Spring 2016

As we have reached out to friends old and new in an effort to expand the reach of the Fish & Game Quarterly beyond solipsistic ramblings concerning our little creative endeavors within the restaurant, I have resisted releasing any sort of “State of the Restaurant” type addresses. However, with all that’s happening this spring, it’s only appropriate that I update the reader.

First off, we have a robust issue for you, including writings from friends as close as down the street in Hudson, NY to as far away as Ubud, Bali. The Spring 2016 issue includes digital art pieces, photos, recipes, meanderings, and meditations. I am thrilled to bring it to y’all! (as Jori Jayne would say).

So, after two consecutive years of playing the role of nominee (year one: best new restaurant, year two: best design), we won a James Beard Award! This year we won for Best Chef Northeast. I got the nod in name, but all involved and anyone who has been in the business know that this award was the achievement of a hard-working, highly skilled, and dedicated crew and strong partnerships. I have done all I could not to lead, but somehow we have been banded together for over three years now and it still feels new!

One might think the news could not get any bigger, but wait, there’s more!

Fish & Game has a new menu! Yes, we have pretty much changed our menu every week for the last 3 years but it has almost always been a set menu of seven courses. From the time of our break in March we have been planning and testing a new menu format: one that allows the diner to graze, that ranges from lighter snacks to robust larger format portions for two or more people. As our tastes change, so does the format of the menu and we’re at the point where we would like to have the freedom to go big on some nights and keep it light on others. When I’m dining, light or heavy, I always complement my meal with a bottle or two from our award-winning wine list.

The a la carte experience begins Friday May 20th. Groovy.

The crew at the Quarterly has yet another reason to be proud this spring: we sold the Fish & Game Cookbook: Project 258 to The University of Texas Press for release in the spring of 2017. Peter and the gang have been working on this book, documenting the inner workings of the restaurant since before we opened our doors. It was a fascinating and incredibly time consuming way to build a book and it’s unlike anything I’ve seen out there. Peter was truly an embedded reporter, on the front lines of service with us for a couple years. Sadly, I don’t think he’ll ever make enough from the book cover the psychiatric bills from treat PTPD: Post Traumatic Pomplun Disorder. We wish him the best and a speedy recovery!

And, well, there’s one last piece of news. We have a little sister spot up the road a bit on Warren Street, 347 Warren Street, to be exact. Those of you who live in town know it. The spot is called BackBar. We’ve been open for a little under a year, serving drinks and light food to a great crew of regulars. None of this will change; rather, it will all be enhanced. By mid June we will be offering a new, larger menu of food inspired by Southeast Asian flavors. We’re calling the food component Bakar, which refers to the Malaysian roadside restaurants hawking Ikan Bakar, grilled or griddled fish. Literally translated as burnt fish. The Bakar menu will include light salads, fish, curries, and meats, many of which will be cooked on the plancha or griddle in the style of a Bakar restaurant.

That’s enough from me for now.

Enjoy the Quarterly!

Zakary Pelaccio is the chef of Fish & Game in Hudson, NY and the author of the book “Eat With Your Hands.”

A version of this article appears published in the Spring 2016 Newsletter from Fish & Game, which can be seen here.

The Day the Amtrak becomes the Orient Express

I miss Asia. I miss the smells. I miss the energy, the colors, the chaos. Most of all, I miss the flavors. Unless you’re cooking it yourself, there is nowhere in the Hudson Valley to enjoy the dynamic flavors of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia. Since living in Southeast Asia I have returned for a visit almost every year, eating, drinking, “researching” for Asian-inspired concepts on which, in my past life, I was working across the globe. Since making the full-time move to Old Chatham in 2011, however, those trips have been fewer and farther between.

Even before our move to Columbia County, we began whispering in our farmer friends’ ears: “See if you can grow turmeric.” “Plant ginger.” “Try this variety of chili.” “Have you heard of this type of mint?” Now we find the Hudson Valley enjoying an expanding variety of produce, much of which lends itself to the Asian flavors I love so much. Now we have a freezer full of preserved Columbia county turmeric, barrels of fermenting chilies, gallons of our own yellow and red sriracha, and a mosaic of salted chili jars decorating the cellar floor. We’ve been working, quietly, amassing quantities of Columbia county-grown flavor bombs.

