Road Trip 2010- The Leadup

Road Trip 2010

This trip has been in the works for years.

I promised to myself that I would take my sons on a foodie trip before they were too old to do it and, at long last, here it is!

Let me fill you in on how the hell this madness came to be.

When I was a kid, I did a little road tripping with a couple of bands from New England. Our travels were all East of the Mississippi. Being an innate experimenter, I was always the one in the group who had to try the scrapple and grits and eggs, though I wasn’t a even considering becoming a chef yet. I cooked for a day job, but I wasn’t “in the life” as I am and have been since say about 1988, when I got my first chef job in earnest at Yates Street in Albany. I always did love to travel and eat the food of the people. That, afterall, is where the idea of New World Home Cooking came about. Eating people’s food, American immigrants food turns me on. It connects me. If you really want to make a bond with a culture, eat with them and eat it all. Don’t skimp on the guts, hot peppers or other smelly things. You will never be trusted by anyone until you eat and enjoy the foods they love.

In 2006, New World Home Cooking won a Sante restaurant award. I was very proud and excited. The awards ceremony and celebration was in Napa, California. I had never been there so I decided to attend. It was a great way to discover wine country with 50 of my peers.

When it was done, I made a cool decision:

Instead of flying back from San Francisco or Sacramento like everyone else, I chose to drive, alone, via Monterey, Central Valley and Paso Robles to LA. I had to pick up my daughter Sidni. She was finishing make up school in LA and needed to get her self, her Ford Focus and all of her stuff (boxes of makeup, craft supplies, finished and unfinished art, records, CDs, tapes, books, magazines, kitchen gear, clothes, material for clothes, patterns for clothe and whatever other memorabilia she was collecting) back home to NY. So I timed it right. We drove cross country back together, crammed in her little car with all of her shit.

It was a great ride and a sweet bonding time for both of us though the ride was delayed and extended. Our drive was riddled by the winds of Santa Ana and historic high desert ice storms that closed the interstates from New Mexico to Kansas periodically for a week. We drove right into it. Ice storms from hell. When highway 40 and 45 closed without notice, we were stuck in nowhere towns where all we had to eat was either fast food or Walmart bran muffins. It was an ironic turn of events. Me, Mr. New World, people’s food foodie eating Wendy’s baked potatoes in New Mexico. Talk about the Irony of Ironies. We did have a few memorable foodie experiences on that trip, like same amazingly porky tamales in Los Cruces and a way cool squash blossom pizza in Santa Fe, but not enough for me. Sidni is highly allergic to nuts AND is vegan so there were, shall we say, limitations to our road food experimentations. I needed more.
Another trip like this was in order. I had to do it again.

Now to Fall 2008. My life to that point had been a challenge. Owning a seasonal restaurant could be hellish in Winter, but it was relatively straight forward. We were wildly busy in Summer, tapered off in Fall and dwindled to a trickle in Winter only to build back up in Spring, and to be back rocking every Summer. It was hard and tricky, but predictable. Almost automatic. I was rich by September and broke by March, but Summer always got us back to a good place.

But by 2008, things began to change.

Woodstock began to change.

Other small towns with decaying industrial architecture were rebuilding and attracting artsy NY visitors- the ones that Woodstock has had by the balls since the late 80s. Our market was thinning. By 2006 our business had plateaued and my projections for 2007 were a small decrease. I am a realist and the writing was on the wall. The yuppies were aging, the bubble was stretching to the busting point, and the Hudson Valley was getting overbuilt in relation to the number of visitors it was attracting.

In Winter 2007 I made a bold move. I was confident enough in New World’s ability to run like a machine and I needed extra income, so I took a consulting gig with HITS, an equestrian horse show company based in Saugerties. I was to design the VIP dining program for their Desert Circuit Site in Thermal, California. I planned organic and green breakfast and lunch menus for the stable owners, sponsors and riders. I had to be in the California desert for almost three months.

The pay was enough for me to take it on, as any cash flow was needed more than ever.
From January through March 2008, I was living and working in Indio, in the California desert. My job was hard, but routine. I worked from 5:30 in the morning til about 4 in the afternon, Wednesday through Sunday with a few morning hours of ordering and menu planning on Monday and Tuesday. I had Monday and Tuesday afternoons and every night of the week free. I began to drive around and explore the desert alone.

