A Meal Worth Waiting For At Restaurant Damon Baehrel

If you haven’t heard of restaurant Damon Baehrel, you’re not alone. I first learned of it several years ago when doing research on the best places to dine in the Hudson Valley. Although sparse, the reviews were all in utter reverence of Chef/Grower Damon Baehrel and his eponymous restaurant, which is nestled on a quiet road in Earlton, New York. So I couldn’t quite imagine why I had never heard of this hidden gem, which, previously dubbed The Basement Bistro, has been open since 1989. Either this was a scam, or Damon Baehrel is one of the most impressive chefs in the world, among the ranks (and the waitlist) of Noma and the late El Bulli. After a recent visit, I found the latter to be the case. 

Early last week, I received an opportune email. An extra weekend seating had been added. Was I available? Despite the tasting menu’s $235 price tag (not including wine), my confirmation did not skip a beat. Two days later I found myself pulling up to a lovely house amid Sagecrest Organic Gardens, and was genially greeted inside by Chef Baehrel himself. I quickly realized that not only was my small group the only diners on the property, but that Baehrel was the only employee. Baehrel himself played the grower, host, waiter, and chef—a lofty accomplishment that could only be achieved by a man who admittedly needs little sleep. Baehrel, who is self-trained and says he hasn’t eaten out for over 10 years, is not inspired by other chefs or by his travels, but instead by nature. His love of the outdoors was evident by the jars of ingredients displayed in his dining room. The presentation of unusual curiosities included green eggplant powder, acorns, hickory nuts, moss, and gem-studded puffball mushrooms from Baehrel’s oak log “yard.” Even the water at our table was not water at all, but instead iced sycamore sap with lemon verbena. 

And the food? Chef Baehrel’s autumnal “Native Harvest” menu was heavenly. His lifelong obsession with food and nature pours out of every dish. The plates he served were developed, well-composed, and thought-provoking. The meal consisted of about 14 courses plus several extras, some of which Baehrel had been perfecting for decades and some of which were invented that day. In fact, many of the ingredients were seasonal and picked from his gardens that very morning, while a variety of ingredients had been preserved for years, waiting to be utilized at just the perfect time in their aging process.

One of Baehrel’s new concoctions on the day we visited was a bowl of clams, warm pressed with wild hickory nut oil infused with spruce needles and "cooked" in a sauce made from ostrich ferns and topped with burdock root chips. Later, we sampled a dish that Baehrel has been continually refining: chicken thigh brined in staghorn sumac powder, then cooked in a blend of concentrated sycamore sap and Baehrel’s fresh grapeseed oil, surrounded by a sauce of rutabaga cooked in the soil it was grown in.

Baehrel does not use butter in his dishes, nor does he use flour in his sauces. Instead, his sauces are often thickened with rutabaga. The buttery quality of a mouthwatering lobster dish served was deceivingly cooked instead in white oak acorn oil that was roasted with fresh white oak acorn, giving it a rich flavor.

Inevitably, the process of creating each dish is the daily manifestation of a lifetime dedicated to food, nature, and self-sustainability. Damon Baehrel remains open even through the cold New York winter months, and Chef Baehrel manages to source most ingredients from his own property. To accomplish this, five to seven foot deep cold frames are dug around his property and filled with compost that ferments during the winter, helping to prevent the cold frames from freezing. In the extreme cold, Baehrel utilizes a form of radiant heat from a 10-watt solar panel connected to heating rods in water containers about 4-5 feet underground. Baehrel actually claims that with the sunshine, fermentation, and radiant heat that warms up the cold frames, "winter in Earlton, New York is the best time of year for root vegetables."

Each and every dish we ate that evening told a story. They told a story about Baehrel’s culinary development, a story about the last winter, a story about Baehrel’s growing process, a story about Baehrel’s life dedication. It is rare to truly see a master devote his life to his craft. The real essence of Baehrel’s devotion, however, is not just the food he presents, but also the people to whom he presents it. He has opened up his home and filled it with warmth and cuisine unlike any other I had ever experienced. That evening, Baehrel left us sated with awe and delight, and even gave us a parting gift of plants, goodie baskets of vegetables, and sumptuous bread for the road.

