Food connoisseur and acclaimed restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, above, and chef Zak Pelaccio, who runs the Fish & Game restaurant in Hudson, N.Y., will speak
Food connoisseur and acclaimed restaurant critic Ruth Reichl, above, and chef Zak Pelaccio, who runs the Fish & Game restaurant in Hudson, N.Y., will speak in Spencertown, N.Y., about the pleasures of locally grown food. (Associated Press)

SPENCERTOWN, N.Y -- On Saturday, hear two culinary heavy-hitters talk about taking local to a top level.

Ruth Reichl, legendary food writer and former editor of Gourmet magazine, and chef Zak Pelaccio, who runs the farm-to-table restaurant Fish & Game in Hudson, N.Y., come together at 4 p.m. at the Spencertown Academy. They'll discuss eating local, and how Pelaccio has expanded the idea, building a restaurant that uses the whole animal and runs an ever-changing menu because of it.

"I think it's a breakout restaurant, not just for Columbia County (N.Y.) but for American food in general," Reichl said. She doesn't know Pelaccio, but she has eaten at Fish and Game and is impressed with its all-local ethos.

Pelaccio, also behind New York City's Fatty Crew group of restaurants, stays within the boundaries of the Hudson Valley and Berkshires for Fish & Game's menu, which changes daily. Diners get several courses for about $70.

He uses whole animals from local farms, as well as vegetable shavings and other elements of food that often get tossed out elsewhere. He and his wife Jori Jayne Emdi operate a small farm at their Columbia County home. And Hudson Valley woodworkers and ceramicists made the restaurant's tables, bar and plates.

"I don't think anybody has ever taken the idea to such an extreme," Reichl said. "It really changes the whole idea of what eating locally and sustainably means for a restaurant."

At their Spencertown talk, Pelaccio said he expects to go over the details of how he built the restaurant -- and how he coordinates it day to day, with an ever-changing menu and with quantities that sometimes come up short.

"It's OK," -- he said, "it comes through the door: We work with it."

"We're only six months in," he added.

The restaurant has been through the harvest season, and he said he and his staff have done a good job "establishing a vocabulary in the kitchen -- the vocabulary of our Hudson Valley cuisine."

"We have tremendous room for improvement," he said. "the most obvious one for us is just -- I think it's really finding that balance with refinement and rusticity. There is a line we try to walk. We change the menu all the time, so a lot of the food is made at the moment that it's served It's going to take several years for us to have sort of a number of standard ways that we do things."

The idea of eating local in part stems from the idea that fresh, diversified food just tastes better. It also puts money directly in local farmers' pockets. Pelaccio said he expects the conversation Saturday to turn that corner as well.

Reichl, who lives in Spencertown, said she was "surrounded by farmers here.


Both she and Pelaccio, who lives in Old Chatham, said they get most of their food from farmers markets, the area co-ops -- "it's a mix of stuff from our house and the farms we deal with regularly," Pelaccio said.

"We're helping to support these people and hopefully what they do becomes a real viable income," Pelaccio said.

He hopes for a snowball effect in local agriculture: Maybe more people will start working the land if they see real opportunity in it.

Census figures do show that small farms are on the rise.

"We have to make sustainable local food affordable and available to everyone," Reichl said. "What's required is for more of us to support local farmers."

"The most important thing you can do is not pay lip service to it," Pelaccio said. "Actually do it."

"It's really when you think about it a very simple idea. We buy food, and we cook it, and that's what we have," he said. "We're alive; we're animals. We're going to eat the food in our neck of the woods because that's where we are."

If you go ...

What: Conversation with Ruth Reichl and Zak Pelaccio

Where: Spencertown Academy, Route 203, Spendertown, New York

When: Saturday at 4 p.m.

Admission: $20