Mohonk’s Farm-to-Table Rebirth – The New York Times


But the most significant change has been the profusion of New York State products from suppliers like Farms2Tables, which delivers produce and meats from more than 90 Hudson Valley farmers, and FingerLakes Farms (70 Normandy ducks a week).

“We can get all these things now easily,” Mr. Palmeri said of the local produce and poultry. “Before, we were so busy and we were short-staffed, so you had to give your attention to the most pressing thing, which was surviving the day.” (Of course, not everything is local; no one is pulling sea bass and blue cod out of Lake Mohonk.)

Last summer, Mohonk introduced a Chef’s Table meal in the kitchen, with seating for eight. It is a chance for the chefs to show what they can do but not show off (Mohonk is not braggy): 11 courses, matching wines, spirited group, total fun. On the night I went, the procession included a silky cylinder of Hudson Valley foie gras with compressed apples and plum compote; a poached local egg with hollandaise foam and English muffin crumbles; a smoked sea scallop and velvety Iberico lardo atop potato cream; and a crisp-skinned Finger Lakes duck breast with sherry sauce and duck-confit tortellini. As J. K. Rowling wrote of the dishes that awaited Harry Potter at Hogwarts: “He had never seen so many things he liked to eat on one table.”

And then there were desserts, which included vanilla wafer cones filled with Chambord ice cream made tableside by Mr. Anson, and a showstopper orchestrated by Ms. Billups. After the table was covered with a white plastic mat (“a blank canvas,” she said), Ms. Billups spooned and scattered the following for each diner (this a partial list but you’ll get the picture): hot fudge sauce, pistachio sabayon, an ounce of warm chocolate cake, cubes of amaretto gelée. It was a finger-painting with one burst of flavor — sweet, tart, tangy — after another.

At meal’s end, Mr. Palmeri and Mr. Anson said a modest good night and did a slow fade out of the kitchen à la Rick Blaine and Louis Renault — “Casablanca” but with stockpots.

Photo

A western view from the main dining room at Mohonk Mountain House.

Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

Mr. Palmeri’s latest project is the rethinking of the Granary, the cliff-top outdoor restaurant. This year, there is flavorful grass-fed beef in the burgers, and savory chicken, both from the region.

“The Granary is outdoor barbecue,” Mr. Palmeri said. “It should all be local, right?”

None of this happened overnight, which is in keeping with Mohonk, where it’s not supposed to (employees were still harvesting ice from the lake in 1965). One of the hotel’s infinite charms is how steadfast it is. There have never been televisions in rooms. A sign tells guests that “horseplay” is prohibited at what is still called the bathing beach. Meditation sessions are held every morning. Tea and cookies are served each afternoon in the Lake Lounge.

You go back to Mohonk looking forward to doing the things you did the last time: strolling on a trail or scrambling up the rocks to Sky Top Tower, with a sweeping view of the cliff called the Trapps. Finding serenity on a bench in one of the scores of gazebos known as summerhouses (the view from Huntington Lookout is spectacular). Making a paper lantern in an afternoon craft session. Piling into the Parlor after dinner to see the ventriloquist Sylvia Fletcher or to venture an answer in a rock ’n’ roll quiz conducted by Bruce Morrow, a.k.a. the longtime D.J. Cousin Brucie. (I won a Gladys Knight & the Pips CD; totally wanted it.)

Any changes to the place are deliberated by the Smiley family.

The expansive spa, for one, was discussed for a decade before it opened in 2005. As Eric Gullickson, the general manager and a fifth-generation member of the Smiley family, said, it’s important that Mohonk is “not just reacting to something that’s a trend.” (“Disruption” is not in the Mohonk vocabulary.)

The small bar called the Carriage Lounge was a similar story. Albert Smiley, from a temperate Quaker family, did not serve alcohol when he opened Mohonk in what had previously been a 10-room tavern owned by John Stokes, which most definitely did.

Photo

Steve Anson, the executive sous chef at Mohonk Mountain House.

Credit
Tony Cenicola/The New York Times

That didn’t mean some guests didn’t drink. “They would bring these suitcase travel bars to their room, and they would try to get enough of a shine on to get them through dinner and sometimes they overshot,” Mr. Palmeri said. “The way they judged the captain in the dining room was, was he able to carry a guest back to their room?”

The dining room began serving liquor in 1970. The Carriage Lounge opened in 2005, and Spirits on the Sunset, drinks on a broad porch with the Catskill Mountains as backdrop, in 2016.

The emphasis on local food, though, isn’t a change as much as it’s a back-to-the-garden moment. For decades Mohonk had its own farms — at one time there were seven — which provided food for its dining room. (Mohonk Farms Milk was still listed on the menu in 1958.) One farm, Mountain Rest, is now part of the hilly Mohonk golf course, and others, like Home Farm and Spring Farm, have prominent places in the 85-mile Mohonk trail system.

The kitchen’s recent focus on Hudson Valley farms aligns with “health and wellness and nature and all the things that emanate out of that,” Mr. Gullickson said.

“Mohonk is very much founded on those principles,” he continued.

Whether they featured local items or not, Mohonk’s menus, some of which are displayed at the vast Barn Museum on the property, are a captivating chronicle of American cooking.

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