I finally understood why only those who are really looking come upon this restaurant (and wait four years for a table). Baehrel simply cares more about the food he serves than the press he receives. Though he has been offered book and television deals in the past, he has focused his energy on doing what he loves: growing, cooking, and hosting the thousands of diners that come from around the world to enjoy the culinary experience of a lifetime in Chef Damon Baehrel’s care.

Five Music Festivals That Will Keep New Yorkers At Home This Summer

With Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza both coming up in the next few months, we’re afraid that our festival budgets are already maxed-out. But we here at BlackBook think there’s plenty more fun to be had and jams to be shared, and there are plenty of local music festivals this summer that will help us beat the heat and save some cash. No airfare or accomodation fees? We’re there—we just need to know where to go! Here are five upcoming events that will keep us having fun at home.

GoogaMooga: May 19-20, Brooklyn’s Prospect Park

Headliners: The Roots, Holy Ghost!, Hall and Oates, Fitz & the Tantrums

Special features: Food, food, and more food, including Momofuku Milk Bar, Kutsher’s Tribeca, The Spotted Pig, Dinosaur BBQ, Mile End, Vinegar Hill House, DuMont Burger, and for those health-conscious festival goers, Juice Press! Additionally, the festival will have a wine tasting tent featuring over 100 wines from around the world and a beer tasting pavilion featuring over 30 different domestic and foreign draft beer makers.

The gist: Eating Momofuku crack pie and drinking artisanal beer to the tune of “Rich Girl” sounds like my idea of a perfect Saturday.

Camp Bisco
: July 12-14, Indian Lookout Country Club, Mariaville, NY

Headliners: The Disco Biscuits, Skrillex, Crystal Castles, Atmosphere

Special features: Camp Bisco will feature three days and nights of music on five stages. Boogie away to top international dance acts as well as in the silent disco, where listeners tune in on wireless headsets. And the most fun part? Camping! Pull up in your RV or pitch your tent, and enjoy the fresh air of the great outdoors. Buy a VIP ticket for access to a VIP lounge and showers, plush toilets, and complimentary massages! VIP Platinum ticketholders get extra perks including a backstage Surf and Turf with members of the Disco Biscuits and other artists. I’m sold.

The gist: Camping in the unsullied upstate air, upbeat dance tunes, plush toilets, showers, and MASSAGES! What else would I need!?

: July 28-29, Randall’s Island

Headliners: The Black Keys, Snoop Dogg, TV on the Radio, Girl Talk, Cold War Kids

Special features: A silent disco will also be featured at Catalpa (seeing a new trend here?) There is also an Ultimate VIP Cabana and Hot-Tub Package for a group of ten with bottle service and other special accommodations. Frisky’s Church of Sham Marriages is setting up a basecamp within Catalpa. Looking to get married during the festival…or at least fake-married?? This 60-foot inflatable church is available for all of you lovers out there to get hitched. Great way to test (read: scare) your boyfriends, ladies! Don’t worry: rings and veils are provided! There’s also a raggae stage procured by High Times Magazine, which is sure to provide chill vibes. 

The gist of it: Snoops Dogg performing his seminal Doggystyle in its entirety, celebrating the sanctity of marriage, and cabanas with hot tubs, Catalpa will surely not disappoint.


Governors Ball Music Festival: June 23-24, Randall’s Island

Headliners: Beck, Passion Pit, Kid Cudi, Modest Mouse, Fiona Apple, Chromeo

Special features: An impressive roster of food offerings, which includes Luke’s Lobster, Asia Dog, The Taco Truck, Food Freak Grilled Cheese, and Hill Country. Lawn games include ping pong (presented by Spin New York), beer pong, bocce ball, and croquet. There will be a silent disco room (Yes, again!). VIP ticketholders will receive massage services, shaded seating, and more. The kicker? No overlapping sets! 

The gist: Eating Luke’s Lobster while getting a massage while playing beer pong whilst listening to Beck. I’m up for multitasking.