These flavors work their way into the menus at Fish & Game, but due to the nature of our set menu, we don’t have the opportunity to share them with as many people as we would like. Fish & Game, since well before the doors opened to the public, has been a whirlwind of activity driven by creativity. We create to satisfy our own urges, pacify our demons, spar with our muses, test our stamina. We knock into the walls of our self-imposed limits (every creative’s duty), experimenting with every odd and end from out vibrant region in order to maximize utilization, minimize waste, and open ourselves up to unrealized potential of the gifts of this fertile land.

The set menu, this service style, has been a great vehicle for our rigorous creativity, but it also tends toward impediment. The length and presentation—in which the guest gives himself over to the decisions of the kitchen completely—can be intimidating. Further, some dishes that strike a chord with our customers slip into the dusty archives, never to be seen again as the menu is constantly reinvented. So, as is our wont, as is the nature of this evolving project, we’ve wondered what if we slowed the changes down a bit, what if we allowed dishes to remain on the menu for months at a time, when we have the product available to do so. What if our customers could come in and enjoy a meal without committing to seven courses?

So, because we can, we’re going to do just that. After our break, beginning in the spring of 2016, we’re going shift our intensive, week-to-week, ever-changing menu to reflect both what we’ve learned about Hudson Valley products and our customers over more than a decade of spending time here. The menu will always change, but with far less frequency, and our guests will be able to choose their dishes. We will continue to experiment, only now we will also take greater advantage of all the cured, fermented, aged, and preserved products we’ve spent so much time and money putting away. And perhaps we’ll give ourselves more time to spend with our experiments, refining rather than moving on to the next. Fish & Game with choices. Simple.

And, that’s not all, folks! To satisfy our Asian food jones, we’re going to take our little bar project at 347 Warren, BackBar, and expand it. We’re installing a full kitchen or, at least, full enough to really cook. The food will be influenced by my time spent living and cooking in Asia. We’ll use our Hudson Valley products to play with delights from funky fermented sausage to fish curries, native fermented squash miso to noodles glazed with smoky fish or meat juices and homemade fish sauce… and who knows what else… whatever inspires us. We can wait no longer! We need, no, we demand succor! Succor! Bring us succor!

The intense, micro-focused, week-to-week creative push that has consumed us is evolving, branching out into a variety of exciting projects, changes, and new developments that will probably require even more energy, but, we hope, will reach a whole lot more people… people to join in our celebration of this great town, this rich and healthy valley and the beautiful life we live here.

Dig it. Always.

 

Zakary Pelaccio is the chef of Fish & Game in Hudson, NY and the author of the book “Eat With Your Hands.”

A version of this article appears published in the Winter 2015 Newsletter from Fish & Game, which can be seen here.

Eating Through It

I’ve been thinking about working on a new board game (it’s an old-timey way of playing with your friends) called “My Unique Diagnosis for your Unique Ailment” (UDUA)1. This is inspired by the incessant reminders, courtesy of the opportunistic and pompously titled professionals, that we are sick. Sick & Special: yes, my entitled little millennials. Not to worry, though, as throughout the first world we have the technology to cure your chronic illness for the rest of your life. For a price, of course. And, perhaps, at the risk of some side effects, for which there is also a cure.

We are already in a galaxy far, far away. Where the distinction between physical and backlit screen realities has blurred and it’s imperative that I/we stay busy (read:distracted) or we’ll be consumed with an ennui that triggers my brassica allergy, causing IBS. But I know, as I neurotically fidget with my smart phone that when dormant is simply a useless, rectangular appendage (which, regardless of its ineffectuality I still rub anticipating genie-like qualities). Anyhow, I know this could be simply resolved if someone would somehow get some fucking wifi up in this joint! Jesus!

