“As long as we’ve had a restaurant, people have been asking me, ‘When are you going to do a cookbook?’” said Richard Erickson, chef of Bistro-to-Go, the popular take-out or eat-in shop plus bakery on Route 28, outside of Kingston. Richard and his wife and business partner, Mary Anne, are celebrating their 25th year of serving food in the Hudson Valley with the publication of Feel Good Food, a full-color, 280-page collection of Richard’s recipes, techniques, and culinary advice, with illustrations by Mary Anne.
It’s hard to find time for writing a cookbook while running a thriving business, especially one that has changed locations twice, the second time transitioning from an elegant dinner restaurant, Blue Mountain Bistro in Woodstock, to a healthy take-out café on a busy highway. One Valentine’s Day, Mary Anne put together a little book of Richard’s recipes, with his picture on the cover, and gave it to him as a gift. “It was really appealing,” Richard said. Since then, they’ve been working on a book, on and off, for about five years.
“Richard just celebrated his 70th birthday,” said Mary Anne, “and I’m 68. We won’t be able to do this forever. We wanted to celebrate some of our favorite things about the Hudson Valley, along with Richard’s favorite recipes.”
With the plethora of cookbooks out there, they had to find something to make their book unique. They decided to make use of Mary Anne’s talents as an artist, which has served to enhance the visual esthetics of their business, including her design of the 40s-style neon sign that stands outside Bistro-to-Go, the outline of a bustling chef with a plate of steaming dinner. Known for her photographs of antique roadside signs from across America, Mary Anne is also a painter and draftswoman. In the book, her watercolors and sketches, most of them depicting the raw materials of her husband’s dishes, are both charming and precise. They mingle with handsome photographs of the results of his culinary prowess. Their son, Chris, a professional graphic designer for Adidas in Portland, Oregon, helped create the covers and firm up the page design, making the book truly a family project.
The introduction tells the story of Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go and its role in the evolution of the Hudson Valley restaurant business, followed by a chapter highlighting local farmers who supply vegetables and meats to the café. The Ericksons were among the first restaurateurs in the area to emphasize the use of Hudson Valley-grown foods. “I used to work at a restaurant in New York City, across from the farmers market in Union Square,” Richard explained. “I’d walk out the front door of the Metropolis Café and shop at the market on Wednesdays. A lot of the people selling were from the Hudson Valley.”
When the Ericksons moved upstate and started a business, Richard had worked mostly in French restaurants, and there were a number of them in the region. “What could we do that would differentiate us?” said Richard. “We started using and promoting local foods. Nowadays there’s farm-to-table everywhere. I can’t say we were the first in the area to do it, but you didn’t see a whole lot at the time.”
“We were also involved with ‘slow food,’” said Mary Anne, “and an organization called Oldways that promoted the Mediterranean diet, long before it became a fad. Since then the Hudson Valley has become a massive food destination.” Feel Good Food reflects those trends throughout. “It’s a friendly book,” she said. “It’s who we are and what we do with our food. We make a point in our business of promoting a work environment of joy. We want everyone to enjoy working here, and that feeling goes with the good food. It starts inside and moves outward to our customers.”
The Ericksons are grateful they live a community that has supported them both professionally and personally. “It’s a quirky area,” said Mary Anne, “and sometimes contentious, but when our house burned down in 2003, the outpouring of love and help was unbelievable.”
The book is structured traditionally, with recipes from all major categories. There are many appetizers, ideal for parties, since the Ericksons also do a lot of catering. Entrées range from standards, like chicken marsala and shepherd’s pie, to the less familiar, such as stuffed flank steak chimichurri. Vegetable dishes include butternut squash bread pudding, French Provençal ratatouille, and even potato latkes. There are recipes for grains, beans, pasta, and desserts. But the book is more than a collection of recipes, said Richard. “I’ve tried to impart a way to approach food where you can totally improvise. If you don’t have this ingredient, you can do that. Recipes are blueprints for other things.”
Condiments are a important element of many traditional entrées and can be used to put a personal spin on other dishes. Bistro-to-Go makes many of its own condiments, and the book contains 20 condiment recipes, from olive tapenade to sweet-and-sour lemons. “Whether it’s an everyday meal with your family, or you’re having guests,” said Richard, “you can make it more special by following some of my techniques and using condiments.”
When asked to name a few of his absolute favorites among the 200-odd pages of recipes, Richard replied, “That’s like asking a parent, ‘Who’s your favorite child?’ I can’t really say.”
Bistro-to-Go will hold a 25th anniversary celebration with a book launch and signing on Saturday, September 29, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 948 Route 28, Kingston. The Ericksons will be on hand to sign copies of Feel Good Food: Recipes from the Hudson Valley’s Blue Mountain Bistro-to-Go. Throughout the day, they will be offering samples from recipes in the book. For more information, see http://www.bluemountainbistro.com.