Electric Zoo: August 31-September 2, Randall’s Island

Headliners: Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Benny Benassi, Tiesto, David Guetta, Above and Beyond, A-Trak,

Specials features: Last year 85,000 people attended this special event and we are expecting a large turnout again! VIP passes include access to air-conditioned bathrooms, plush furniture, complimentary food, and an open bar. For all of you on a budget, Electric Zoo is offering a payment plan for ticket purchasers. You can now pay in installments over time. How thoughtful!

The gist: Three days of house music, electronic vibes, and thousands of festival-goers fist-pumping on Randall’s Island. Tiesto under the stars? And pay later? Done.

Fivestory Opens New Store, Celebrates Opening at Mr. Chow

Last night, father and daughter team Fred and Claire Distenfeld welcomed guests to the opening of their much hyped UES boutique Fivestory. Occupying 2 stories of a grandiose townhouse on East 69th Street, the boutique features men’s and women’s apparel, accessories, jewelry, shoes and home decor. The Distenfelds brought in interior designer Ryan Korban who lavishly decorated the space with black and white geometrically patterned marble floors and a velvet-clad entryway. A noticeable highlight of the store – a sky lit “shoe garden” is sure to elicit shoppers’ delight. Following the opening, party-goers celebrated at Mr. Chow on 57th Street.  DJs Cleo Le Tan and Matt Creed charmed guests, who included Natalie Joos, Anne and Annabelle Dexter-Jones, Marina Rust Connor, Ellen von Unwerth, Anja Rubik, Heather Marks, Alexandra Richards and Poppy de Villeneuve.

A Delectable Experience at Art Basel Miami Beach, Courtesy of Jennifer Rubell

At Art Basel Miami Beach this year, there were many contenders for top culinary attraction. The Dutch’s new Miami outpost was a major draw, booking up well in advance by New Yorkers eager to get their hands on their favorite little oyster sandwiches. Cecconi’s at the Soho Beach House was crammed with brunch-going scenesters sipping bloody mary’s and basking on the olive tree lined terrace. Pubbelly and Yardbird earned the foodies’ attention, while classics such as Mr. Chow and Casa Tua remained packed throughout the event. But the real draw for food-loving art-goers was Jennifer Rubell’s 11th annual breakfast installation at the Rubell Family Collection.

I arrived to find a fascinating two-part installation, each side exploring the creations of life, art, and food. The first was an incubation gallery where yogurt was being made and served by sterile and expressionless women in nurse uniforms. The second was an observation gallery where both gallery-goers and local bees feasted on honey being dripped from the ceiling. Spectators were encouraged to scoop up spoonfuls of the honey to mix with yogurt for a sumptuous breakfast.

Rubell, yet again, created a successful conversation starter that infuses food, art, and social gatherings to create a consumable sensory experience. Beckoning onlookers to participate and engage, Rubell’s large-scale installations form a shared experience, where gallery goers can eat, touch, and deconstruct the piece’s edible goods, breaking the traditional boundaries of art. Rubell’s past projects have included constructing a gargantuan size piñata of Andy Warhol’s head for Icons at the Brooklyn Museum’s 2010 Brooklyn Ball, creating a performance piece called The de Pury Diptych at London’s Saatchi Gallery – which involved thousands of edible props–and producing an installation at the former Dia Center for the Arts called Creation, wherein Rubell pulled from biblical inspirations to create an enthralling installation involving honey being dripped onto a ton of ribs (she must have a thing for honey).

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As with most provocative artists, Rubell’s craft is difficult to define. Performance, installation, and food artist don’t quite suffice in describing her dexterity. In addition to working as a vegetable butcher at Mario Batali’s Eataly, producing wine in Puyloubier, Provence, and raising her daughter, Stevie, the Harvard grad is a seasoned hostess. Her book Real Life Entertaining was published by HarperCollins in 2006. As the niece of Steve Rubell, famed co-owner of Studio 54, Rubell has been surrounded by artful and creative minds from an early age. She learned her love of entertaining from her famous uncle as well as her art-collecting parents, Don and Mera, whose legendary Whitney Biennial parties were frequented by the likes of Liza Minnelli, Ryan O’Neal, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol.

While restaurants in Miami’s dining scene come and go, Rubell’s bona fide expertise in hosting social gatherings has led her breakfast installations to remain a hit for 11 years and counting. Make sure to check out what artful and edible treats she conjures up for 2012.

