Husband and wife partnerships are surprisingly common in the restaurant world, a topic I can speak about from personal experience and one that definitely intrigues me. This line of work, endless work, requires enormous commitment, unthinkable amounts of time, and typically does not allow for “civilian” life–most certainly not with respect to weekends and holidays. Given these demands, where else would you meet your ever-understanding life partner except in a restaurant?
In the bucolic setting of the Hudson Valley, marital partnerships in our top-quality restaurants seem to be even more prevalent than in urban settings. Some of the kitchen love stories that lead to the altar are ignited at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where both young students and career changing older adults share their passions for all things food and wine. In other cases, NYC chefs and front-of-house managers end up transitioning north along the Hudson River to this most incredible food scene. I always joke to those who ask “Do you know anyone single?” that this area is like Noah’s Ark – people generally move here in pairs, not singly. There’s hope, though–more on this facet of the Hudson Valley food scene another time.
At a certain age, typically around 30, male and female “culinarians” who have honed their skills and earned their stripes at New York’s finest restaurants have a few choices: Work for a restaurant or restaurant group in the NY Metro market in a situation that, despite huge responsibilities and limitless hours, will deliver below middle-class earnings. Or find an investor and jump into a rental scenario that could cost up six figures monthly. Or move to the Hudson Valley, where people get good food, where the ingredients are that much closer to the farm, and where the get-in expenses are much more affordable.
Among my favorite local restaurants is Elephant in Kingston. Rich and Maya Reeve met at the Vassar Alumnae House in 1987 when it was still running as a restaurant. They’ve worked in two other restaurants together and have owned three–most recently Elephant Restaurant & Wine Bar, a 2007 addition to Uptown Kingston that transformed the neighborhood and some local palates.
Elephant offers an amazing dining experience. Rich cooks succulent farm to table fare with the barest of bones in cooking equipment, often alone in the kitchen aside from a dishwasher. Maya, who for many years cooked side by side with Rich, selects their wonderful (and accessible) wine list and runs the dining room. Maya says, “Rich is my best friend, we have totally different personalities, and it’s not always a bed of roses, but we sincerely like to hang out with each other!”
Rich and Maya do not have children. Their challenges are similar yet distinct from the variety of couples on our local restaurant landscape who do. Rich and Maya make a priority of grabbing time to focus on their relationship aside from the business partnership. After 20 years of working Sundays, they made a decision that Sunday and Monday would be their days. Period.
Adding children to restaurant marital life completely confounds me! Speaking with Jennifer Dalu of Le Petit Bistro in Rhinebeck, she tells me that with three young ones, the restaurant, while always a high priority, needs to be scheduled around their lives and their intent to preserve precious family time. Other notably successful restaurant duos juggling family and food service include Francesco Buitoni and Michelle Platt (Mercato, Red Hook), Chaminda and Shiwanti Widyarathna (Cinnamon, Rhinebeck), Craig Stafford and Jessica Stingo (Flat Iron, Red Hook), and Rei and Kim Peraza (Panzur, Tivoli).
Listen up voracious Hudson Valley diners! If you want your restaurateurs to be “sustainable,” understand when they hang out a shingle saying “Closed.” While restaurant life isn’t “normal,” the people who make it all happen do need to recharge and stay inspired, both with food and each other.
Laura Pensiero, a registered dietician, is founder and creative force behind Gigi Hudson Valley, which operates the award-winning Gigi Trattoria in Rhinebeck and a catering business. She is author of Hudson Valley Mediterranean cookbook.
Chicken and Pork Liver Terrine
From Rich Reeve, Elephant, Kingston
This rich meat-lovers hors d’oeuvre is perfect for holiday celebrations. Serve it with cornichons, mustards, jams (fig!), and crispy breads, crostini, and/or toasts.
Makes about 18 2-ounch servings
1 ½ pounds chicken liver
1 pound pork liver
1 pound ground pork
¼ cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons port wine
2 whole eggs
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
salt and freshly ground pepper to season
Equipment: 6 cup terrine or loaf pan
Preheat oven to 300F. Lightly butter (or oil) the terrine or loaf pan. Set aside. Rinse and pat dry livers. In the workbowl of a food processor, combine all ingredients and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Process until just smooth, then spatula mixture into terrine mold.
Cover with foil, place in a small roasting pan with at least 3-inch sides and fill with warm water halfway up side of terrine pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until terrine reaches 150F (it will continue to cook after removed from oven). Let cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
To serve: Run a knife around inside edge of terrine and let stand in mold in a pan with 1 inch of hot water (to loosen bottom) for 3 minutes. Tilt terrine mold slightly to drain excess liquid, then invert a cutting board over terrine. Turn the terrine upside down gently, releasing it onto the cutting board. Let terrine stand at room temperature (or chill) for 30 minutes before serving. Transfer to a platter if desired and cut, as needed, into ¼ to 1/2-inch-thick slices.