So, then, the niche for the game being made uncomfortably clear, perhaps UDUA would start with one player drawing an Ailment card:

UA: I feel lethargic and my left leg is hurting.

Then, the other players—as qualified as anyone else on a WebMD forum—have to diagnose the ailment and prescribe a remedy:

UD: Clearly you need to cut out gluten and obviously you have the onset of gout from excessive wine and meat consumption. You should be taking multi-vitamins, only drink cranberry juice (Ocean Spray is readily available), take 20mgs of Wellbutrin every 4 hours and go to the gym 4 times a week. Eat only avocados, green vegetables, rice and fish. Butter is ok but limit your coffee intake. Beware of cream or whole milk.

Though perhaps entirely inaccurate, that sounds more realistic than the answer I would give. My diagnosis might be more like this:

UD: Have you gone outside or touched a human recently? Try having sex while balancing a fat, grilled slice of acorn fed pork fat on a piece of rye porridge bread. Keep moving and eating, but breathe easy because the more you tremble the more likely the fat will fall off. Don’t drop the fat. And don’t mind the blood. I’m just using it to thicken your beet soup. You’ll be fine.

For years in my youth I thought masturbation, a great power we all share but which too often goes un-discussed, was enough to calm our collective neuroses. Clearly, I was too base and naive as a young man and I vastly underestimated the power of aggressively and deliberately disseminated, distributed, and displayed misinformation. I’m recalling Stripes at this moment: Bill Murray announcing “there is something wrong with us! Something very, very wrong with us!”

And no, it’s not that we all decided to join the Army. It’s something greater, far greater and it’s an unhealthy and, let us assume for the sake of skirting an greater malaise, unintended symptom of unfettered access to so much goddamned information! Merriam-Webster’s definition of “information” includes language about the “communication of knowledge”…also making an appearance more than once in this definition is the word “facts”. Well here’s a fact: I feel that most people have lost a connection to the earth and therefore to our bodies, which, I believe, slowly destroys self-confidence and awareness. Yup, it’s a FACT that I think this. And it’s now being disseminated throughout the grand disinformation dystopia. A virtual landscape where fact and fiction are bound by the glue of opinion, well informed or not.

I’ve spent much of my lifetime thinking about what I’m going to eat next . Below is a very rough timeline of the evolution of this exploration as I’ve aged and progressed as both an eater and as a chef:

What’s Mom cooking and when is it going to be ready?–> What do I crave, based on Mom’s repertoire?–> What other flavors are there out there? And of those, what do I crave?–> Back to Mom’s home cooked meals–> Please, I’ll eat anything: anything but the food in the school cafeteria!–> I can cook better food than the shit served at my college’s dining hall–> Hmmm, some people can cook better than I can…–> Some countries have better food than America–> I am going to travel and eat–> I am going to learn to cook–> I am going to travel and eat–> I am going to continue to learn to cook–> WHERE do I want to eat?

I’ll break from this rough timeline here, as this is a pleasurable yet poignant evolutionary pause . “Where do I want to eat?” is the point at which I find many of my peers now, whether culinary professionals or foodies with sharp and adventurous palettes. “Where do I want to eat” in this era of the restaurant boom is usually the second desire, other than for my most impetuous and wanton of colleagues, preceded by the first desire: “What type of food do I want to eat?”

And yet, for the most part, only those who live in something resembling a city are really able to allow the type of food to inform their choices. I have made my home both in cities with the widest range of eateries and ethnicities, and in rural areas with almost no choice at all. For city folk, ethnicity is often the first question that comes to mind. For those who live elsewhere, the choice most often made is to cook at home, or knowingly risk your postprandial wellbeing for a simulacrum of what most people call a dumpling. It is dispiriting how often we’ll delude ourselves, hoping against hope, merely to taste the “exotic.”

