For the latest little feature on people at or connected with our farm we sat down with Andrew (‘Chip’) Chiappinelli who is chef-owner at Grazin’ Diner in Hudson, NY. Most weeks of the year we supply Animal Welfare Approved eggs produced by our organically-fed hens here at Little Ghent Farm. There’s a strong chance, if you have dined at Grazin’ recently, that you’ve enjoyed some of our eggs. Grazin’ Diner, 717 Warren Street, Hudson. NY 518 822 9323
How long has Grazin’ been operating? What was the building used for before Grazin’?
Grazin’ has been open since October 1st, 2011. The building has been standing here since 1947, and had always been a conventional diner until we bought it. Prior to our purchase the restaurant had been closed and on the market for about three and a half years.
What made you open a diner in addition to the farm that your family operates?
The idea came when Dan Gibson realized he was always with a surplus of ground beef. The steaks and other cuts would sell out pretty fast at the farmers’ market and we needed an outlet for ground beef. Opening a burger joint seemed like a great opportunity and at the time, while there were people using some organically farmed ingredients, there wasn’t a place like ours, sourcing every ingredient organically. And since we ate that way in our homes on the farm, and we knew we certainly weren’t the only ones doing it, it was a good opportunity to test the waters to see what that concept could do.
Grazin’ is the first completely Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) restaurant in the world. What does that mean and why is AWA so important to you?
AWA certification means we serve only meats and eggs from Certified AWA farms. AWA is so important to us because they hold the highest standards of animal welfare in the world. It’s far and away the best proof of how we farm, and the care that we take with ingredients in the restaurant, short of visiting the farm in person (which anyone is also welcome to do as well).
You also work with organically produced ingredients. Are they easy to source? Can you share roughly how much more expensive they are to source?
Sourcing organically produced ingredients is one of the more time consuming parts of my job. Working with local farmers is always fun and my regular farms (Made In Ghent included) have become more than business contacts and I genuinely like and respect them, so that part is easy. Out of season I use Baldor for organic produce and availability isn’t always constant so a lot of planning and a willingness to improvise is needed. Generally speaking organic produce is anywhere from 25% to 100% more expensive. Meat and eggs can be up to 500% more expensive than a conventional restaurant supplier.
On your website you say that there are no food distribution trucks arriving at the back door instead “you‘ll see farmer trucks at Grazin’ and they will be paid directly for their efforts”. Including Made In Ghent how many different farms are you working with in the Hudson Valley?
There are about ten farms we purchase from regularly.
How would you describe the mix of customers at Grazin’ in terms of locals, visitors etc.
I think it’s a pretty robust mix. Hamburgers are very accessible, and I think we make a good one so it should speak to anyone from anywhere who appreciates a good burger. Eating clean knows no boundaries either, so people from all walks of life come in asking for details on the food and sourcing of ingredients.
In three or four words what experience are you looking to create for your customers?
Cleanest Burger Ever.
How would you describe the menu and specials at Grazin’? Is there a signature dish ?
The menu is definitely burger joint based – a variety of burgers, chili, hand cut fries, soup and hot dogs. We have a couple vegetarian options, including some that can be made vegan. We do a weekly special burger that I like to feature seasonal items when I can, and try to make it a little bit unique. Far and away the best selling burger is the Uncle Dude Burger which comes with chipotle mayo, cheese, bacon, and carrot-jalapeno relish.
What’s your favorite thing to cook at Grazin’?
I enjoy the process of creating the special burgers more than anything. Also anything that is a project, for example when I corned beef for our St. Patrick’s Day Burger. There’s a satisfaction that comes with nailing different temperatures on a bunch of burgers and having a table comment on it too.
Hudson’s undergone a lot of changes in the past ten years, how do you think it will evolve from here?
We’ve been in Hudson for about six of those years so I can’t speak about too far back, but as I understand it, Hudson was primarily only a destination for antiques. Currently it would be considered a destination for food (all types from coffee to baking, and casual to fine dining), music, culture, art on top of still being a huge antique spot. All of that is centered around amazing farms and attractions such as Art OMI and Olana. I would like to see Hudson to continue to move in that direction, where there’s a diversity of attractions to satisfy many different people.