New Paltz’s Main Course: Globally inspired, locally sourced

Bruce Kazan and the Main Course staff are celebrating 30 years in business. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

When Bruce Kazan first opened Main Course Marketplace in New Paltz, 30 years ago this May, the farm-to-table movement had not yet arrived in the Hudson Valley. “Back in the day, catering up here was a tray of ziti and a tray of meatballs,” he says. “The Hudson Valley had not come of age yet.”

The revolution in the way we eat — a product of the combined efforts of local farmers and chefs along with the considerable influence of the nearby Culinary Institute — was still in its formative stages in this region in 1990. “Very few chefs here at the time were concerned with sourcing locally, but we were doing it from the very beginning,” Kazan says. “I was making connections with as many people as I could locally, figuring out what they were growing, and how I could source the products from them. I didn’t start that evolution, but it was gaining steam in our area at the time. And I wanted to drive that, I wanted to grow with that; I was willing to put myself out there.”

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The first iteration of Main Course Marketplace was a few blocks north of its current location at 175 Main Street, where the business was relocated 12 years ago. Initially slanted more toward catering than the café — a 70-30 ratio at first — the focus is now more equally balanced, with 60 percent of the business catering events and 40 percent devoted to the “market,” the on-site eatery and take-out operation. And while readers of Hudson Valley magazine have voted Main Course their favorite caterer in the annual competition every year since 1994, “The market can definitely stand on its own,” says Kazan. “And I think part of it is that the concept really works in today’s times, where people are not willing to compromise the integrity of the food that they’re putting into their bodies.”

The food he serves is “clean,” Kazan explains; nutritious, low in sodium and saturated fat, enhanced with aromatics for flavor. Ingredients for the globally-inspired menu items are sourced locally from more than a dozen farms in the area, with some of the farmers collaborating with the chef each spring to grow specific products for him.

And the casual, self-service approach to dining at Main Course is designed to make eating out more affordable. Orders are placed at the counter and picked up when ready, plated on china and accompanied by “real” flatware. Coffee is self-service, too, from a beverage station with ceramic coffee cups provided, and patrons bus their own table when finished. According to Kazan, the do-it-yourself approach saves customers somewhere in the range of 40 percent from the cost of full-service dining.   

Take-out — an online ordering option speeds the process up — is especially popular with working adults who want a restaurant-quality meal but don’t have the time or energy to shop for food, cook at home and do all the clean-up, too, Kazan notes. “Having our concept, where people come in and get what you’d pay $28 for in a fine dining restaurant and only pay $16 for here, hits the right market for people who are working and want a nutritional meal. With most take-out, it’s very high in salt and saturated fat. Whereas here, everything we make is from scratch, so everything you’re going to put into your body is coming from a very healthy standpoint. And the fact that we’re sourcing it locally, lowering the carbon footprint, just makes the person feel better about what they’re putting into their stomachs.”

This philosophy has been the strategy at Main Course from the beginning, says Kazan. “I think that’s why we made it to 30 years; we’re not looking to compromise our integrity for money. Money is important, don’t get me wrong; but so is feeling good about what you’re producing and doing things that are healthy for people.”

Kazan also credits the longevity of his business to the fact that he is both chef and owner. “We’re not just somebody who had money and decided to open up a restaurant and hire chefs. When you’re the chef-owner, you’re driving the culinary program, so you can give it a consistency. You can give it some direction and create what you want to create. Me and my co-workers here are constantly looking for what’s the latest and the greatest, because we want to be sure that we’re not falling behind. We try to go to New York at least two or three times a month just to see what we’re missing; or if we’re missing something. And what that does is open our eyes up to different things that might be coming, if we want to do something that’s a little out of the box.” 

Raised in Flushing, Queens, Kazan first came to town to attend SUNY New Paltz and graduated from the Culinary Institute in 1981. He met his New Paltz-raised wife, Vicky, during his first year at the CIA. (They’re celebrating 35 years of marriage this year, and raised a daughter, who works in government in Washington, DC, and a son, currently a high school senior headed off to study computer sciences in Boston this fall.) Vicky was still in college when they met, studying to establish her own career in social work. 

