From Deer Mountain Inn to Mountain Valley: Chef Ryan Tate

Today, as head chef of Deer Mountain Inn, Michelin-star Chef Ryan Tate is sharing all the culinary goodness of the Catskills with locals and visiting guests alike. He’s also serving up the natural goodness of Mountain Valley Spring Water, which fits his philosophy, his palate and even some of the out-of-the-box culinary approaches he’s developed for his unique menu. But at one time, Chef Tate thought he’d return to Michigan to create a Michigan-centric restaurant. He wanted to bring diners closer to the ingredients, closer to nature— as if “you're catching fish in Lake Michigan, which is completely illegal, but having all those things in your backyard.” All that was before discovering the pure natural bounty of the Hudson Valley: the mountains, the woods, the fantastic foraging. That’s when Chef Tate began nourishing a new vision at Deer Mountain Inn.

How did the Catskills help deepen your culinary philosophy?

Simplicity has really taken the reins of my approach. I think purity and simplicity, fewer ingredients, more focus on those ingredients, as opposed to plates full of garnishes and an overwhelming amount of things on your palate. When we serve mushrooms, we serve mushrooms with a sauce, that's it. The taste in your mouth—you’re like, “wow, these mushrooms are amazing. The sauce is amazing.” You're really just tasting the purity of an ingredient. I don't want to think, “oh, we can only work with what we have on the mountain,” but it definitely inspires you to have a more limited approach in some ways. It cleans up your ideas and you're much more focused.

Tell us about some of your favorite flavors and dishes from this season's tasting menu.

It's not really a taste of the mountain, specifically, but a taste of the seasons. Right now, we're in a great season, with the end of summer tiptoeing into fall and early winter. We have more tomatoes and zucchini than we know what to do with.

One really special dish is basically any type of mushroom that we find, simply grilled over charcoal. Then we make an emulsion of foie gras and brown butter, flavored with some vinegars that we've infused and made here, and a little bit of garnish with some preserved onion flowers. There's really only three flavors on the dish, but the dish is always on the menu because we can always find mushrooms. And it's never a cultivated mushroom, it's always wild. It's just this amazing combination—you almost get those flavors of liver and onions with the foie gras and the meatiness of the mushrooms, without having to eat a full-on seared piece of beef liver.

And then there’s the steak served with a salad. I mean, basically our tasting menu is one big lead up to a steakhouse menu. It's this beautiful bone-in New York strip or strip loin, and it's also grilled over charcoal. We grill it really aggressively and keep it rare and then serve it with a lot of ingredients that come out of the garden. Last week we had these beautiful lettuces, speckled Deer's Tongue, which is real fitting for us. And just a really simple garlic dressing and a really lovely piece of grilled meat from a farm in Sullivan County called Thunder View. Basically they grow legumes and all these things on their property and feed them to their animals, like a sort of closed-circuit operation with no grains.

Every time I eat that steak, I come close to fainting. It's about finding the right product, treating it the right way and respecting it. I spent years toiling away trying to be overly creative and overly polarizing, and it's so stupid. It's such a waste of time. Make something really nice, make it delicious and make it something that people didn't know they wanted.

What does Mountain Valley bring to the table?

Clearly, it's a great spring water to drink and it aesthetically pairs really well with what we do here. It's great, the balanced minerals and taste cleans your palate, as opposed to wine and spirits.

I actually use Mountain Valley quite a bit in the fall and winter seasons. There's a technique that I use for preservation—it takes on this appearance of a preserved product, even though it's perfectly fresh and was only cooked for one day. You take Mountain Valley Spring Water and a pickling lime and you soak a vegetable in the solution for a number of hours, then you cook the vegetable. I use Mountain Valley when I do this preservation technique. From a cooking standpoint, I love using it to change the textures and create a whole new way of consuming. It works great with carrots and beets and any of those sweet root vegetables. It's a lot of fun to play around with.

Something I’d like to do is a three-day beet. You soak the beet in Mountain Valley Spring Water and pickling lime, then you boil, brine and dehydrate the beet. It's a very long process but it all starts with having a really clean water with which to do it, something that doesn't have what you get out of your tap, chlorine and all those things that you can't really account for.

So what’s new or next for you at Deer Mountain?

We're honing in on the vegetarian menu. I'm trying to define it a little bit more. We have things around us all the time, so it's not hard to make up a vegetarian menu on the fly. But it's becoming a much more popular way of dining, so I'm trying to dial in that as something that we can offer more consistently. We're also working on a pavilion for the top of the mountain so we could host weddings and keep the restaurant open. There's a lot of pots on the fire. We're just waiting for some of them to come to a boil.

With so much on the horizon, it’s no wonder Chef Tate continues to count on the home-grown flavors he finds all around him. As the taste of the seasons change, one thing remains the same: his commitment to honoring simplicity to bring out the best in his dishes. When he serves, enjoys or cooks with Mountain Valley Spring Water, he knows the fresh, locally-sourced goodness springs naturally from the earth. It’s the perfect complement to his ingredients and his approach. If you want to serve premium Mountain Valley Spring Water in your restaurant click here.

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