Access to good food is better than ever. And yet, ironically, commensurate with this unprecedented access our supposed “sensitivities” to such foods have grown increasingly out of whack. The reasons are endless and the number of proposed solutions just as endless.2 I had paused charting the evolution of thinking about what I am going to eat next. I had paused because I had found myself stuck in the “where—in which restaurant—and what type of food do I want to eat” phase of my evolution for some time. Many friends, people I know and respect, many smarter than I, are stuck there still.

I think of one of Modiano’s characters, “bathed in that smile that is distant and dreamy, rather than jovial… Searching for settings made for enjoyment and ease but where one could never be happy again.” Sentiments such as these seem appropriate for most of us who look to others for direction and assurance—or the restaurant in heaven—about what we should eat, what to wear and how we should look. I’d rather be a “blissful idiot.” I see, however, a more common response, the human pathology to clutch at whatever or whoever will play the role of shepherd in a desperate attempt to avoid drowning in individuality or what I refer to as aloneless. Aloneless is our modern act of self-reliance. Not necessarily going into the woods to fend for yourself without any modern conveniences, but having the strength of character to make your own decisions, move against the flow and, simply, have an opinion.

I’ve found it difficult watching some-not all-chefs become media super stars and, as a result, shepherds, specifically those who will whore out to whomever or whatever is paying top dollar. I can’t blame them. They have families to care for and—well, working as a chef is physically and mentally taxing, requires long hours, and will eventually drain even the strongest, most balanced and healthy individual.

But, after all, they’re just chefs. Not the exponents of the kind of expert opinions to which I ever intended to hitch my wagon. They are certainly not to be taken as seriously as my life coach (who once worked as a line cook. But then decided he would try acting. But when that didn’t work he went into fashion for a bit. But recently really, really got into these spin classes and now he understands how one can truly empower himself, and get six-pack abs, and he’ll your measure your calories daily or, wait, a calorie is a unit of measurement already, isn’t it? Anyhow, you really shouldn’t eat that croissant ).

A shepherd, other than one literally watching over the sheep, should invigorate the spirit of his followers so they no longer require sustenance or “maintenance of morale,” as E.B. White called it, from external stimuli. Of course, this would put most shepherds out of a job, an action counterintuitive to one’s survival instincts. Even the meekest of shepherds may have a hard time with that… unless he has a rent controlled apartment.

But I digress. I’m not interested in shepherds per se (other than that I hope that soon we’ll be able to hire one at Fish & Game farm) but I am interested in how my question, and the answer, has evolved. How I am thinking about my next meal has evolved. In turn, if you are a customer of Fish & Game, how I think about yours has also evolved. Because I create the menus based on what I want to eat. And I’m thinking about what I should eat all the time.

But the question has changed from “what” to “where” to “how.” How is this raised? How does it affect my surroundings? Living in the Hudson Valley, in the woods, amongst the trees, rotating through the seasons with the animals and with the plants has accelerated (or, perhaps presaging a bit of Kantian reasoning ) dovetailed with my evolution. This is particularly true during the crisp and sunny late fall afternoons and the still and silent winter days when the distractions seem to die with the plant life and introspection takes a stronger hold.

What perhaps once was but has long since been lost may be coming around again. I’m talking about where I’m finding my place, alongside Kevin and Jori, in the role of chef as curator. We’re the ones who ask how. We can’t dig deep enough! A few other such chefs are earning the trust of the dining public. Those who work as curators of a balanced experience, who find and cook and serve the most well raised animals of the finest breeds. Curators who seed and plant and also buy the healthiest vegetables grown in some of the best soil we’ve seen. Curators of an idea and an understanding of how our bodies respond to food, taking into account the temperature and the season. Evolving into this role has been a process of discovering what my body both needs and craves in step with what nature is offering (I’m still learning to keep time).

In becoming true curators and taking this role very seriously, we are seeking a unity between nature and culture in order to create a “moral whole,” which Kant considered the end goal of reason. The idea is not strict, nor is it exclusive. In fact, to work and to be true, it must be inclusive and holistic: from animal to plant, from blood to water. And, for us, it must be delicious.3 This is becoming intuitive, but we’re only at the beginning. Curator is a title not easily earned. But this is the next step. The next generation of great chefs will be guardians of the healthiest foods, understanding and sensitive to proper land stewardship. This commitment will hopefully inspire a widespread courage among diners to drop the absurd and undeserved taboos placed on simple, natural foods and give themselves up to a real experience. To learn how to eat again. To eat without it being too cerebral. To experience the emotion of pleasure evoked by food.