From 29 Palms to the Salton Sea, I cruised in my rented Ford Focus, and I fell in love with the desert. The beautiful date palms jutting out of the sandy gray, dead landscape. The cantinas and taquerias, the perpetual flowers, the jutting fresh, young, amber mountains. All of these things touched my Sicilian genes. I couldn’t get enough of the the Summer smell of the air, the streaky “chem trail” clouds, the Mexican everything. It was way cool and mystical to me-but all the while I sorely missed my family and my wife Liz especially.

So when my one week break came up in mid February, instead of coming home, I lured Liz to spend a week with me in California. We did “the ride” - the same one I did the year before, but backwards. We drove from LA all the way to wine country. We hung out in Frisco, stayed at Les Petit Maisons in Sonoma, visited with Benziger, explored Napa, cruised to Monterey. We took Highway 1 down the coast through Carmel and Big Sur, across the 46 through the wineries in Paso Robles and down the 5 through Bakersfield and back to LA. We both fell in love with the California landscape. It was a hard Winter that year but the consulting fee and and the week with Liz in Cali made it feel better.

Then things changed. By September 2008 the party was over. The Hudson Valley economy went into a free fall. From 300% real estate value increase (inflation) after 9/11 to Fall 2008 when it was dead, nada, bust. The Hudson Valley economy, and especially the Woodstock economy, tanked so hard that the yuppies were selling their 2nd homes and day trippers were staying home or going elsewhere less expensive. Hudson, Beacon, Catskill- most places were better deals than Woodstock. .

Woodstock was in the shit. New World Home Cooking, (though in Saugerties we are a Woodstock institution) was in the shit. Instead of working to make money, we were working just to survive.

It came to this---Liz and I were looking for “side jobs” to keep afloat.

Then all turned to a new direction. New World Bistro Bar in Albany was in its conception stage. Scott Meyer, co-owner of the Spectrum had approached me a couple of years earlier about partnering up on the space he was developing but I was too busy and too focused on Saugerties New World, HITS and working on a new book. I didn’t want to stretch it too hard. Howeverm after the economic free fall of 08, I had to make a change. The time seemed right. Saugteries (woodstock) was slow as molasses in January and the small market, small business audience that I developed over 15 years was flummoxed, angry, depressed and frankly depressing. When your base is clutching their collective guts, worrying about day to day existence, culinary fireworks are no longer mportant.
I needed a change. I needed not just a second income but a reason to be. Cheffing for me is a performance art and without new fans, the show gets old. Change was in the wind.
I took the plunge in October 2008 and my relationship with Scott Meyer and Annette Nanes went from a nice social relationship to a business marriage. The up and coming New Word Bistro Bar was in the works. I committed to a deal that had me working 24-7 on the Bistro Bar from November 2008 in development through March 2009 opening (while still doing three nights at NWHC) and through the first three operating months. It then shifted to 10-12 days a month or essentially 3 days a week, where it is now.
By April 2009, New World Bistro bar was up and running to rave reviews and brisk, profitable business. My soul was saved, revived and energized.
For the last year, I have been working 6-7 days a week--every morning from 9-11 and three nights a week nurturing New World Saugerties back to health and three afternoons and nights a week pushing the Bistro Bar as hard as i could.
Though I was working as hard as I ever had, by winter of 2010 I was back at the top of my game . Liz got a great lawyer job and is bringing in an income and the Bistro Bar is giving me an income. This allowed us to save Saugerties. The Saugteries business numbers certainly aren’t were they were in the glory days of 2001-2007, but they’re stabilized and that’s enough to create optimism. Without having to live off the business, I’m able to work the expenses and the menu and the payroll and get us back on the track to black.
I also did some neat stuff for Food TV, making a little chunk of much needed cash.
It was that TV cash combined with the success of New World Bistro Bar and the recovery, almost renaissance of New World Home Cooking that led me to this decision that this is the time to take my boys on “The ride”. They LOVE me and my food and love sharing it. Willis has been to Africa twice and like me, loves to travel and falls in love with new experiences like a fool. Terry is still living home and hasn’t experienced much travel. This is a opportunity for the three of us to create a common memory that rocks. As the kids age, they create their own life. Our common experiences are less frequent and usually revolve around shit like holiday visits and family deaths.
This will make a good one I hope. Maybe the best.
I am out of my mind happy about this! We deserve it.

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