Chef Sets Table for Hudson Valley Farm-to-Table Feast

Chef Ira Lee has cultivated a rich relationship with local farmers. And it has proved especially golden now, as he fine-tunes the alfresco menu for 250 guests at the 2017 SummerScape Gala for Bard College’s Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, a dinner and performance on Saturday, July 22 at 6 p.m.

The event will take place at Bard’s Montgomery Place campus, the nineteenth century estate overlooking the glorious Hudson. Set against the sweeping backdrop of the Catskill Mountains, the country estate includes a mansion, farm, and orchards.

“I’ve been going out to the farmers’ market for weeks to see what will be available for the dinner Saturday,” says Chef Lee, who runs Twisted Soul Food Concepts, a restaurant and catering business in Poughkeepsie, with his wife, Brenda Black.

He had to tweak the menu in the last lap, since the local sweetheart Royalty Raspberries planned for the Coconut Panna Cotta dessert plate will now be past their blooming prime. “The weather was so rainy, it accelerated new growth of the raspberries. So we had to switch to blueberries,” he notes. But trust him, the dessert will be every spoonful delicious, with passion fruit, Montgomery Place Farm blues and delicate madeleines.

The rhubarb the chef is counting on for Eggplant & Rhubarb Relish, part of the Taste of India appetizer theme–with Peach Chutney, Coconut Dahl and crisp and puffed breads–is making its last rosy curtain call just in time. It won’t be available after the event, Chef Lee reports.

The gardens at the Montgomery Place Orchards Farm will also supply baby Japanese turnips, kale, and cucumbers on Saturday. Chef Lee is no stranger to farm-to-table cooking. He grew up in Westchester County but remembers visiting his paternal grandparents in Durham, North Carolina, where his grandmother canned peaches, plums, and pears and his grandfather hunted rabbits and skinned them in the kitchen.

Now he appreciates the sun-kissed flavor of locally grown jewels, from tomatoes to peaches and other stone fruits.

“Some corn is so sweet, you don’t even have to cook it. Just shuck it and cut it right off the cob for corn relish or salad,” he says. “And even if you were blindfolded, you could tell the difference between a mass-produced tomato and a farm pick. Locally grown tomatoes smell different, are less acidic and have a more pronounced flavor, texture, and color.”

The 2017 SummerScape Gala is an annual celebration and benefit for the Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. The program will include an exclusive performance by Billy Porter, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning actor, singer and composer; the after-party will be hosted by Susanne Bartsch at the Spiegeltent. Tickets are available online at or by calling (845) 758-7414.

Sprout Creek Farm cheeses.
Montgomery Place Orchards Farm blueberries. 
Blooming Hill Farm beets.
Wilklow Orchards gooseberries.
Indoor Organic Gardens of Poughkeepsie celery.
Walnut Grove Farm currants.
Hepworth Farms cucumbers.

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