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New York (Soft) Opening: Fivestory

With her new boutique, Fivestory, Claire Distenfeld has quickly distinguished herself in the world of fashion. Anointed New York’s answer to Colette by no less an authority than Vogue, Distenfeld offers her well-heeled customers a bold, creative aesthetic that features collections from a host of European designers rarely seen in the States, along with collaborations with some of New York’s hottest talents. 

The precocious 26-year old New Yorker was cool and collected last week at the store’s soft opening. A pop-up boutique for the moment, Fivestory doesn’t officially open until next February, when it will occupy several levels of an1881 townhouse on 18 East 69th Street. For now, its modest second-floor space in the historic building is impressive enough. Fashion boutique meets art gallery, the store functions as both a vendor of lavish clothing, jewelry, shoes, and accessories, and a space for up-and-coming artists to exhibit their works. 

On a recent visit, I found myself walking into a fashionista’s fairytale, pleasantly surprised to find that not every item was priced beyond my reach. Distenfeld handpicked every piece sold in the store, which features luxury designers such as Victoria Beckham, Cushnie et Ochs, Reece Hudson, Risto Bimbiloski, and Chrissie Morris, alongside less costly brands such as Hype means Nothing and Rodebjer.  Striking Maison Michel headpieces, Seletti ornaments, and Lizzie Fortunato jewelry punctuate the beautiful Ryan Korban-designed space. 

I could easily understand how Fivestory would be compared to one of the most celebrated luxury boutiques in Paris. Distenfeld, who has a background in fine art and impeccable taste for fashion, picked from Europe’s best, including handmade Olympia Le-Tan handbags and Roberta Furlanetto dresses. The boutique also sells exclusive pieces through collaborations with American brands Eleven Objects, Lulu Frost, and Del Toro shoes. 

But will Fivestory live up to its early accolades? Based on the number gleeful gawkers I saw attacking the racks, Distenfeld’s stylish shop may soon become the standard to which others are compared. 

‘Culinary Adventure’ Outstanding in the Field Comes to Upstate New York

Umbrella-wielding, skyward-looking New Yorkers united on Wednesday to partake in Outstanding in the Field’s 54th stop on its tour across America. A self-described “roving culinary adventure,” the group has made a name for itself by organizing creative dinners in creative places, and celebrating locally-sourced ingredients, the farmers who grow them, and the chefs who honors both the ingredients and the place. A little rain and the looming threat of Hurricane Irene didn’t stop foodies from traipsing up the Hudson Valley to Blooming Hill Farm to see – and taste – what chef Bill Telepan and the team from his eponymous NYC restaurant would do with farmer Guy Jones’ freshly picked fruits and vegetables.

Known for the diversity and quality of his produce, Jones grows an eclectic array of vegetables and herbs including three types of kale, five types of basil, and an edible squash vine called Tinarumi. “This land was once considered wasteland,” Jones said of the Black Dirt region where his farm is located – its name comes from the dark soil, rich in nutrients and especially suited for growing root vegetables and onions, left from the ancient glacial lake that once stood there. Now, a century after this land was first harvested, Jones has become one of the leading growers of chemical free, organic, quality produce in the area.

Guests, friends, and strangers sat at communal tables in a field that bordered growing vegetables. The five-course menu included roasted lamb with oregano, local trout with tomatillo and corn, and a nectarine crumble, all paired with local wines and beer, creating a culinary treat for the mostly New York City crowd who traveled far to enjoy the charming experience. image

Outstanding in the Field has come a long way since it first began in 1998 in Santa Cruz, California, when founder Jim Denevan could hardly get more than five diners to his tables. Going international in 2011, the organization now unites James Beard and Michelin Star-winning chefs with small family farms around the world.

As the clouds cleared and temporary tarps were taken down, guests, cozy in their Hunter boots, sipped wine, debated the merits of daily nectarine crumbles, and rued the drive back to the city. With few months left, the 2011 OITF bus now makes its way south before heading back to the West Coast. Though future dates will require more than a drive upstate, there’s no reason that we New Yorkers can’t continue to enjoy its deliciousness. Trip to Georgia anyone?