After graduation, the couple moved to Manhattan, where Kazan worked as an executive sous chef for New York Hilton Hotels before moving on to work for the Restaurant Associates group as director of catering at Lincoln Center, serving up pre- and post-performance dinners for 500 people at a time. “That was when I got the bug for catering,” he says. “I knew this was something I really enjoyed doing.”

Anticipating a move back to New Paltz, Kazan began advertising catering services in the local newspaper a year prior to actually relocating. The response to the ads was immediate. “We had to keep saying, ‘Sorry, we’re booked,’ because we weren’t really up here yet. But by saying we were booked, it created an interesting buzz, because people thought we must be really good at what we do. So when I opened my business in May of 1990, we already had people interested in us.”

It had been a good experience working at Lincoln Center, Kazan notes, “because the companies I worked for were really into the catering side of the business. It gave me a good idea of what the expectations were for the New York City clientele; the level of services they were looking for. But I liked the idea of being up here, and I knew there was an opportunity here, with the Culinary only being eight miles away. I knew there was a passionate labor force just waiting, and the area was becoming ripe for the evolution of food.”

The Hudson Valley has also offered Kazan opportunities that he says he’s not sure he’d have had in New York City, where the pool of caterers is much larger. He does all the catering for the Roosevelt estate, and has fed presidents (Bush and Clinton), princes, and politicians (Boris Yeltsin, Hillary Clinton and former Governor Pataki), not to mention the numerous actors and entertainment luminaries who make their way up to the mid-Hudson.

Looking back over the past 30 years in business, Kazan says it’s gone by “in the blink of an eye.” It’s been fun, he adds. “This has been the best time to be in the food business in the Hudson Valley, because we watched it come of age. And New Paltz is a great community to have this type of business in, because people here are intellectual, and very food-savvy. And I’d like to thank the New Paltz community for supporting us the way that they have; I couldn’t ask for a better experience and hopefully they feel that we’ve offered something to the community as well. I could not appreciate them more, and I thank them all for getting me to my 30-year anniversary.”

Going forward, Kazan says he doesn’t plan on doing anything differently in the near future. “I have a great team here, and they’ve helped grow the business at least 20 percent each year. We’ve outgrown this space to a certain degree, but you know, I can see doing this until I’m done. But I’m nowhere near being done.” ++

Exec Pat chooses Mayor Pete 

Ulster County executive Pat Ryan has thrown his support in the 2020 Democratic primary behind fellow veteran and thirtysomething Pete Buttigieg. In a January 14 statement, Ryan cited the former the South Bend, Indiana mayor’s military service, his “bold progressive vision,” and his “moral leadership.”

Buttigieg, 37, is one of top-tier candidates in the rapidly shrinking pool of Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination. According to an average of national polls complied by The New York Times the former Navy Reserve intelligence officer is running a close fourth behind senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and frontrunner and former vice president Joe Biden.

“At a time of great discord and division, I feel compelled to endorse Pete because I know he is the right leader to unify and heal our country again,” wrote Ryan. “I am confident he will guide the return of our nation to smart, effective and compassionate leadership.”

Woodstock to renovate offices

Woodstock’s Comeau Drive town offices are slated as the town’s next infrastructure project with a $2.3-million renovation of the main building and supervisor’s cottage. The project will bring departments to the first floor, where they will be accessible to the handicapped, freeing up the second floor for meeting and conference space.

The town plans to bond $2 million to cover the major costs. Engineering, furniture, construction management and other incidental expenses total about $300,000. Supervisor Bill McKenna said the town will hold a public vote on the bond in February. 

A model and project description will be available for public viewing. Designed by Walker Architecture of Woodstock, renovations to the main building will include a 2500-square-foot addition in the rear to house department offices, including the planning, building and assessor’s offices and an employee lunchroom.

Construction is planned to begin in May or June.

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