By Holly Tarson
Photographed by dKol Photography
Photos: (Granola, Cinnamon Buns & Cindie and Dan Kish) Photographed by Laurie Szostak
Photos: (Cookies, Pie, Chicken & Seasonings) Photographed by Ashley Bickford
When Dan and Cindie Kish clambered out of their minivan over 20 years ago with their two kids (and a third on the way), a dog and a rental ad clipped from the Poughkeepsie Journal, it was a very lucky day for the Kish family, Millbrook and the Hudson Valley. “We drove up in desperation and landed in a house to rent right here in the village of Millbrook,” Dan said. The community warmly welcomed them, and Cindie thought, “This is home.”
Dan Kish grew up in the very small town of Stoneboro in western Pennsylvania. He saw food as his ticket out, a way to see the world, to be anywhere but there. Dan trained at the Culinary Institute of America, and his “ticket out” actually worked. He has worn many hats in the food world, from successful chef and restaurateur to teacher at a Pennsylvania university and, later, at the CIA in Hyde Park. As Senior Vice President of Food and Head Chef for Panera Bread, he sat at the table with the big players in the food business and came to deeply understand the food delivery system in the United States. But a large part of that job required extensive travel, which took him away from Millbrook almost 47 weeks of the year. Recently, he began asking himself, “What can I do that is more sustainable for me? How can I make access to good food a local reality?” One conversation led to another, community needs were identified, partnerships were formed. Now he and Cindie manage four different business ventures, all with a common theme: “Our purpose is rooted in access to good food.”
They transformed the vacant Agway feed lot in the heart of town into a culinary studio: part creative office, part commercial kitchen. From consulting to catering to food prep for retail, it all happens here. Years ago, local farmers came here to get their seeds and hay. Now the same loading dock that once received farming supplies welcomes crops grown by farmers. Dan and his team create meals based on those deliveries in ways that are responsive to bursts of abundance and consumer demand. “There’s no magic, it’s just good ingredients coming in the back door, and people who are passionate about food and take the time to do it from scratch,” Dan says.
He uses his many talents in these varied businesses, bridging gaps between farmers and consumers, between old traditions and innovation. Food-Fixe is his international consulting business, which specializes in helping family-owned businesses evolve their original business models to meet current market demands. It is tricky when a second or third generation comes to the helm. They see the future, but they aren’t sure how to get there. Dan calls himself a systems guy, a puzzle solver, helping these businesses hold on to the past while learning how to be relevant in the future.
“I knew I wanted to have a national presence in consulting. It’s an important pillar in the portfolio,” he says, “but we also wanted to do something for the local community.” As happens in our small towns, people talk. One day Dan was talking with Zach Hampton, owner of Marona’s Market in Millbrook. Zach said he needed a kitchen so he could offer prepared foods. His space limitations were a problem, but small-town kismet and business savvy produced the perfect solution. Dan was about to build his company kitchen, so he designed it with Marona’s needs in mind, and Market Kitchen was formed. “It started naturally and in the spirit of what we both wanted,” Dan says. Market Kitchen creates prepared meals, salads, dips and freshly roasted chickens all delivered about 200 yards down the alley to the kiosk within Marona’s. Those chickens arrive up to four times a day. It’s hard to imagine something more fresh or more local than that.
The intention of Market Kitchen is broader than food in a kiosk—it comes back to that goal of access to good food. “Everyone is busy,” Dan says. “Our businesses are thriving because no one cooks anymore. It’s on one hand sad, but on the other hand it’s reality. We saw the need in the community. We raised three kids here. We knew how hard it was to put a good meal on the table when you have a limited income.” The goal of Market Kitchen is to provide the good-quality food you would make for yourself if you had the time.
Dan says the recipes are made by hand every day and emphasizes it is more than just a slogan. “We grind the meat. We cook the vegetables. We make the mashed potatoes that go on top of the shepherd’s pie.” He grew up with wonderful cooks on both sides of his family, including his Hungarian grandmother who made bread every week. Those are still the flavors he craves today. “I think my roots in food are very pedestrian. They are generally simple things with really good ingredients. We try not to mess them up.”
The pristine kitchen is an amazing confluence of old and new. Cooks stand at prep stations shucking corn or dicing chicken by hand. But the grapes get washed in what they jokingly call the “jacuzzi.” It’s a nifty high-tech washing station that gently and efficiently cleans produce. And when veggies arrive direct from the farm, they need a good bath. Electric ovens finely calibrated to absolute precision guarantee consistent results batch after batch. Blast chillers are the last link in the chain, preserving quality and, ultimately, taste.
But it’s not all calculated precision. Artistry abounds. Marcelo Amaral, the head of baking and pastry at Market Kitchen, recently experimented with a new hand-pie recipe. “We come up with an idea; we try it; we like it; we sell it,” he said, appreciating the simplicity of the process. A new menu item might be an idea today and on the counter tomorrow. This flexibility lets the team adapt to what is fresh or in surplus at the moment and translates to less waste as well as creative, interesting food.
Those of-the-moment inspirations that make their way to Marona’s Market now have a second destination. Dan and Cindie just reopened Mabbettsville Market on Route 44. Even if you don’t live in Millbrook, it’s worth the drive. This contemporary farm stand/restaurant/coffee bar/deli is a soul-soothing, body-recharging place to visit. Just inside the door, access to good food begins. Fresh flowers and veggies from Stonewood Farm were in the ground yesterday and available for sale here today. Little Rabbit sodas and mixers (from Millbrook) and Harney & Sons teas (from Millerton) fill the shelves, next to Crown Maple syrup and spice rubs (from Dover Plains). If it’s local and tasty, they sell it here. “We’re very rooted in relationships and knowing not just the place of the ingredient, but who’s behind it, how they conduct their business,” Dan says.
The attention to detail and passion for good food is apparent. Breakfast features a cold cereal bar with overnight oats soaked in coconut milk, fresh yogurt and toppings. Marcelo’s treats make the all-day bakery bar an undeniable temptation. The cinnamon rolls are served warm and drizzly. (Now that you know they are available every day, good luck sticking with the granola.) Dan’s a coffee stickler, which is good news for those of us who aren’t exactly morning people. The hits keep coming all day long. Fresh, colorful palate pleasers fill the menu board—an old-school-cool design created with digital technology, which means they can change it on a whim. The barbecue brisket is a new item. “They talked about that last night, and it’s on the menu today,” Cindie said.
Stop in for a quick bite or linger for a few hours in the lofted open seating area with a serene woodsy view. The separate kids’ space makes it easy for parents and little ones to relax and enjoy lunch and time with friends. Grab a charcuterie platter that’s ready to go, a fully prepared dinner or a perfect pie for dessert. This food, this place—it just feels good.
The businesses continue to expand with the hope of providing all sorts of Hudson Valley abundance in and out of season. It’s Dan’s fantasy that one day a truckload of corn could show up at the back dock, a surprise bumper crop, and he would bring in 20 students from the CIA. “We’ll have a shucking party, and we’ll blanch it and take it off the cob. We have a blast freezer; we’ll preserve it and then we’ll cook with it when there is none.” As he imagines this scenario, he beams. This is his happy place. Food and people.
Walking down the street, people come up to them and say, “Oh, those meatballs…I’ll never make another meatball again…They’re as good as my grandmother’s.” That’s the crux of it. Dan puts it this way: “Time is a currency that none of us get to make more of. It’s all about what we do with the time we’ve got…How do I best leverage the time I’ve got, so I can feel like I’m having a good life?”
It’s clear Dan and Cindie have built very good lives for themselves in Millbrook. Lucky for us, they are spreading that goodness around.