New Chef at Crabtree’s Kittle House: Jay Lippin

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Jay Lippin, who was at Crabtree’s Kittle House in the early 1990s  and was also chef at Mighty Joe Young’s in Hartsdale and chef-owner of Backwoods BBQ and Grill in Westwood, N.J., is back at the helm at Kittle House.

Chef Marc Lippman left during Hudson Valley Restaurant Week.

Here’s a note that came in the Kittle House newsletter from managing partner Glenn Vogt. Following that, I’ve included a review of the Kittle House from our archives when Jay was the chef there in 1992.

Here’s Glenn Vogt:

We are very happy and excited to announce the return of our good friend and outstanding chef Jay Lippin to the Kittle House kitchen as our new Executive Chef. It’s been a while since Jay was the Executive Chef here – I’ll share a little history of how we met and how he came to Chappaqua the first time, way back in 1991.

Jay and I worked together in ’89 and ’90 at a great little restaurant in Tribeca called Montrachet. I worked in the front of the house and was immersing myself in what had become my great wine passion, Burgundy. Jay was the Sous Chef for then Executive Chef Debra Ponzek, and we all worked for the now legendary owner and restaurateur Drew Nieporent. It was an exciting time to be there. Tribeca was on the verge of being discovered and it was mainly due to Drew’s passion and vision – he would soon open Tribeca Grill with a bevy of celebrity investors in tow. And Montrachet, the pioneer fine dining Tribeca restaurant was a great story and the quintessential example of how the neighborhood was changing – the space that housed the restaurant was once famously a well- attended methadone clinic. With an indefatigable spirit, infectious personality and very little money Drew set out to create a dining scene unlike any other in New York. He wanted great food cooked by great chefs and great wine served by knowledgeable and passionate wine people and – here is where the concept turns brilliant – he didn’t think you needed to put on a jacket and tie and get all dressed up or spend a small fortune to have this kind of wonderful dining experience. Montrachet was trendsetting – hip, cool and a serious food and wine destination and helped to define what it meant to dine downtown. It was serious but casual, unpretentious and fun and we all worked hard to make it special and now looking back, feel lucky to have been there. It was a great time to work at Montrachet.

I came to the Kittle House in 1990 and with John Crabtree and his father, Dick, set out to make the Kittle House dining experience a little more hip and cool and fun. We created a wine program that would eventually grow to be a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner and still stands today as one of the best in the world. We changed the service style, got rid of the tuxedoes and bow ties and brought it into the ’90’s, too. And when the chef gave notice that he was leaving for a local country club, I knew exactly who I wanted to help bring the food at the KH into the ’90’s as well. Jay brought the Montrachet sensibility with him – top ingredients prepared in a way that showed off their quality in an uncomplicated, unpretentious and simply delicious way. The accolades were coming in on a regular basis for Jay’s cooking and it wasn’t long before the KH obtained it’s first three star review from The New York Times who were, at the time, the most important arbitors of which restaurants were good and which ones were not. So when Drew called Jay and asked him to be the Executive Chef for a big new restaurant project that he was working on in Manhattan, we were sorry to see him go, wished him well and thanked him for all of the hard work and effort that he put into his cooking and for all that he had accomplished while at the KH. We stayed good friends over the years though as they passed we got to see less and less of each other. But John and I, along with Gus, Leo, Kimberly and others who worked here for the few years that Jay was the chef, often found ourselves thinking back to memorable times and would fondly reminisce about all of the good things that had happened at the KH back then. It was a great time to work at the Kittle House.

Jay has done a lot of really interesting, diverse and creative things with his cooking career since he came and left the KH way back in the ’90’s, including recently winning an episode of the popular cooking competition show ‘Chopped’ and as he put it, “win one for the old guys”, as his main competition that night were quite a few years younger. Of the many adages that often ring loud and true in the restaurant business there is one we have learned to be most true – there really isn’t any substitute for experience. Jay brings a world of experience and along with it the things that can only come from it – wisdom, know-how, good sense and the knowledge of why it is that we do what we do – to make people happy. Sometimes I think chef’s get so wrapped up in the world that exists behind the kitchen doors that they forget about that part of the business, the most important part. It’s all about the guest experience and making the people in your dining room happy with great food and service and that is one thing that Jay knows well. We are truly excited to have him back. It’s a great time to work, and to eat, at the Kittle House. We hope to see you soon. G

What follows is a Journal News review from John Mariani, published Aug. 6, 1992:

Kittle House a class act

Since 1790, when it was called Reisig Hexammer’s Farm, the Kittle House has been a landmark in Westchester County – a structure of great colonial beauty, and natural beauty spread over 6.5 acres.

