At the end of a long, windy road and out of sight of any neighbors or passersby is the remains of a massive system of hidden tunnels in which "bootlegged booze" was distilled and stored by the infamous mobster Dutch Schultz, made famous by Dustin Hoffman in the film Billy Bathgate. The site is soon to be made famous again by Ariel Schlein as the home of a locally produced line of alcoholic beverages—under the brand name of Dutch's Spirits—and in the form of a museum explaining the role that Pine Plains played in the bootlegging operation. I met with Ariel for a tour and a sit-down interview.
I sat down with Niki last week after the big win to get the inside scoop on being a Chopped contestant and some insights into her life in and out of the kitchen.
Congratulations. Has being a Chopped champion changed your life? Yes. It has given me more self-confidence. Of course the $10,000 came in handy, too.
What are you doing with it? Part went into buying a new car, some into savings into an IRA and some to help my mother out.
Last Thursday evening, about 60 Millbrook Central School District parents met with the school administration and state officials to talk about the changes in curriculum and testing standards triggered by the state’s adoption of the Common Core Curriculum, a far-reaching national program to raise educational standards in order to better equip American students for the global environment.
Val Brunow, ninth-grade English teacher at Millbrook High School, has won the prestigious Dean’s Award for Innovative Teaching from Manhattanville College, where she was studying for her Master's degree. The award is given each year to one Master’s degree candidate who has demonstrated innovation in teaching that positively affects PK–12 students’ motivation and achievement. Brunow was one of a handful out of the 150 eligible candidates to be invited to compete for the award, which she won last month. She was required to present three examples of her in-classroom innovations in lesson-plan form—each with materials resources, background and documentation on how the innovations improved student motivation and achievement—as well as two letters of recommendation
For wine loving baseball fans it is amusing to note that in a recent blog by Carl DeVito, author of "East Coast Wineries", he compared John Graziano, the winemaker at Millbrook Winery to Stan "the man" Musiel, as being a "quiet superstar ...A throwback. A craftsman. An artist whose sole occupation is to make sure his art is consistent from year to year. He has become such a part of the fabric of this valley, and the New York winemaking scene almost so much so as to go un-noticed. But make no mistake about it - -John Graziano is a Hall of Famer. First ballot."
Amongst his many rows of wines (currently featuring a mammoth display of rosé wines) Will Carter of Pine Plains Fine Wines & Spirits has a section he calls Local and Superb, featuring a map of the local alcoholic beverages he sells. He carries a full complement of wines from each of the local wineries—Millbrook, Tousey, Cascade, and Clinton Vineyards—but also does an impressive business in local spirits. Will sells about 25 bottles per month ofHillrock’sSolera Aged Bourbon and has great hopes for its new single malt. When asked if people buy it because it is local, he responded, “I think people who appreciate fine whiskey try it because it is local and because they are impressed by its 96/100 rating, but at $80 a bottle, if they come back to buy more (and they do), it is because of the excellence of the product—the exceptionally fine taste." Will has also already sold nearly 300 bottles of Dutch’s Spirits Sugar Wash Moonshine and its Peach Brandy. Another local favorite is the line of spirits that are handcrafted in small batches in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, at Berkshire Mountain Distillers.
Trays of food kept circulating through the crowd as attendees traveled from one buffet table to another to sample the many offerings of Millbrook restaurants, caterers and food producers. While just about everything was pretty good, and there was food for all kinds of palates, I had my favorites—and they were not necessarily those I expected to favor. Kudos must go to McEnroe's. Their beef satays were delicious, and most impressive were their tomatoes, so tasty so early in the season. With the weather we have been having, I must take my hat off to them. The Spanakopita (spinach pies) made by the Millbrook Diner deserve mention. They were moist and flavorful. But my absolute favorite was the meatballs stuffed with mozzarella created by Elizabeth Grame, the new young chef at Brick House Kitchen. What a delicious and creative offering. I resisted going back for more, but I did steer everyone I knew to that table.
As we chatted at the bar in Aurelia, I drank a glass of rosé and Marc showed me a huge bottle of five-year-old white soy sauce, explaining that this was one of his “secret ingredients”—of course, it may not be so secret anymore.
How did you get interested in cooking? My uncle gave me a Tasty Bake Oven when I was four, and I just loved playing with it. When I ran out of the batter that was included, I made my own. From there I started making cookies.
And started cooking for the family? Yes, I made my first chocolate cake by the age of five and chicken parmigiano at nine or ten. My father loves to eat, and he encouraged me.