From The Independent, June 2006
By Richard Roth
HUDSON—Mark Ganem got his first glimpse of Columbia County when he came up from New York City to interview Spencertown artist Ellsworth Kelly for W magazine. Now, years later, he is chef and co-owner of Vico Restaurant on lower Warren Street.
Having a literary adventure lead to the kitchen is nothing new for Mr. Ganem. He mastered Italian cooking at a bed-and-breakfast near Florence, where he was planning to settle in and write a novel after giving up his job as Milan bureau chief for Women’s Wear Daily.
A 1985 Harvard graduate with a major in biology, Mr. Ganem went directly to Fairchild Publications, publisher of Women’s Wear Daily, from the headquarters of the Harvard Lampoon, where he worked with Conan O’Brien of NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. The two also roomed together.
The world of women’s wear was something Mr. Ganem knew nothing about: He’d merely sent out his resume to a few dozen publishers, and Fairchild was the one that called him.
He was given a freelance assignment, and that led to a full-time job. “I didn’t know anything about fashion and here I was, sitting in the front row at the shows,” says Mr. Ganem. He says he soon learned to concentrate on the essentials: “Mr. Fairchild told me to ‘forget about color, look at the line’.”
He’d had a year of Italian at school, and eventually he was sent to Fairchild’s Milan bureau, where he found himself struggling to carry on conversations with such world-famous designers as Giorgio Armani and Gianni Versace. The six-hour time difference between New York and Milan required that he have their private telephone numbers for after-hours fashion emergencies. He once called Valentino at nearly midnight. A minor scandal had erupted, alleging that first lady Nancy Reagan was using her husband’s influence to satisfy her taste for beautiful clothes without paying retail. He had to ask the designer whether he cared to comment.
Mr. Ganem majored in biology in deference to his parents, both of whom are medical doctors. His facility for language seems to have been inborn—he’s also fluent in French. But cooking was always his first love. He says he especially likes Tuscan cooking because “you can tell what every ingredient is.”
“Vico” means “village” in the Tuscan dialect, and the menu at Vico follows the Tuscan model of using locally produced, seasonal ingredients. In addition, the wine list features naturally produced, small-scale wines from Tuscany.
Mr. Ganem is enthusiastic about small-scale agriculture in Columbia County, where he has joined a newly organized farm-to-chef initiative. Nearly all the meat at Vico comes from Van Wie Natural Foods on Route 9 in Stottville, and local farmers are now providing some of the fresh vegetables.
Mr. Ganem and others in the farm-to-chef program hope to establish a system that will make it easier for restaurants to use local produce, noting a growing demand on the part of their customers. “I know it’s there,” says Mr. Ganem, “but there doesn’t seem to be a coordinated distribution or information system.”
Mr. Ganem and his partner, Adam Klersfeld, bought what was intended to be a weekend house in Canaan in 2000. But they moved in full time after they lost their jobs in the city, simultaneously, four months after taking ownership. Mr. Ganem had been working as editor-in-chief for Style.com, the
Internet site for Vogue and W magazines, and Mr. Klersfeld, who has a degree in psychology and a teaching background, was on the staff at Housing Works, an AIDS charity.
Mr. Klersfeld oversees the “front of the house,” taking reservations, greeting customers, and supervising wait staff. Mr. Ganem is in charge of the kitchen. They have about half a dozen employees. The two had been looking for restaurant space in Chatham for three years or so when they came upon the building at 136 Warren Street, which had been remodeled and equipped by Bolgen and Moi, the local branch of a Norwegian restaurant that went out of business after just over a year. A new grill has been installed, the walls have been redecorated, and a garden dining area has been refurnished and graveled.
Mr. Ganem would like to offer cooking classes, although the size of the kitchen could make that difficult. There is barely room to turn around between the stove and the chopping block. The restaurant has been able to accommodate parties of 10 and even 20, nonetheless. In the latter case, Mr. Ganem said, the meal’s hosts decided to offer their guests three menu options—one grilled, one roasted and one sautéed—making his job considerably easier.
Main courses start at around $20, with the most expensive item on the menu being bistecca Florentina, a 22-to-24-ounce, locally raised, organic Porterhouse steak. The restaurant is currently open for dinner only, but a weekend brunch is being contemplated.