Story and photographs by Bob Rozycki
Life is a circle, maybe more oblong than round, for Jay Lippin.
Jay, an amiable bear of a man, is the new/old chef at Crabtree’s Kittle House Restaurant and Inn in Chappaqua, where he worked the kitchen in the early ’90s.
Jay was a sous chef at Montrachet in Tribeca in 1991 when John Crabtree lured him to his storied restaurant nestled in a hollow off Route 117. John and Jay were pioneers back then, being the first in the region to post on their menu that the food was locally sourced and organically grown. Jay nods in agreement, remembering how farmers would bring produce and game to the back door of the kitchen.
But Jay’s tenure at Kittle House was a mere two years in when the siren call of the city sent him packing. The parting was amiable, according to both men. Jay then worked at Odeon in Tribeca and Café Luxembourg on the Upper West Side before returning to Westchester at Mighty Joe Young’s in Hartsdale (2003-07). He opened Backwoods BBQ in New Jersey and last year won the cooking competition on Food Network’s “Chopped.” He went “corporate” last year, becoming culinary director of Village Super Markets, which owns a number of ShopRites in New Jersey.
A fortuitous call from John and Glenn Vogt, partner and general manager, hooked Jay.
“I missed cooking the way I love,” Jay said. “The Kittle House is like family. I felt like I came home.”
John said the two men’s paths often crossed over the years. “We had been hoping to get together again.”
Now that he’s back, what can Kittle House’s clientele expect?
“My style is more developed. I still love the basic ingredients. The thing is not to overwork the food. Not to hide it with sauces,” Jay said. “Use butter, but go light on the butter … keep it clean.”
“Keep it fresh, keep it simple,” is the mantra in the kitchen. It’s also keep it local and make sure it’s sustainable. The fish purveyor he uses can tell Jay the name of the boat captain and when and where the fish were caught. Two popular items on the menu right now are Loch Duart salmon from the highlands of Scotland and trout from Pennsylvania.
With an affinity for game, Jay has venison and guinea hen on the menu, both locally sourced.
Jay says he hones his skills by reading magazines and books and tearing out articles and filling notebooks with his finds. “I’m constantly tweaking.”
What John loves about the renewed partnership is their ability to talk things out when it comes to the menu.
“We communicate well,” John says. “We have to share knowledge.”
No arguments? No, the men reply.
OK, they relent. If there is an impasse, it passes quickly.
It is after all, all about the customer.
“Listening to what the customer wants. That’s the secret to being in business 31 years,” John says.
With that in mind, John says he is looking at a June opening for his new venture, RiverMarket Bar and Kitchen, at Hudson Harbor in Tarrytown.
Using reclaimed maple for its flooring and reclaimed spruce for its ceiling, the site will feature a wine store and an indoor famers market. Leading the kitchen will be John Holzwarth, most recently the chef at The Boathouse in Westport.
“Tarrytown is the gateway to the Hudson Valley. This will be a great destination,” John says.
“We’re going to follow the same philosophy as we do here” at Kittle House.