A Restaurateur comes to Newburgh
Posted in Creative Class
Training with the best
Mike Kelly is a Culinary Institute of America (C.I.A.) trained chef with an impressive track record including stints working for some of the top chefs and restaurateurs in not only the U.S., but the world.
The Liberty Street Bistro on a summer’s day in Newburgh, N.Y.
Kelly also worked for Hudson Valley’s own epicurean son, renowned chef and restaurateur, Peter Kelly (no relation) owner of Xaviar’s in Garrison, N.Y., as well as the Bully Boy in Congers, N.Y., both, like Keller’s establishments, also highly regarded restaurants.
C.I.A. trained chef comes to Newburgh, N.Y.
Like Peter Kelly, Mike Kelly decided the Hudson Valley was where he wanted to plant, and so he became the owner of his recently opened (Spring 2016) Liberty Street Bistro, in Newburgh, N.Y.
His goal? To provide fine dining in an emerging, historic area (He’s right across the street from Washington’s Headquarters) where shops and galleries and other restaurants are catering to crowds attracted by the creatives and makers who are discovering and moving to Newburgh.
In order to face his first year in a robust way, Kelly applied for and the Liberty Street Bistro qualified for a Rhinebeck Bank Newburgh Creative Neighborhood Fund.
Area public and private partners lend financial support
Rhinebeck Bank is a local institution committed to offering quality banking and financial products in the Hudson Valley.
Hudson Valley Pattern For Progress is a ” planning, advocacy and research organization whose mission is to promote regional, balanced and sustainable solutions,” is located in Newburgh.
Together Hudson Valley Pattern For Progress and the Rhinebeck Bank have created an economic development plan to improve business opportunity in Newburgh.
The Historic District has block upon block of historic, national architectural treasures, and businesses there may qualify for The Rhinebeck Bank’s allocation of $3,000,000.00 to its loan portfolio.
The money is intended to fund secured term loans (the kind of loan Mike applied for).
These secured loans “include commercial express loans, equipment and vehicle purchases, leasehold improvements and real estate transactions under favorable pricing, advance rates and terms to the prospective borrowers in the Newburgh Creative Neighborhood, ” according to their website.
Of note the loans are:
- Below market rates
- Have no bank fees
- Offer extended amortization periods
- Are at favorable advance rates
Mike Kelly, C.I.A. trained chef at his Newburgh, N.Y. Liberty Street Cafe
A Newburgh stakeholder
Mike is also a recent homeowner (with his wife Alex Rosario Kelly) in Newburgh “we really wanted to live in the community we were investing so much of our life in,” he recently said.
Besides running his restaurant, Mike also finds time to enhance the Newburgh community by working to get up and running, as noted here , the summer offering: Liberty Street Film Series.
The film series is held on the lawn at Washington’s Headquarters on Liberty Street, in Newburgh. It is designed to bring awareness about this resurgent area and to create community amongst all of the residents of Newburgh.
These factors makes him just the kind of stakeholder A River of Opportunities likes to feature here on our blog: a creative maker, a commercial property owner, and someone deeply interested in contributing to Newburgh.
So, earlier this summer we decided to meet up with Mike at his charming restaurant (recently featured as top pick in Trip Advisor) to talk about his journey to Newburgh and Liberty Street.
Here’s our conversation!
Q. How did your passion for food and the culinary arts develop?
A. I developed an interest in cooking from my grandfather, John Smitchger, who didn’t cook often, but was very ambitious on special occasions. He would always roast a gorgeous ham for Thanksgiving with turnips which I still haven’t figured out how to replicate.
I started working at Nicky’s in Cornwall, (Kelly grew up in Cornwall, a small village suburb of Newburgh, just to its south) which no longer exists, where I bussed tables, washed dishes, and scrambled the occasional egg.
By the time I was about to leave high school, I had worked in most of the local restaurants. This further interested me in getting into the kitchen full time, and learning about classic food traditions. Specifically, I remember being fascinated by fresh pasta.