If there is a place for chef as a political figure, a leader or an advisor, this is how (s)he should use his power. The chef as curator simply provides what is truly good and available at that time and place because (s)he lives it, everyday. Because (s)he has done deep research (and only now, and still only the very few, can be relied upon to have done this research, and to call bullshit when necessary). It is political to promote what is good by growing it, cooking it and eating it. To properly curate for our customers and to build a new trust and relationship between customer and chef, a more personal relationship. To stop appropriating buzzwords which lose their meaning as soon as they are hashtagged—and just pay more attention. This is the chef’s skill best utilized: to intuit and then cook what is good for your gut based on constant contact with the product, the land, the farmers and the foragers.

Not every chef can do this, nor can every restaurant provide this service. It can only become instinctual through a direct and day-to-day relationship with nature. We should be eating it all, all that grows that is. But from where, at what time and in what ratio are only a few of the questions we have to ask ourselves? That is the purview of the curator. When you find one of these places—a thoughtful, considered, curated restaurant—you’ll know it. And if you’re listening to your body without distraction, you’ll also know it is time to, as Herbie Hancock said, “hang up your hang ups,” and just eat.

1Both the full title of the game and UDUA are copyrighted and patent pending which I executed while writing this and simultaneously emailing with Legal Zoom.
2And I feel lethargic and my left leg is hurting.
3We might find ourselves in the midst of a philosophical dialectic when introducing deliciousness to the discussion; however, we’ll leave that for another time.

Zakary Pelaccio is the chef of Fish & Game in Hudson, NY and the author of the book “Eat With Your Hands.”

A version of this article appears published in the Fall 2014 Newsletter from Fish & Game titled Fall: Year Two, which can be seen here.

Eating Through It

The summer’s gone.

I’ve always felt a more acute understanding of its departure than its arrival.

Perhaps my sensitivity to summer’s approach is deadened by the eternal waiting period we all experience. Waiting through the spring for the long languorous warm days of summer. Awareness of its arrival calloused by an unyielding impatience for fruit so ripe that I don’t notice summer’s here until the juice is already dripping down my chin. Maybe.

By the time the fruits are all picked and I’m eating the best to- matoes of the season, I try not to notice that the morning light, my alarm clock, has become a bit lazier, showing up later than the time to which I had grown accustomed, seeming exhausted and disinterested; passively allowing the relationship with sum- mer to die. And I’m groggier, aware of what’s happening but reluctant to admit that it must end. Delusion, one of the mind’s major achievements, keeps us waking up, pulling ourselves out of bed to own the moment, all the while truly knowing we’re just as powerless against the entropy of relationships as we are the more orderly rotation of the seasons. And yet we always try to dodge the end.

With heads down we cultivate the garden, observant of Voltaire’s dervish and the farmer and the futility of idleness or of the wondering why.

I guess it’s easier to have a grip on gravity than that which we believe we should be able to control but can’t: the determinism of what may appear a whimsical emotional tug comes to mind. So rarely do the changing seasons make us cry, even when a warm fall day, redolent of summer, turns us like an apparition of a lost love.

We are quick to find comfort in routine, the beat to which we dance, and we all find routine. Even the proud who eschew routine and cast it aside with disdain are only circumnavigating the more generic definition of the word. The routine finds its way into the work and the work weaves its way along the routine. And nothing wakes us from our comfortable going on like change.

The summer disappears, the winter is endless, and the summer, no matter the rain or our busy lives, is always a long, wonderfully easy jam session that ends too soon. It all ends too soon. It ended too soon.

