Chef of New York’s Hudson Valley: An Interview with Chef Peter X. Kelly, Xaviars Restaurant Group, New York
Chef Peter X. Kelly, an Iron Chef Winner and self-taught chef, is known throughout New York State for a) promoting the foods of the Hudson Valley and b) for operating the most critically acclaimed restaurants north of Manhattan. His Xavier’s Restaurant Group includes Xavier’s at Piermont in Piermont, NY, The Freelance Cafe and Wine Bar, also in Piermont, Restaurant X & the Bully Boy Bar in Congers, NY and X2O Xavier’s on the Hudson in Yonkers, NY. Since the early 90’s Chef Kelly has also been a vintner. His wines at Xavier’s Cellars in Napa Valley have been applauded by the New York Times and Wine Enthusiast Magazine.
And so, with three decades in the kitchen, the question becomes: How do you keep it fresh? For Chef Kelly the answer is easy: By using techniques in unusual ways or applying an unusual ethnic flavor to a familiar dish.
“Something is always going on new in our kitchens,” he says. “We might smoke potatoes first and then prepare a rich puree of silken potatoes to accompany a grilled steak. Or instead of using mint in a sauce or dressing we might substitute shiso leaf to add another dimension.”
As for some of his favorite ingredients to work with, Kelly, one of the founders of New York’s Hudson Valley Restaurant Week, a collaboration of approximately 200 restaurants and businesses promoting the area’s wares, the answer is easy: Locally raised poultry like duckling, quail, pheasants and chickens raised not far from where his restaurants are located. “These birds are full of flavor – think deep and rich -- and take really well to an assortment of cooking methods like grilling, braising, quick sauté’s and poaching,” he says.
“When I opened my first restaurant in the Hudson Valley in 1983 many of the best vendors that we have now were either not in business yet or did not deliver north of Manhattan. I had to go directly to the farms, dairy’s and livestock farmers of the Hudson Valley to get the quality of product I was looking for,” he adds.
“What I learned was that using locally raised products not only offered my guests superior products but it also had great impact on the economic prosperity of local farmers and the communities where we live. And while way back then I was not so concerned about the carbon footprint left by huge corporate farms I am now.”
What’s fresh and what’s in season have always given him his inspiration but he says “inspiration is everywhere.”
It comes from a childhood memory of a great cookie. It comes from a peek in the refrigerator or pantry to see what’s in there and what can be done that fun.”
The surprise here is that his favorite standby ingredient is mustard.
“I love using mustard because there are so many types with different flavor profiles,” he said. “Mustard adds a zing and zip to many of the dishes we create. From dressings and dips to sauces and crusts, used judiciously it is a background note that brings life to many dishes.”
Lately, he admits to using pickled mustard seeds to enhance house made charcuterie and raw fish presentations. (What he likes to eat on his days off: A griddled roll with Dijon mustard or a simple roasted chicken with fresh tarragon.)
When it comes to food world trends, Chef Kelly says he sees quality driving the industry. “Chefs have always been drawn to quality but over the past several years I see them looking for the same sort of quality in the most common of food stuffs,” he explains. “Look what has happened to the hamburger and now every town seems to have a trendsetting pizzeria utilizing heirloom ingredients using handmade mozzarella or locally grown Brussels sprouts.”
Kelly has also always had an interest – and a foothold – in going beyond food as mentioned earlier with his wines. His newest adventure: Slovenia Vodka, produced in small batches entirely in Europe.
“The quality is astounding as the water source is the Juliene Alps and we use a bit of buckwheat in the distillate which gives a richness and smoothness nearly unheard of in vodkas,” he explains. “Having made wines in both Napa Valley and the Hudson Valley the vodka adventure in Europe has truly opened my eyes to the global market place.”