magazine editors invited a small group of local farmers and artisan producers to join them and celebrity Chef and Chopped judge Marc Murphy and NYC Beverage Director David Lombardo for a farm-to-table meal featuring the wines of the Shawangunk Wine Trail.
What follows is the article that was published in the Shawangunk Wine Trail edition of Hudson Valley Wine Magazine, and some behind-the-scenes photos taken on location in Highland, NY, as the day unfolded.
Above: Chef Marc Murphy fires up local flavor on the plancha.
It’s high noon and everything is on fire. Right on schedule. We’re ninety minutes north of Manhattan, and considering the fact that there are two dozen people arriving for lunch and multiple fires burning outside, the guy in the kitchen in charge of the cooking is remarkably calm. Then again, the guy in the kitchen is Marc Murphy, a judge on Food Network’s Chopped and seasoned restaurateur. He’s used to feeding a few thousand people a night, so even with a menu that’s still up in the air even as the first guests arrive, it’s nothing he and his crew can’t handle.
“We’re still planning out what exactly it is that we’re getting ourselves into,” Murphy says. As he walks around the Highland kitchen of his friend and wine and beverage director at Landmarc, David Lombardo, he surveys the spread of local fruits, vegetables, breads, cheeses, and wines splayed out across several counters. Across from him and David, James “Mac” Moran, Murphy’s Executive Chef at his restaurant, is working on what he refers to as a “spicy sambal, rice vinegar, soy sauce, cucumber slaw kind of deal.” A stockpot of corn cobs and raw milk from Old Ford Farm in nearby Gardiner is simmering on the stove, the milk drawing out the sweetness of the corn.
Most of what’s on the counters is going to get cooked outside, and not on a backyard kettle grill either. On one side of the yard, a brick pizza oven is smoldering away, fueled by ash trees that came down on Lombardo’s property over the winter. “It smells so good, and there’s nothing in it yet,” says Lombardo as he checks on the oven. “Wait until we get the chickens in there.” Six of Old Ford Farm’s highly sought-after fresh chickens sit nearby on a platter, covered in a fragrant mix of herbs. Meanwhile a bucket of wood chips soaked in red wine sits at the foot of the stove, to be added along with the chickens for another layer of flavor. On the other side of the yard, Murphy’s custom-made plancha—a Spanish outdoor carbon steel griddle—sits over a fire pit. The steaks from Farmhood Fields, a farm at the center of a new “farm-to-table housing community” being proposed in Crawford, will go on the plancha. The tomatoes and chunks of bread for the panzanella will go on the plancha. The corn, the onions, the sausage that was made in town by the Hudson Valley Sausage Company, the carrots which at this time yesterday were still growing in the ground, twelve miles away: All will get seared on the plancha. The strawberries?
“We’re going to hit those with the plancha,” says Murphy, along with a mix of fresh currants from Glorie Farm that Lombardo is currently de-stemming. Once they’re seared, they’ll get tossed with the simmering raw milk and a saucepan of strawberry wine from nearby Baldwin Vineyards that’s being reduced and thickened. “It’s going to be a little bit of a party.”
But the stars of the show aren’t going on the grill or the oven. Lombardo has gotten his hands on thirteen bottles of wine, one from each of the vineyards on the Shawangunk Wine Trail. One would think that for the professional beverage director of a highly regarded New York City restaurant, having a bakers’ dozen of local wines at his disposal wouldn’t warrant such an extravagant feast. The Hudson Valley’s terroir may be the key to the many remarkable wines produced here, but the wines being served today don’t often make their way down to New York City. Someone drinks them before they even get to Yonkers.
The Lay of the Land
Millions of people call the Hudson Valley home, many of whom are enthusiastic locavores. That means the vineyards here can concentrate on keeping the locals happy without worrying about scaling up to other markets. So when Lombardo and Murphy want to drink these wines, they’ve got to go where the wine is. “Ninety minutes from the city, and you’re in paradise,” says Lombardo. “And you’ve got great wine! There’s people up here who have figured out how to make wine on small farms. This is as artisanal as it gets.”
For Lombardo—who doesn’t serve a wine at the restaurants unless he’s been to the vineyard, had his hands in the dirt, felt the sun on the grapes, and met the winemakers—part of the attraction to the wines on the Shawangunk Wine Trail is that it invites everyone to have that experience, to make a connection with a piece of the Hudson Valley and see what’s being done with the land.
Although Lombardo only bought this house last year, he’s no stranger to the Valley. The son of Sicilian immigrants from Brooklyn, his enormous extended family bought houses near each other in the Catskills in the 1970s. Lombardo recalls driving up from the city as a kid, pulling over when they got to the now legendary, but then just a few years old, Bread Alone bakery. They’d tear the loaves apart in the car and eat them for the remainder of the drive, and then pick up some more loaves a few days later on their way back to Brooklyn. The families would spend weekends visiting each other’s houses, hiking, swimming, cooking, and eating.
Not much has changed. Ask Murphy where he likes to go on vacation, and he gestures around him. “This is where we like to go!” he says. “We like to buy food, come back here, cook all weekend and just hang out. We plan the next meal before we’re done with the one we’re eating.” The loaves of bread on the counter right now are from none other than Bread Alone, now a local institution.
