It all began, like most good things, with a couple of bottles of wine. Hudson, New York Chef Jeff Gimmel of Swoon was sitting around the table at dinner with his friends, eagerly anticipating that first sign of spring—the ramp. “Its pungent aroma and versatility makes it a favorite among locavore chefs,” says Gimmel. Then they thought, “What would happen if ramp enthusiasts and even people who don’t know much about ramps came out to celebrate them too?” With ramps so prolific in his hometown, Gimmel and his friends decided to reach out to chefs, both locally and in the city, and ask them to participate.
Chef Kevin Katz of The Red Onion in Saugerties, NY offers a RampFest attendee some Twice-baked Bacon Quiche with Ramp Filling
They ended up with ten chefs participating, including New York City chefs Zak Pelaccio of Fatty ‘Cue, The Silkstone Team of The Fat Radish, Robert Berry of Cookshop, and Ricky King of Hundred Acres. Hudson was represented by Daniel Nilsson of DA|BA, Shawn Snyder of Baba Louie’s, and Lisa Brickman of Café Le Perche. Local chefs Job Yacubian of The Farmer’s Wife in Ancramdale, Kevin Katz of The Red Onion in Saugerties, and Jamie Parry of Another Fork in the Road in Milan pitched in too, each preparing a dish made with ramps.
Goat Smoked with Oakwood, Ramp Leaves, Garlic, Chilies, and Pickled Ramp Bulbs from Chef Zak Pelaccio of Fatty Cue – Brooklyn, NY
The week before the event, a few of the participating chefs headed to the Hudson Valley on a foraging expedition. “I foraged at least 100 pounds in the week prior to the festival to help some of the chefs, but it was one of those things where a lot of those chefs look forward to getting out in the spring and being outside and digging in the dirt a bit,” says Gimmel. Thanks to a rainy year, they had a bounty of ramps to choose from.
And on a beautiful and sunny Saturday in April, the chefs headed to The Basilica Hudson, a 19th century glue factory reborn as an event space and punctuated with spring flowers. Ramps showed up in every imaginable form. A twice-cooked bacon quiche filled with creamed ramps and a pickled ramp salad from Katz was studded with crispy bacon pieces and a hint of caramel in the crust. And in a nice twist on Onion Bread, Brickman studded an airy focaccia with pieces of ramp stem. Ramp butter made with the greens stood ready to be slathered on the pillowy bread. Hundred Acres and CookShop teamed up for a plate of assorted charcuterie, including a delightfully wiggly pig’s ear terrine with pickle salad, pork rillettes spiced with ramp mustard, and country pâté with ramp pesto.
The Fat Radish’s Ben Towill made delicate clams steamed with lemon zest and mirepoix; served with ramps and English peas, they sang of spring. The dish embodied The Fat Radish philosophy that “vegetables play the starring role of the plate,” as Fat Radish Office Manager Caroline Sheahan put it. Swoon went a more meat-centric route, with deliciously caramelized chicken-ramp sausages still sizzling from the griddle and full of meat-on-a-stick fabulousness. Pelaccio’s booth was consistently mobbed, perhaps because of the fragrant goat smoked with oakwood, ramp leaves, garlic, chilies, and pickled ramp bulbs. Then again, it might have been the shots of Four Roses bourbon and ramp pickle-back at his station. With all of that garlic in our mouths, we were glad of the refreshing Lime-Ramp Sorbet at DA|BA Chef Daniel Nilsson’s station. At first glance, ramps in sorbet doesn’t sound appealing, but it was full of the greenness of the ramps and acid of the limes, plus a tiny spicy hint of garlic flavor warmed the finish. We kept coming back for more.
Gimmel wants to continue the event each year, and judging by the hoards of New Yorkers and locals happily munching on ramp dishes, ramp enthusiasts will be back next year.