On Monday evening, a group of chefs, farmers, dieticians, and other “farm to table” practitioners and devotees gathered to have dinner and to talk about the health benefits of whole foods. John Nelson, the Director of Public and Community Affairs for Health Quest, was the MC for the evening’s festivities. The affair was held at Le Express Bistro in Wappingers Falls.
Such a menu is not a stretch for Chef John Lekic, the owner of Le Express, who has always focused on Hudson Valley farm products, and also serves as the valley farmers’ unofficial cheerleader. His regular menu features beef from New York Beef Company in Lagrange, mushrooms and vegetables from Goshen’s Dan Madura Farms , and Obercreek Farms in Hughsonville. It is not possible to have a meal at Le Express without hearing about the latest and best local farm finds that the chef has been saving – just for you – in the kitchen.
Monday’s celebratory dinner included remarks from Dr. Sarah Levin, a cardiologist at the Heart Center, and Roufia Payman, a nutrition counselor from Northern Dutchess Hospital. I was happy to see the legendary John Novi of Depuy Canal House fame at the dinner, who gave some brief remarks about how important the local farms are to the character and uniqueness of Hudson Valley restaurants. Chef Novi gained national recognition in 1970 when New York Times critic Craig Claiborne came for dinner and awarded the restaurant their highest four-star rating. (The four-star rating I gave the restaurant years later in my Poughkeepsie Journal review probably had a lesser impact.) When Le Express owner John Lekic made his remarks, he mentioned his desire to have the historic Depuy Canal House building recognized and put to use as a Hudson Valley culinary center. I think that is a wonderful idea. Our area has a rich heritage in the world of food and wine, offering not only world class farm products and wineries, but it has also enticed many of the world’s most accomplished culinary talents – from Kevin Zraly to Jacques Pepin – to call it home. I think we should work on that idea.
A new urban agriculture venture was announced. The city of Poughkeepsie is the new home of an indoor micro-green facility on Main Street. Brud Hodgkins, who owned the Northwestern Insurance Agency at 316 Main Street, has repurposed the building as Indoor Organic Gardens of Poughkeepsie, focusing on raising micro greens that delectable stage between “sprouts” and “baby” greens. Brud also spoke at the dinner, and brought along some samples for the attendees.
There was one item on the menu that did not have a Hudson Valley provenance – wild Alaska salmon. It is worth mentioning because that salmon from Sitka probably exemplifies, as much as anything else, Chef Lekic’s commitment to sustainable foods. The overwhelming majority of the salmon that we are served in restaurants is farm raised, and the majority of that farm raised salmon is, to put it bluntly, an environmental nightmare. (You can read about that nightmare here.) Le Express does it right, offering only sustainably harvested wild Alaska salmon on their menu.
One of the most fascinating speakers was Patricia Wind, co-founder of Farms2Tables.com. The company facilitates connections between Hudson Valley farmers and restaurants, by offering a real-time inventory of farm products on their app. Farms post their products directly on the site. Buyers can peruse availability, quality, farming method, price, and order via the phone app. Just like an eBay for broccoli.
Monday’s speakers were surely preaching to the choir, as everyone in the dining room were in attendance because they were already fans of the Hudson Valley and its produce, farmers, and restaurateurs. Still, it’s nice to be reminded of how special the Hudson Valley is, and especially nice to share an evening with like-minded devotees.
This event was billed as a “special event” focusing the spotlight on Hudson Valley farms and farm products. The good news is that diners can enjoy the same Hudson Valley focused menu at Le Express anytime. Chef Lekic would not know any other way to do it.