Adjusting to less light and brisker mornings is one of the more jolting shifts, an abrupt segue that leaves you on the dance floor swaying awkwardly, uncertain how to move your body to the new beat that’s emerging from the fugue that is change. But it comes…it always comes until we become com- post. So now we wait for a new beat, the next beat…the next thing to eat.

The leaves have begun flaming out, giving their green to the acorns and ripe shells of black walnuts: A departing gift. And the brilliant leaves falling off the trees are wildly beautiful: the oranges and reds, yellows and purples, electrified with a drama far different from the whisper of a more reserved morning light, quietly heralding summer’s departure.

Soon the swirling winds will whisk the colorful leaves by my face as I stand powerless, happily, happily powerless in the middle of the grand rotation, reminded of all sum- mer gave, of its bounty growing over fences and into the roadsides, the early mornings filled with so much to do to manage the aggressive growth. And I’ll remember wine drunk late into the night as I rested in the soft grass, still warm though the sun had gone, and I’ll remember the juice and the sticky hands and the perfume of the delicate flowers whose scent belies their fragility and I’ll also remember the tomatoes that never made it into jars, but fell, rotting in the garden, an unused offering. The fruits and greens, the berries and herbs that summer pushed upon us and yet we could not get to all of them even though the days were so long. The days were long and for a moment, lost in the dance, I thought it would never end.

Zakary Pelaccio is the chef of Fish & Game in Hudson, NY and the author of the book “Eat With Your Hands.”

A version of this article appears published in the Summer 2014 Newsletter from Fish & Game titled Summer: Year Two, which can be seen here.

 

Patience

I’ve been waiting a long time for this.

The ham was cut from the pig’s carcass sixteen months ago. The breed was Tamworth: mild-mannered creatures with red bristles, a fine marbling throughout, and a ratio of meat to fat that we presumed was well suited to the prosciutto we set out to make.

I had done my best to cut the ham in such a way as to include all the hind muscle groups while not cutting into the loin. The cut was sweet: precise, that is. The ham, once separated, was round, smooth and appeared truly prosciutto-worthy, so we went ahead and buried it in sea salt. At a certain point, based on our somewhat loose calculations, we remembered to pull it from the salt, brush it off, and hang it up.

It’s really quite simple. Cut the meat, salt the meat, hang the meat.

Just use quality meat. Only use quality meat. Always. Use. Quality. Meat.

More than a few variables exist between the salting and the finished product. We’re working those out. Those are our secrets. I will say this: traditional methods, frowned upon by know-nothings and rhapsodized by the cognoscenti, seem to have a favorable effect. Yes, friends, there is no substitute for sweet country air.

Fifteen months after hanging in various spots in our verdant valley and only days after the one-year anniversary of our opening of Fish & Game, we cut into our ham. Older than the restaurant itself, this is one of several pre-opening projects that is teaching us how the ingredients that end up in the kitchen ready for the evening’s menu are years in the making. Our menu tonight, any night, began years ago.

Jori provided even greater examples of this idea when I showed her this essay. She wrote back to me: “We plant garlic in October and wait patiently until June/July to eat it… We start seeds in February for a plant we won’t harvest until August. We plant puntarelle and asparagus and wait three years to harvest them… We do these things because of the beauty and the reward of having the connection and knowing we’re doing it the right way, even though in this day and age it seems like the wrong way because it takes too long.”

We knew we had to cut into this ham to determine if our curing and aging methods had taken the ham in the right direction—not because we were impatient, as impatient as we all seem to be in this age of immediate gratification—but because we have more hams hanging. Had this ham gone off, there was great likelihood the others were off as well.

This was our test.

We have no ham tester (the little hollow point needle used in Parma and other famous ham regions throughout the world) to stick into the meat and pull out a core sample. We do need to buy one of those.

To date, all the hams had been cured and hung in the exact same method, only at different times.

Holding the ham, smelling it, touching it, we all—Kevin, Jori and I—shared the feeling that everything would be all right. But we had to cut it to know: to taste the salt, the texture, to see whether or not some unwanted bacteria had crept inside, quietly rotting the meat from within, giving us false hope.

