A Culinary Exchange Between the Berkshires & Hudson Valley
On Sundays and Mondays when his restaurant is dark, Bjorn Somlo (near left), the celebrated chef/owner of Nudel in Lenox, hits the road to see what’s cooking in neighboring towns and counties. He’s become friends with many competitors and a champion of contemporary regional cuisine, which led him to dream up ChefX, a culinary exchange program in which a group of Berkshire chefs will cook for one night in Hudson (at The Crimson Sparrow on Sunday, April 7) followed by a group of Hudson chefs—including Benjamin Freemole and John McCarthy III (above left)— who will cook in Great Barrington (at Allium on Monday, April 29. ) “My staff and friends go to Hudson all the time, but the community at large does not follow our lead so we are trying to make it easy for people to broaden their horizons,” says Somlo. “I thought it would be great to share our clienteles and offer our customers special one-night-only food experiences.”
Somlo has micro-tested the concept by inviting other regional chefs to cook in his kitchen, introducing his patrons to the pleasures of different restaurants’ dishes. In January, Joel Viehland of Community Table in Washington, CT, prepared a special tasting menu one night at Nudel and DA|BA’s Daniel Nilsson created a “pop-up” version of his Hudson restaurant at Somlo’s establishment for a single winter’s evening. “For a long time, people acted as if Hudson and the Berskhires were different worlds,” says Somlo, who recently spent a night behind the stove at DA|BA to help celebrate Nilsson’s birthday. “I want to bridge that gap.”
For the Berkshires’ traveling team, Somlo recruited Brian Alberg of the Red Lion Inn, Jamie Paxton of The Meat Market (who will soon be cooking at David Wurth’s Cross Roads Food Shop), Stephen Browning of Bell & Anchor and cheesemonger Matt Rubiner. The Hudson Valley chefs who will be cooking in Great Barrington on April 29 include Benjamin Freemole and John McCarthy III from The Crimson Sparrow, Hugh Horner of Helsinki Hudson, Jon Spoto and Chip Chiappinelli of Grazin’ Diner, Jeff Gimmel of Swoon Kitchenbar, and Josephine Proul of Local 111.
Alberg, who lives and farms in Columbia County and works in the Berkshires, believes that collaboration is a necessity in a rural area that is trying to establish itself as a farm-to-table food destination. “One of the things that I feel sets us apart from other regions is that we look past our individual goals and and focus more importantly on community goals,” he says. “It helps us accomplish our personal goals by strengthening our culinary stance in the region and beyond.”
Somlo, who is 33, notes that a younger generation of chefs and restaurateurs understand the importance of working together to develop a local food culture that is both environmentally and economically sound. “I am always encouraging my clientele to try other restaurants,” he says. “I firmly believe that if the guests have a good night out—whether it’s at Nudel or Bell & Anchor or Crimson Sparrow—they will go out more often. I believe in the rising tide.”
Jamie Paxton, who has worked in both the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, agrees. “I think there’s opportunity to expand and merge our customer bases, offering more options and variety to the people of the Berkshires and Hudson Valley, providing a larger market for the businesses in these two regions, helping to sustain and grow local farm and food businesses,” says Paxton, who will be making confit rabbit (from Wannabea Farm in southern Vermont) with local lettuces (from the greenhouses at the Berry Patch in Stephentown, NY) for the April 7 dinner. “We face similar challenges of running businesses within areas with limited populations with great seasonal fluctuations, which offers us the opportunity to learn from each other’s successes and solutions to these challenges.”
Somlo hopes that diners will respond as enthusiastically to the concept as the participating chefs and discover a newfound appreciation for the region’s culinary creativity and, perhaps, a willingness to drive an extra 20 or 30 minutes for an interesting meal in the future. “We designed ChefX to give the guests an experience they cannot have elsewhere or exactly the same way ever again,” he says. “It was designed so everyone involved comes out a winner.”— Dan Shaw
$100 per person, not including tax, tip and beverages.