When I left for college at Oswego State I majored in physics and minored in political science. I’ve always had, and still have, an affinity for science. Ironically, in between lectures and breaks I would find myself in dorm kitchens making sauces or messing around with terribly executed roasts.
QAnd then you made your way to the Culinary Institute?
A. Yes. I can’t put my finger on the moment specifically, but I did eventually convince myself that being in a kitchen for hundred hour weeks for the foreseeable future was something my parents could get behind. It took some convincing, but eventually they were sold on the idea of the Culinary Institute of America.
Q. Were there any special internships?
A. After completing my initial coursework at the CIA, I interned for Peter Kelly of Xaviars (no relation) and Kurt Guttenbrunner of Wallse. Those were formative years for me, especially with Peter. While culinary internships don’t tend to lend you much skill in the kitchen, they do offer examples of how to carry yourself. Peter, to this day, is exemplary of how professionalism in the kitchen should be.
Q. And where did you land after the Culinary?
A. After CIA, I secured a position with Thomas Keller Restaurant Group at Bouchon Bakery at Columbus Circle. I remained there for a little over a year and left for Gordon Ramsay at the London Hotel. It’s here that I met Markus Glocker, the chef de cuisine. From the first tasting I did with Markus it was apparent that he had taken a liking to me. After a year of standing behind the hottest french cooktop I have ever felt, Markus promoted me as the youngest Sous Chef to have been promoted at GR. I stayed on for two and a half years until Markus, David Brinkman (executive sous chef), and myself ultimately decided to leave at the same time.
I went back to Bouchon Bakery as a sous chef for TKRG. I wound up executing a lot of the morning catering for private events at Per Se. I view this time as a sort of in between. Markus wasn’t ready to break out on his own yet and was traveling around consulting across the country and I was planning my wedding. About a year went by before I heard back from Markus. He called me and asked me to meet him at 239 West Broadway on a frigid January afternoon. I showed up early and entered a restaurant that smelled of mildew and the ceiling tiles in the kitchen were pulled down with wires hanging out. The refrigerators were all off, but seemingly, the previous tenant had left in a hurry. There was rotting food everywhere
Q. What was your career-changing moment?
A. Markus asked me to be help him open Batard in the middle of a giant mess, and I immediately said yes.
Alex and I were married on May 18th of 2014. When we landed at JFK the next week, I essentially went straight to Batard. Alex didn’t see me for a month.
Batard was an incredible experience. We crafted a restaurant from nothing and made of it what we wanted.
Markus, had surrounded himself with incredibly talented people, and had opened a restaurant that would go on to receive 3 stars from the NYT, James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant of 2015, and most incredibly, the notoriously difficult to acquire Michelin Star.
Markus asked me to be his rotisseur (meat, sauce, and roast) cook for the opening. I took on sous chef responsibility right after we received the NYT review.
One of the most important things to happen for me at Batard was when our Pastry Chef up and quit out of the blue. I have no formal training in pastry at all, but I volunteered to take over the station. It was supposed to be temporary, maybe a month, I was there for six months before we found anyone qualified. It was the most challenging six months of my career, but the self inflicted education I received was priceless.
Q. So, when did you decide to return to the Hudson Valley?
A. Some where towards the end of our run at GR, I had decided I wanted to return home to the Hudson Valley. At the time I did not have anything more than ideas. Those ideas floated around for 3 years before I acted on them. We moved back at the end of 2015. It took slightly under a year to get our doors open.
Q. Why Newburgh?
A. Opening in Newburgh was a tough sell across the board. Newburgh has been dealing with crime, poverty, economic purgatory, and racial tension for the last 40 years. I don’t think a fine dining restaurant was at the top of the list of things Newburgh needed for many people. For me, a city with the history and lore of Newburgh deserves a great restaurant. I , but I believe in this place, I believe in the people trying to make a difference, and I want badly to be a part of the revitalization of this once and future great city.
Thanks Mike, and welcome!
(As of this writing, Mike Kelly’s Liberty Street Bistro has just been nominated Hudson Valley Magazine’s Best of the Hudson Valley 2017 as Best New Restaurant. Congratulations, Mike and your team!).