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Farmers & Chefs: Farm-to-Table Fare with Global Flair

Poughkeepsie Restaurateur John Lekic Thinks Big

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Farmers & Chefs is in the shadow of Walkway Over the Hudson—the perfect pitstop for hikers and bikers to catch their breath and refuel.
  • Farmers & Chefs is in the shadow of Walkway Over the Hudson—the perfect pitstop for hikers and bikers to catch their breath and refuel.

Talking with John Lekic is delightfully challenging. The chef and owner of Farmers & Chefs will be extolling the culinary and environmental virtues of locally sourced ingredients one moment, then seamlessly pivot to a discussion of how emerging technologies can be used to bolster upside-down industries: farms and restaurants. It’s tough to keep up with the conversational pace of this polymath whose passion for food systems has led him to research blockchain, organic microgreen supplements, artificial intelligence, solar energy, and drone deliveries.

It’s all in service of, as the name of his restaurant suggests, those who work to bring forth the Earth’s bounty and those who prepare it; it’s notable that farmers come first in the name, and oversized logos of some of F&C’s providers—Fishkill Farms, Poughkeepsie Farm Project—are emblazoned on the walls of his restaurant like boastful tattoos.
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Farmers & Chefs is in the Little Italy section of Poughkeepsie, which has seen a culinary renaissance in recent years with the opening of eateries like Essie’s, Nic L Inn Bistro and Wine Bar, and Casablanca. The restaurant opened last July in the former digs of Andy’s Place, a 40-year-old institution known for its chili (it’s still on the menu, though now it’s made with local, grass-fed beef, $8). With 200 seats spread over two dining rooms and another 100 outside on a patio that juts like a ship’s prow overlooking Route 9 and the river, Farmers and Chefs is making a big splash in Poughkeepsie.

Until recently, Lekic’s ran Le Express, a cozy French bistro tucked into a strip mall on New Hackensack Road. Not satisfied with the small scale of the operation—Lekic had previously worked in Manhattan and Las Vegas—he launched two food trucks and jumped at the opportunity to expand when a larger site became available.
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The food at F&C will be familiar to fans of Le Express. There’s a lobster spaghetti dish ($30); steak au poivre ($30); and a cheese and charcuterie platter ($28). The menu also indicates a willingness to travel further afield, with a Moroccan chicken tagine with preserved lemons ($26); Baja-style fish tacos ($13); and a subtle dish of pan-seared octopus, served with smoked honji meiji mushrooms, fingerling potatoes, cherry tomatoes, and lemon crème fraiche with chili flakes. The octopus is a standout, with the meaty-ness of the encephalopod balanced with the tart creaminess of the crème fraiche and subtle smoked mushrooms. Though it’s not on the menu every night, the Tomahawk steak for 2 ($75), served with roasted potatoes and grilled asparagus, is a carnivore’s dream and one of the better beef dishes in the area.

A new wrinkle for the business lunch set is a $14 lunch buffet, served in the banquet room, which facilitates a timely meal for those on the go. Recent entrees included beef bourguignon, roasted chicken in Thai curry sauce, and carrot stew made from Poughkeepsie Farm Project carrots. (Props to PFP farm director Leon Vehaba, who grows some of the tastiest veggies this writer has ever tasted.)
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While technology-focused and ingredient-obsessed, Lekic believes that the act of coming together is as important as eating itself. “Restaurants are needed not because we need food and drink but because we need gathering spaces.” And, if I may add to the sentiment—human connection is something technology might enhance, not replace.

Farmers & Chefs is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday and brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday. Closed Mondays. Chef Rei Peraza, formerly of Tivoli’s Panzur, will be hosting a decadent multi-course dinner at F&C on January 26.

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