The meat was fine. Better than fine. It was a deep pink, with a tight grain and perfectly à point in its saltiness. Fifteen months is approximately nine months shy of when I’d like to be pulling the hams, however with more pigs queuing up for curing, we felt it prudent to check our oldest ham’s progress to aid in guiding our future efforts.

Allowing the hams to hang for at least 24 months, I think, will afford them a more developed “nose:” greater complexity and a bit of funk in the aroma, adding greatly to the sensuous pleasure of consuming salt cured, air-dried pig.

The ham into which we cut is now a staple at the bar, served thinly sliced. Last week we also served it in the dining room wrapped around one of our eggs, soft boiled, and dressed with a ramp leaf salsa verde. Honestly, though, I prefer this kind of ham eaten on its own, perhaps accompanied by a glass (or two) of Malvasia from Emilia-Romagna… or perhaps even a dry cider, made nearby… or sherry, of course. With ham this good you can’t really go wrong.

As Jori elucidated, the ham is only part of that for which I’ve been waiting. The ham is the ham.

The aforementioned waiting also pertains to the time, space and mindset to make the ham and hang it in the manner we did: like having a garden and working the soil, allowing it to develop and knowing that what we do won’t be truly great until the soil is rich with life. The waiting also refers to the spring that teased out its arrival following the deep freeze of this winter past. The waiting is what was and isn’t anymore as I am here and definitely not there.

Waiting may not be the right word. I’m not sure that I or Jori or any of us immersed in this project were ever really waiting. I’m not one to pine. It’s just nice to be here giving it time and allowing for life to take its time. Proper time. And I’m just conscious enough to recognize that. I am, however, also aware that the years, the winters, take their toll and, as Alvaro Mutis put it, on one’s “face one could see the rigidity of controlled pain that is accepted as the price we must inevitably pay to go on being who we are.” The spring eventually softens this hard existence but the lines remain, remnants of the absence of mercy in nature. We have no choice other than to be OK with this.

On occasion something will trigger memories of the time I spent working and living in the city. There were times of elation, moments of inspiration, collaborations with great talents, long hours, weeks, months, intense and engaging discourse, fucking in cars parked outside three-star Michelin restaurants, apartment and neighborhood hopping, intentional decadence, drinking and over-eating, falling in love. Life happened. And as it did it brought memorable moments.

But for a good part of my time in the city after the turn of the millennium, there was a lingering discomfort: a dissatisfaction with the cynicism that surrounded the business, some bad partnerships, and the density, but most of all an unbridgeable disconnect with the product and conflicted feelings about the paradigm on which so many restaurants are built. That has changed. And now spring is here.

We at Fish & Game have created a unique situation in the Hudson Valley, the result of a fantasy shared by more than the people directly involved with the restaurant. What is being built and what has already come to pass at and around Fish & Game is part of a more general awakening. An attentiveness. A more considered style of living than I have ever witnessed of been a part of.

Being human and still very much a New Yorker, I find it challenging not to quip that this “enlightenment” is probably due to our heightened sensitivity that the waste of our rampant consumerism is close to consuming us. Such unchecked growth is perhaps partially a result of too much of the “think big!” mentality, the mantra of industry titans and self-proclaimed masters of the universe.

I wonder now if it was hard to He-Man to see beyond his muscles.

I’ve begun to think of it this way: we’re not capable of much, yet the little bit we do can resonate far beyond our time. It is this small work, when done with great care and attention to detail—up and down the ladder of all the elements involved in our doing, before and after the doing is done—that is making this time more beautiful than any I have ever known. Witnessing this and being a part of it, has made the waiting—if only recognized after it has passed—worth it. And so I smile, knowingly, as I begin to understand that spring—the cutting of a ham and the green—is our annual reminder of the necessity of patience and its persistent beauty.

 

Zakary Pelaccio is the chef of Fish & Game in Hudson, NY and the author of the book “Eat With Your Hands.”

A version of this article appears published in the Spring 2014 Newsletter from Fish & Game titled Spring: Year One, which can be seen here.