Passersby who pop in to check on the cooking tear off hunks of bread and spread them with lemon and lavender jam from LunaGrown Jam, another local favorite. Among them are Becky Fullam from Old Ford Farm, who grew and raised much of what’s being cooked, and Colin McGrath, cheesemaker for the up-and-coming McGrath Cheese Company, who comes bearing a few wedges of his handiwork.
A Direct Connection
For Murphy, today is also about forging a connection to the farmers and winemakers he’s been trying to showcase more and more at his restaurants. It hasn’t been as easy as he would like, but he knows it’s even tougher for the farmers. “You can’t just show up in Manhattan at a restaurant that’s really busy with a whole bunch of zucchini that are all different sizes,” he says.
“The state could be doing things to make this easier for farmers.” Right now, Murphy uses a service called Local Bushel that delivers goods directly from Hudson Valley farms to his restaurant, and a similar one called Our Harvest that delivers to his apartment. The services eliminate the things that farmers and chefs have neither the time nor the patience to deal with, like paperwork, but Murphy would like to find a way to eliminate the middleman.
Some of the winemakers start showing up as well, one of whom goes way back with Lombardo, although neither of them knew it until recently. A few years ago, Lombardo’s father was poking around on a genealogy website and located a whole bunch of cousins he didn’t know about living right here in the Hudson Valley. One of them ran a vineyard. Baldwin Vineyards, the one whose strawberry wine is reducing on the stove, whose red wine is soaking the wood chips in the bucket outside by the brick oven. Ready for another twist? Alex, the cousin in question, once worked on the crew for Chopped.
“He lives twenty minutes away from here,” says Lombardo. For a beverage director who has traveled the world multiple times searching for great wine, visiting vineyards and fostering deep friendships with winemakers on the West Coast and New Zealand, finding out you have a cousin you didn’t know about making wine a few towns over from you is one of those twists of fate that—if it happened in a movie—you would shake your head at in disbelief.
The Pleasures of the Table
Over the course of the next hour, the food makes its way to the fire. Chickens are roasted in the oven along with a cast iron skillet of vegetarian paella, redolent of turmeric and saffron. Murphy brushes the plancha with clarified butter and proceeds to pour on the rest of the ingredients, searing them one after another, pushing them in waves with two giant metal drywall taping knives from a hardware store: thick wedges of cabbage, halved lemons, piles of corn and onions and pickled chard stems.
The strawberries and currants go last, mixed with the raw corn milk and the reduced strawberry wine. It’s then that Murphy reveals that he got the idea for the corn from Dan Barber’s locavore temple Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Barber had been making lemonade sweetened with corn cobs instead of sugar, and Murphy thought the same principle could work here. Judging from the exclamations he and Moran make when sampling the finished product, it’s clear he was right.
Even before the meal is over, as the friends and farmers eat their fill, thoughts are turning to the next one. Moran mentions he’d like to get some pizza dough rising to use in the pizza oven, as he drains the last of his Naked Flock hard cider. The McGrath cheeses turn out to be a perfect pairing with the white wines that were made not far away from the caves where the cheeses were ripened, particularly Robibero’s Vidal Blanc and Benmarl’s Seyval Blanc, each made with some of the region’s best-known white grapes. Whitecliff’s rosé ends up being a natural fit for the grilled and charred vegetables, and Palaia’s “Zappa Franc” provides enough backbone to support the robust flavors of the steaks and the chimichurri sauce that Murphy made with raw, just-harvested garlic that hadn’t had a chance to cure and mellow yet. The two Noirets, from Clearview and Brimstone, drew high praise and enthusiasm from the table, especially since no one was familiar with this relatively new grape that Hudson Valley winemakers have begun experimenting with over the past ten years.
Murphy takes a minute to reminisce about a traditional French dish that was designed to be made in cooling hearths like the one in the backyard. “It’s called Potatoes Boulangère,” he says “In the style of the breadmaker. You wait until the baker’s done baking, and then you put in the oven an earthenware pot of thinly sliced potatoes, onions, thyme, some bay leaves, and veal stock. Leave in there for a few hours, come back, and they’re the happiest potatoes you’ve ever had,” he says, finishing off the last of Glorie Farm’s estate-grown Cabernet Franc with the grilled currants from the same vineyard.
Lombardo isn’t done getting his friends and family up from the city to discover the Hudson Valley. As he sits back after the meal, he recalls the time he recently brought a cousin up from the city on the Metro-North train. “He was looking at his phone for the first few minutes of the ride,” Lombardo recalls. “Then he looked out the window at the view and said ‘What the hell am I staring at my phone for?’ So he put it down and watched the river the rest of the way.”
He’s even interested in recreating those long summer days from the ’70s, when he and his family would drive around the Catskills visiting each other’s houses. “I tell my friends, ‘There’s a house down the street from me that’s for sale. Let’s start a little commune up here.’
Photography: John Kidd Photography
Styling: Matalon-Degni Design Studio