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MK: This business has a way of grinding people up and spitting them out. You either are going to adapt to it or you're going to fight against it all the time.
BKM: What was your big takeaway from going to the CIA?
MK: The CIA is a really great rudimentary institution. It's going to teach you the right way to do things, and then how much further you go beyond that is really up to you. It's very much the old saying: You get out of it what you put into it. I don't think there's any place that's more true than the CIA.
- Photos by Mary Kelly
- Roasted halibut over olive fingerlings and salsify chips
BKM: You've worked in kitchens with culinary titans. Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller. What was it like working in those kitchens?
MK: Those were obviously formative moments in my career. Those institutions are on such a scale that I don't think I could ever operate on that level, where they are just at the peak of their game all the time in the middle of the most competitive cities in the world. There's something desirable about that, but also, I got to a point in New York where I could probably be the executive sous [chef] of a really great restaurant down there right now, or I could get married and have a life. You can't really do both in New York City. But I also think running a fine dining restaurant in the Hudson Valley is, in some ways, a lot harder than in the city.
MK: Because I know that we deliver a consistent quality product all the time, and if we have the clientele to come here every day of the week that we're open, we would never want for anything. In the Hudson Valley, there are definitely people looking for this type of cuisine, this type of dining experience, but it's that bedroom community thing—it's moms and new families. It's hard to get those people out on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night. But I don't think that doesn't mean they don't exist. We just have to be creative in getting people to see value in a night out during the middle of the week.
BKM: So, getting back to Ramsay and Keller—What did you learn working in those kitchens?
MK: So the Ramsay kitchen is just full steam ahead all the time. Boom, boom, boom. You're just cranking out numbers, because it's mostly hotels. Really high-volume hospitality. Keller kitchens: Certainly, the grind is there. We are running around. You're starting at seven in the morning and finishing at 11 o'clock at night. Those are some crazy, crazy days, but if my pepper mill was in the wrong place, somebody was letting me know.
That's kind of the one thing with Keller restaurants and Keller-alumni restaurants. You either get into that mentality, so to speak, drink their Kool-Aid, or you don't. There's a lot of people who can't. If you didn't create the label on your container the right way, and someone calls you out on it. That's not fun for some people. But for me, and for anybody who got into it, it's like, "Okay. I'm in for the ride."
BKM: So that's how you run your kitchen?
MK: I try to as much as possible. It's hard to have my eyes on all the places, and here I wear a lot of hats—chef, plumber, electrician, cleaner, and everything else as needed. I have no problem with that, but it can be hard to keep track of every little detail as much as I would love to.
- Photos by Mary Kelly
- Beef tartare
BKM: How do you describe the food at Liberty Street Bistro?
MK: That is the hardest question to answer because I don't find it particularly French. I mean, there's certainly French technique in our food, but I think it's distinctly American, Hudson Valley-driven food. We're trying to be as seasonal as possible, as local as we can be within reason, while offering value and not charging $100-a-head because it's not practical. That is the hardest part, because I would love to use grass-fed everything from 20 miles away, but it's impossible. You can't do it at this price point.
BKM: What brought you here to open this place?
MK: That's a question I have a really hard time pinpointing a specific answer on. I like the idea of being able to move the needle a little bit for anything, whether it's some sort of a way to improve a neighborhood. I think we do play a hand in that. I think you've seen good news come out of Newburgh recently, right? Lowest crime rate in 10 years. Did Liberty Street Bistro do that? No, but it didn't hurt it either.