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Pics From an Upstate New York Dinner

November 24, 2015

It’s the season for giving thanks. Thursday, I will run my traditional holiday post. What’s a holiday without tradition? And Wednesday’s post will be made from the road in Providence.

But today, I’ve got to give it up to the chefs. Last week I got to share a bunch of menus that several talented chefs put together as a starting place to understand what an Upstate New York cuisine might look like… you know, if we had one.

Some commenters have been arguing that what we’ve discovered through this project is a list of ingredients that are looking for a cuisine to bind them together. Others seem to be suggesting that the availability of these ingredients spill over political boundaries, which is true. If you want to get precise, I see the menus reflecting the culinary diversity of Northeast Appalachia, of which Upstate New York is the largest sub-region.

The chefs’ enthusiasm is unabated. And that’s great. Dali-Mamma has set a date to cook its menu, on February 27. And while I never asked for these menus to actually be executable, other chefs have been talking about cooking their menus too.

One chef has beaten them all to the punch.

Meet John Ireland. I first met him when I judged the Iron-Chef-style competition years ago at the Saratoga Farmers Market, where he bested Max London. Back at the time chef Ireland was working at Panza’s and now he’s doing his thing with quiet confidence at the Saratoga Golf & Polo Club. Ireland has also worked at the Saratoga Wine Bar and the Ritz Carlton in Washington, DC.

As tempting as his Upstate New York Dinner menu might be, it was not made available to the public. The dinner took place on Saturday, November 21 in the President’s Room of the club. It was actually part of a monthly dinner series, designed to offer club members unique dining experiences. To get a sense of just how unique, here’s what chef Ireland had to say:

I did one based on a note inside a used copy of the Chez Panisse Menu book that said “call after the hunt.” One was based on using our by-product of the kitchen, so all of our scraps (this one was my favorite). There have been numerous others like all product from our garden, foraging, my heritage, etc. I personally love involving history and fantasy into these dinners… Besides some of the basic seasonings and the duck all product was bought at the Saratoga Farmers Market. These dinners allow us to play around so most of it may seem simple enough, but we are making vinegars, butter, charcuterie, etc.

Now he’s working on the next one which is more about history and what the first settlers in Upstate New York ate to live. It does make me wonder if anyone might be inspired to join the club in the future just for the food.

As an extra special treat, since this menu was actually produced, you’re going to get to see most dishes presented below their picture. Well, except for the first one:

Elihu farms lamb tartare
with pickled elderberry, sweet potato chips, ginger

Cheddar soup with cheddar chips
dried apple, chives, caraway crackers, crispy duck skin, puffed amaranth.


Turnip cooked in duck fat and thyme
with Dijon vinaigrette


Celery root carbonara
elihu farms egg yolk, homestead artisans goat Parmesan, house cured guanciale


Sweet fingerling potato
cooked like a piece of meat**


Aged Hudson valley duck
aged for about 20 days then rubbed with honey, lavender, cumin, coriander;
served with plums that we marinated in earl grey, red wine, port wine, clove,
honey, red wine vinegar, cinnamon


Homestead artisans goat cheese mousse with goats milk jam
dried apple, apple cider donut, apple cider poached apple


Wow. That looks great. Pouring over these dishes and doing a back-of-the-napkin comparison with some of the earlier menus, what are the similarities and what are the differences? Well there’s plenty of cheese, apples, duck, and root vegetables. We saw oats in an earlier menu, but not amaranth.

I love seeing how duck plays its way through multiple courses, using its fat, skin and meat in separate preparations. It’s very clever, but it also feels tied to a sense of thrift that the region most definitely possesses.

It’s truly wonderful to hear that the members of this club are supportive of these kinds of efforts. Now I suppose the question will be, how supportive will the rest of the Capital Region be for other chefs pursuing similar visions?

Regardless of how it works out, I’m extremely thankful to see everyone making an effort. And there is absolutely more to come.

** Quote from John Ireland, “Basically we cooked this sweet potato for about 1.5 hours on a low flame basting with butter, shallot, thyme, and rosemary. Sauced with reduced duck stock, maple syrup (we make our own with sap we collect from the trees at the club). Looks are deceiving with this dish and I should have taken a pic after it was cut open. The outside was crisp and the inside was basically liquid, I really enjoyed this one.”

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 24, 2015 11:44 am

    My favorite sentence in this post: ” And there is absolutely more to come.” You’re on to something Daniel. Bulldog it.

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