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Meet the chef behind Soons Orchard's insanely popular 'Dinner At The Farm' events

Lohud.com, Westchester County logo Lohud.com, Westchester County 12/12/2018 Michelle Hainer

When Shawn Hubbell was a child, Saturday morning cartoons didn’t hold the same appeal that they do for most kids.

“I was watching cooking shows,” he says. “Julia Child, the Ragin’ Cajun, Jacques Pepin.” His father’s job at a large produce company took the family to Guatemala when Hubbell was eight and the budding chef grew up surrounded by fruits and vegetables at their peak freshness — with parents who knew how to prepare them.

So it’s no surprise that Hubbell would go on to do the same, enticing the Hudson Valley with his culinary skills and command of the local food landscape.

a man preparing food in a kitchen: Shawn Hubbell is the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, (they sell out almost immediately) and the architect of the insanely delicious wood-fired pizzas at Angry Orchard in Walden. © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc. Shawn Hubbell is the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, (they sell out almost immediately) and the architect of the insanely delicious wood-fired pizzas at Angry Orchard in Walden.

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Today Hubbell, 41, is the owner of Amuzae, a private catering business in Orange County's Campbell Hall (the name is a play on amuse-bouche, a small bite that often precedes a stellar meal), the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, (they sell out almost immediately) and the architect of the insanely delicious wood-fired pizzas at Angry Orchard in Walden. (Think bacon, apple and Brussels sprouts or fig and whipped goat cheese with arugula).

Oh, and in his spare time he occasionally cooks with Mark Bittman, the famed author and New York Times food writer who asked for a to-go bucket of Hubbell’s fried chicken after sampling it at an event.

“He was like ‘That stuff’s pretty good,’” recalls Hubbell.  “And I’m like, coming from you that’s a big deal.” The two stayed in touch and, this past October, they teamed up to prepare an entire cow (bones and organs included) for a dinner at Glynwood Farms in Cold Spring. “It was phenomenal,” he recalls.

Like much of what comes out of Hubbell’s kitchen. (Or yours, if you hire him to cook for your private party.) But it’s not just the food, which is as local, seasonal, and flavorful as it gets — he spends 60 percent of his week sourcing ingredients, which can mean driving an hour to pick up four boxes of lettuce simply because it’s the best out there — that makes attending one of Hubbell’s events so memorable.

a bowl of food on a plate: Shawn Hubbell is the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton. And he has a private catering company called Amuzae. © Submitted Shawn Hubbell is the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton. And he has a private catering company called Amuzae.

Yes, you’ll eat, but you’ll also be educated on how to identify and enjoy an heirloom tomato, how to properly clean a celery root, or what to do with a ramp or a morel.

“I like to focus on what’s available in the market that people might bypass because they don’t know what it is, or take an ingredient that they use regularly and give it a different preparation,” says Hubbell, whose 11-year-old son works alongside him at the Soons’ dinners, salting and sautéing through four courses of a rotating seasonal menu.  (Think house chorizo and potato stew with cider braised cockles, coffee crusted steaks with crispy potatoes and brûléed bourbon pumpkin pie with spicy chocolate ganache.)

“And I want people to know and appreciate where our food comes from.”

“Shawn is a class act from start to finish,” says Jean Bolton of Suffern, who has attended several of Hubbell’s dinners, including the exclusive, invite only dining club that he hosts in the warmer months at a renovated barn in Cornwall.

“He puts a different spin on things, serving short ribs over crisped up spaetzle, which you wouldn’t expect. And he exposes us to different purveyors in the Hudson Valley which is a real treat.”

Ironically, cooking almost remained more of a hobby than a career for Hubbell, who majored in chemical engineering in college, and then couldn’t find a job after graduation.

At 24, he moved back home with his parents in Florida and took a job busing tables at a local country club before quickly moving up to sous chef, which solidified his decision to enroll at the Culinary Institute of America.

A chance meeting at a Hudson Valley event nearly a decade ago with Sharon Soons of Soons Orchards, led to Hubbell doing cooking demos in their store, and finally the famed farm dinners, which now occur on the second Friday of the month year-round.

a stove top oven sitting inside of a fire place: Shawn Hubbell is the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, (they sell out almost immediately) and the architect of the insanely delicious wood-fired pizzas at Angry Orchard in Walden. © Submitted Shawn Hubbell is the chef behind the monthly “Dinner At the Farm” at Soons Orchards in New Hampton, (they sell out almost immediately) and the architect of the insanely delicious wood-fired pizzas at Angry Orchard in Walden.

“I used those dinners as a platform to build my catering business,” he says. “People started asking me, do you do weddings? Do you do barbecues?”

Nowadays, Hubbell and his Amuzae staff do all that and more, which prompted them to move into a new 3,000 square foot kitchen space in Campbell Hall that also includes a 60-seat dining room. (He’s hoping to host monthly dinners and Sunday brunch there in the new year.)

a glass of wine sitting on top of a building: Shawn Hubbell has revamped the menu at the historic Stagecoach Inn in Goshen. © Stagecoach Inn Shawn Hubbell has revamped the menu at the historic Stagecoach Inn in Goshen.

He’s also been hard at work revamping the menu of The Stagecoach Inn in Goshen, which will debut in January and include an emphasis on vegetables. ‘There’s a real movement of showcasing vegetables as much as you do foie gras or steak, so we’re going to do some fun stuff,” he says.  

And of course, he’s always cultivating his relationship with the farmers and purveyors who make it possible for him to prepare such seasonal fare.

“I want to buy my food from people who care about what they’re growing, people who come to me and say, ‘You really need to try this’,” he says. “It’s the way food tastes best.” Especially when he’s cooking it.

Book him

Chef Shawn and his team are available for private events. Prices vary depending on menu, number of people, etc. To book: Amuzae.com; 845-325-4366. Follow them on Facebook: @ChefShawn61 and Instagram: @amuzae

Or reserve a spot at Soons Orchards 'Dinner at the Farm'

When: Held on the second Friday of the month year-round

Price: $60 per person for a four-course meal and a sampling of cider or a specialty cocktail; soonsorchard.com.

Where: The orchard is located at 23 Soons Circle, New Hampton.

Chef's picks

Shawn Hubbell shares his picks for the freshest produce:

Mushrooms and arugula: Madura Farms in Pine Island

Blueberries: Pine Hill Farm in Chester

Lettuce: S & SO Produce Farms in Goshen

Kale and mesclun mix: Blooming Hill Farm in Blooming Grove

Peaches and apples: Soons Orchards in New Hampton

Squash: Hepworth Farms in Milton

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Meet the chef behind Soons Orchard's insanely popular 'Dinner At The Farm' events

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