It’s no wonder this has long been a favorite spot to hold weddings and banquets.

Once called the Lawrence Inn, the structure has been a restaurant since 1936, but until Richard Crabtree took the place over a few years ago, Kittle House in Chappaqua had garnered a reputation for some of the worst food in Westchester.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Crabtree, his manager Glen Vogt and chef Jay Lippin, the Kittle House takes its place as one of the finest spots to eat in the area, not just for its charm but for its modern, inventive American cuisine and its breathtaking wine cellar, which houses 30,000 plus bottles – one of the largest collections in the United States and very much deserving of its prestigious Best Award of Excellence presented by the Wine Spectator newspaper.

Wine collection

Vogt oversees this list with a knowledge and enthusiasm that is not just infectious but enlightening, so that when he suggests a wine from an unfamiliar vineyard, you can trust that it will be a delicious surprise at a very decent price.

And with at least seven wines available by the glass, one has a chance to sample widely from this vast collection.

Vogt also holds a series of popular wine dinners hosted by some of the best-known vintners, sommeliers and importers in the world.

The Kittle House’s premises capitalize on the building’s 19th-century architecture, although acoustical ceilings, barnsiding woodwork installed by previous owners, and insipid landscape paintings compromise the integrity of the structure for the time being.

Crabtree plans extensive renovations to bring a bit more elegance to the room.

To meet for drinks

The Tap Room is a delightful place to meet for drinks, and the banquet facilities offer lavish options for both outdoor and indoor receptions and dining.

Chef Lippin’s menu is admirably well balanced, not overly elaborate, and priced quite reasonably for cooking of this high caliber.

A classic like onion soup with Jarlsberg cheese is prepared so well that it revives one’s interest in that old standby.

The broth is dark, rich, sweet with caramelized onions and lavished with a layer of bubbly cheese.

Shrimp Pernod gathered much from the addition of fresh anise, white wine, anise-flavor liqueur and a beet-infused beurre blanc without losing the essential taste of the shellfish itself.

Carpaccio of beef was wonderfully enhanced with aromatic truffle oil.

Lippin’s attempt at a trendy pasta dish of penne with goat’s cheese and chicken showed off California flash with little substance in elements that simply didn’t meld well or spur the appetite.

There is also a tendency to underseason most dishes, a neglect only marginally remedied when a diner has to add his own salt and pepper.

Seafood dishes

The seafood dishes we tried were excellent -large, creamy sea scallops with a complex sauce of smoky, roasted corn, white wine and tangy lemon-thyme and sesame-crusted Norwegian salmon with a shot of balsamic vinegar to cut the richness of the butter sauce.

Very good loin of lamb came similarly crusted – this time with pecans – and an admirably reduced bourbon sauce.

Lippin’s idea to reduce blueberries, brandy and honey as a complement to pheasant didn’t quite work, but the bird itself was among the finest game I’ve eaten in this country – full of the kind of flavor that should, but so rarely does, distinguish this fowl from other birds.

For dessert

Desserts are all made by pastry chef Anival Romero, who shows a real flair for sweets like smooth three-chocolate mousse, individual warm pecan pie with a welcome balance of nuttiness to sweetness, pretty fair creme brulee (the sugar crust needed more “ burning ”), and a cheesecake that would stand out among hundreds – rich, creamy and set atop raspberry sauce touched with Alsatian Riesling wine.

Crabtree’s Kittle House in many ways epitomizes the real attractiveness of country dining, for not only does it rusticity evoke a sense of remove but its commendable modernity and extraordinary commitment to wine make it one of the most exciting places to eat in Westchester right now.

John Mariani reviews restaurants for this newspaper.

WITH BOX:

**** Crabtree’s Kittle House Address: 11 Kittle Road, Chappaqua (half a mile north of Reader’s Digest on Route 117). Phone: 666-8044. Cuisine: Contemporary American. Recommended dishes: Shrimp Pernod, onion soup, sesame-crusted salmon, pecan-crusted loin of lamb, Alsatian cheesecake. Price: A la carte entrees $14.50-$25.50. Credit cards: Major cards. Hours: Open seven days. Lunch noon-2:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Champagne brunch noon-2:30 p.m. Sunday ($17.95). Dinner 5:30-9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; to 10:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday; 2:30-9 p.m. Sunday. Reservations: Recommended. Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible. Other amenities:Parking lot on premises. Valet parking on weekends. No-smoking section. Booster seats available. See microfilm for map

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About Author

Liz Johnson is the food editor of The Journal News and LoHud.com, for which she's won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

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