How fresh is chef Christopher Colom’s food, you ask?
Well, for starters, we picked it ourselves.
Colom, the executive chef at Equus — a fine dining restaurant in Tarrytown’s Castle Hotel & Spa — is committed to a menu featuring seasonal produce grown by artisanal farmers in the Hudson Valley. To obtain the freshest produce, Colom recently formed a partnership between Equus and Taliaferro Farm in New Paltz. Colom was familiar with the farm — purchased by Robin and Sylvester Taliaferro in 1995 — having attended grade school with the couple’s son, Peter, who works as a farmer.
Taliaferro Farm holds a prominent place in the Hudson Valley food circle, providing produce to The Culinary Institute of America’s restaurants in Hyde Park, Main Course Catering in New Paltz, Mountain Brauhaus Restaurant in Gardiner and The Would Restaurant in Highland. The farm runs according to a community supported agriculture (CSA) structure, with locals purchasing shares of the crops a farmer is growing. For a membership fee, shareholders in Taliaferro Farm are provided with a weekly basket of farm-fresh produce, year-round flower cuttings, fruits and vegetables for canning and freezing, a weekly newsletter with recipes and an open invitation to enjoy the farm any time.
And any food that’s left over is donated.
“I donate whenever I get a chance, because I don’t want to throw (the food) out,” Taliaferro says. “I put a lot of hard work into growing it,” he adds with a smile.
Which Colom appreciates. “The restaurant supports the farm with monthly payments and, in exchange, we have the run of what we need from the farm,” he says. “We’re able to create a true farm-to-table concept, where we’re actually putting the food from this farm onto your table.”
Colom also wanted Taliaferro to be recognized for his efforts.
“I’d like to get to the point where the farmer is the
celebrity, not the chef,” Colom says.
Colom and Taliaferro offered WAG a tour of Taliaferro Farm, which is inconspicuously nestled in the mountains of the Hudson Valley, amid vibrant green fields and charming farmhouses. It was a picturesque scene: Taliaferro and the rest of his workers quietly tending the crops, indicating the many hands that it requires to maintain the farm.
For the months of July and August, the farm is growing cabbage, mesclun mix, green beans, early girl red tomatoes and heirloom tomatoes, tatsoi (an Asian green), chioggia beets, green and red basil mix, garlic, cantaloupes, sweet bell peppers, yellow zucchini and sunburst squash. Additional available products include certified organic milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, peanut butter, fudge, pickled goods, honey, meats, grains and baked items.
Says Colom: “I create whatever inspires me based on what’s growing here.”
For a brief moment, we paused to admire the asparagus spears, which haphazardly stuck out of the ground. Taliaferro and Colom cut a few stalks, which were three to four inches in length, and handed me one to taste. The flavor was exceptionally clean, which is no wonder, because all of Taliaferro’s products are grown organically — free from fertilizers, pesticides and hormones.
“The food that comes from here is really something special,” Colom says. “We try to celebrate that as much as we can.”
Colom always highlights the beauty of the produce he uses, while adding his own touch, of course. Having attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, Colom was trained in traditional French cuisine, but with his background — he is of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent — and having lived in Mexico for five years, his food often draws on Latin influences.
In the way he presents his product, I think he succeeded, Taliaferro says of Colom.
After hopping out of Taliaferro’s truck bed (because it wouldn’t be a true farm visit without a bumpy ride in the back of a truck), Colom invited WAG to Equus for a light lunch made with the produce from Taliaferro’s farm. He showed WAG around the Castle — which had once welcomed the likes of John D. Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie — before we made our way to a peaceful sunroom overlooking the Hudson River. With clear skies overhead and birdsong as a backdrop, the experience was nothing short of magical.
Having chatted with Colom earlier about our shared fondness for scrambled eggs and rice, he created his own version — a dish of risotto topped with an over-medium egg, crisp scallions, sautéed mushrooms and squash flowers, all of which — excluding the rice — was from Taliaferro Farm. The dish was light, with the golden yolk delicately coating the vegetables underneath for a blend of natural flavors. Next was a scallop, cooked to perfection, topped with sautéed spinach, asparagus and mushrooms — also from the farm — alongside droplets of black bean emulsion and horseradish mustard for added zest. Each forkful was a savory experience. Perhaps most satisfying of all, however, was the chili-rubbed quail, which was topped with baby spinach, cornbread and a mole vinaigrette. The afternoon food journey culminated with a gooey, chocolate pudding pie, topped with sweet sauces and fresh berries.
After tasting Colom’s meal, we can say — with confidence — that Colom and Taliaferro are both succeeding in celebrating the natural flavors of the Hudson Valley.