A Conversation with Liberty Street Bistro Chef Michael Kelly | Restaurants | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram

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A Conversation with Liberty Street Bistro Chef Michael Kelly

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BKM: You sort of jumped passed my question a bit. You were working at Batard in Tribeca for Marcus Glocker, right? Pete Wells reviews it and gives it three stars in the New York Times. Pretty impressive. But then you come and open up a place in Newburgh. How does that happen?

MK: When Batard got its three stars, shortly thereafter I had a conversation with Markus Glocker. He was always sizing you up for something, and I was very straightforward with him. I said, "Hey, I really want to go home and open up something." I didn't know whether that meant Newburgh or Cornwall or Beacon. I hadn't really been home for a sustained period of time to know what was going on either.

Cornwall sucked because I felt that it couldn't sustain a restaurant like this because it's a bedroom community. Beacon sucked because the prices have just skyrocketed and would have made it difficult to open and sustain a restaurant within the budget we were working with. But I had become really, really good friends with the owners of the Newburgh Brewery. We're still good friends. My wife and I got married there. It was actually [Newburgh Brewery brewmaster] Chris Basso who said to me, "Hey, you know there's this antique store up the street that's closing. The space is for rent, and I know you've been looking for a restaurant space." This is the spot.

BKM: And it was a blank slate?

MK: Blank slate. Much to my surprise, I told the landlords what I wanted to do back there, which was pretty involved, and they were like, "Just go for it. Whatever you want. Just do it. Because nothing else is coming in here right now." It had been sitting empty for a little while. It's all history from there, really.

BKM: The menu is structured so the food is served in courses. Diners can choose two, three, or four courses. Why courses? Why not an a la carte menu?

MK: The first time I saw the course structure was at Batard. Just operating through that menu and being a cook in that kitchen, it just made sense to me because we didn't spend very much time talking about food costs. I realized it was because this course menu allows us to kind of balance out food costs based on the average diner ordering in different ways. So somebody's chicken paid for somebody else's lobster, in a way. I thought that was just a really smart way to go about controlling the cost of doing business, and it also allows you as the restaurant operator to take pressure off your cooks, to not be so concerned about whether we can afford to put lobster tail on the menu.

Muhammara and liptauer salad - PHOTOS BY MARY KELLY
  • Photos by Mary Kelly
  • Muhammara and liptauer salad

BKM: It also creates a structured journey for the diner.

MK: Yeah, that is the obvious second part. I think the courses allow you to just say, "Okay, I'm here. There's basically a ticket at the top that I'm selecting, and I'm just going to say we're going here first, here second, here third, and here fourth." But then you can do whatever you want within that realm. I think it's a fun way to try new things, too, because we very rarely have a steak on the menu, which can really piss some people off.

BKM: What's the favorite thing that you guys are cooking right now?

MK: I love the offal dish that we have on right now. It's all those foods that everybody thinks they're going to hate. You know, sweetbreads and tripe and beef tongue. I think that's a lot of fun.

BKM: It's the only dish on the menu that is not a description. It actually has a title. "The Importance of Offal."

MK: It's taken from a chapter title in The French Laundry Cookbook. I refer to that book constantly. We love that book. It's from 1994, and it's still as relevant as it was the day it came out. That chapter is amazing. It just goes into so much depth about washing tripe. How long can you talk about washing tripe? I love that book. That was like my little homage to TK [Thomas Keller]. That's a really fun dish.

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