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Dining Room at Casa Susanna at Camptown Catskill

Meet Chef Hernández of Casa Susanna at Camptown Catskills

By inside + out | April 11, 2023

Our friends are all abuzz about the opening of the new Hudson Valley restaurant Casa Susanna – Mexican food lovers take note. Located at Camptown, a new 50-room hotel at the foot of the Catskill Mountains, Casa Susanna is the brainchild of Executive Chef Efrén Hernández. This modern Mexican restaurant will have you reveling in the flavors of Jalisco gastronomy. Jalisco, Mexico, is also the home of its emblematic drink, tequila.

Dining at Casa Susanna is a joy-filled sharing experience. Be sure to order plenty of their fresh tortillas, made each day in-house, and sample a variety of flavorful dishes made with the best ingredients from local farmers, ranchers and fishermen. And, if you partake, enjoying a sip or two of tequila between bites will round out your fiesta.

Read our exclusive interview below to learn more about Chef Hernández, his journey as a Chef, his love of the Hudson Valley, and the tantalizing menu of Casa Susanna. For our foodie friends, take the idyllic drive to this fabulous restaurant to experience the taste, tradition, and passion of the Mexican-inspired delicacies at Casa Susanna.

the Lobby of Camptown Catskill

Camptown Catskills

INSIDE+OUT: Where are you originally from and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?

Chef Efrén Hernández: My parents are from Mexico, and I was born and raised in Inglewood, Los Ángeles. I moved to NYC when I was seventeen and went to film school at Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. I met my wife Rebecca in the city and she’s originally from the Hudson Valley. Eventually, we decided to move back up here.

When did you decide to become a chef and tell us about your journey.

I was working A LOT of different jobs throughout college. I was on a full tuition scholarship, but it didn’t cover my housing and my parents didn’t have the means to help, so I was working more than I was going to school. I made two short films that had successful festival runs and premiered at Sundance and I also sold a screenplay to Blumhouse, but I was getting pretty frustrated with how long and difficult the process of making movies was, so I started exploring other ways to be creative.

First, I became really obsessed with chairs and furniture and started working at a furniture studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn making ornate children’s furniture. I thought building furniture was perfect for me. It was creative and it had a tangible purpose. After all, everyone needs to sit! However, I spent all my time at the studio sanding wood and hated that part of it.

After that experience, I landed a job at Nitehawk Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It’s a movie theater that also serves food – and that’s where I first started cooking. It all happened very fast after that. I got obsessed with cooking and would read everything I could get my hands on when I wasn’t working. I moved from one restaurant to a better restaurant to a better restaurant and eventually worked in Michelin-starred kitchens.


The place I feel I learned the most, in the shortest amount of time, was Faro in Bushwick. Chef Kevin Adey was a huge mentor for me. We received a Michelin star while I was there. I felt like I was naturally good at cooking. The way only a few things in life feel so naturally easy to learn and grow into. It felt like I was supposed to be doing it, and I have always loved restaurants, so working in one made sense to me. On top of that, it also checked all the boxes I was looking for in a creative medium. I could create every day and see results immediately. I could get feedback immediately (you knew if the food was good or sucked). And most importantly, it was the most useful, purposeful and practical thing I could think of!

You were formerly Executive Chef at Mimi and Babs in the West Village. What prompted your move to the Catskills and Casa Susanna?

My wife Rebecca and I had been talking about moving to the Hudson Valley for some years before actually making the decision to do it. Rebecca is originally from here. We had our daughter in 2019 and were living in Brooklyn with a one-year-old in a tiny and extremely expensive one-bedroom apartment. It just wasn’t feeling right. We finally made the move Upstate right when Covid started. We were lucky to beat the rush up here but just barely. I took over the kitchen at Rivertown Lodge in Hudson in July of 2020 and, most recently, I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to open Casa Susanna at Camptown Catskills with the same team.

Tell us about what makes Casa Susanna a unique restaurant in Leeds, NY?

Well, I think what makes us unique is our point of view and what we’re offering – a menu of sharable dishes inspired by my family heritage. Not only do we offer a regularly changing seasonal menu utilizing the best ingredients from the Hudson Valley’s local farmers and ranchers, but we also have a “masa program,” meaning the restaurant makes all tortillas in-house. I don’t believe this type of Mexican cuisine exists in Leeds.

Tell us about your vision for the restaurant’s menu.

I’m getting to cook the kind of food I’ve always wanted to. A type of modern wood-fired Mexican cuisine that draws heavily from tradition while trying new things with technique, ingredient pairings, flavor combinations and using more regional ingredients to the Hudson Valley. My idea with the masa program is to do it big and do it right with everything nixtamalized, ground in-house and using the diversity of shapes that traditional Mexican cuisine has to offer, while adding a modern spin on things. I want to have our protein and vegetables treated with wood fire and smoke, another nod to tradition, the oldest cooking tradition there is. I want guests to come in with friends and family and order lots of dishes and a basket of tortillas and have a great night.

What are the signature dishes and drinks this summer?

Right now I’d say some signature dishes are the Tamal de Morcilla, the Tétela de Frijol Bayo and Alpine Cheese, the Tlacoyo With Sweet Potato and Clothbound Cheddar, the Smoked Goat Birria Tatemada, which is a specialty from my hometown in Mexico, the Whole Grilled Mackerel Al Pastor and our Sweetbreads dish! Oh and of course, our fresh tortillas!

In your opinion, what makes a dish great?

If it brings a smile to your face, if it satisfies your taste buds, your stomach and your brain, it’s a perfect dish! That means all sorts of different things for different people.

Tell us your favorite seasonal ingredient that you love to incorporate for each season: spring, summer, fall and winter.

For spring, I love when sugar snap peas start coming in. For summer, it might be a boring choice, but good local ripe tomatoes are one of my favorite ingredients in the world. In the fall, I like to use and eat Honeynut Squash, and in the winter, I like to use sweet potatoes.

What are you most proud of when it comes to your career as a Chef?

Good question! I haven’t thought about it. I’m feeling pretty proud of what our team is doing at Casa Susanna right now. My chefs, Lux and Reuben, along with the rest of the team, are working so hard and doing really cool stuff!

What’s the first dish you learned to make really well?

Probably a cheeseburger.


What music do you like to listen to when you cook?

This might be a weird thing, but I don’t listen to music while I cook. My kitchens are generally no music kitchens. I don’t tell people not to play music, I just don’t put it on myself. I don’t allow music during service, so people probably just don’t bother with it. Sometimes people put music on for prep or clean up and I don’t mind it. I like music I just don’t think to put it on very often.

Name three things you always have in your fridge/pantry.

Tortillas, sweet + spicy chili crisp and ham (have to have this for my daughter, she’s a ham monster).

Where, in your opinion, is the best place to travel for a foodie vacation?

Mexico City!

If you had not become a chef, which profession would you have chosen?

Something a little calmer I guess. Maybe a writer, writing books and movies. Or, if it was still relevant I think I would have liked to be a shoe cobbler. Or, even a motorcycle mechanic, I love motorcycles!

If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be?

My family! My parents, brother and sister. I don’t see them often enough and they were the first people that came to mind. Would love to eat with them at Casa Susanna.

What is your current state of mind?

I’m very grateful.

Photos by Lawrence Braun and Upland Creative

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Casa Susanna at Camptown Catskills
website | Instagram

dinner (view menu)

Thursday – Sunday
5pm – 10pm (bar until 11pm)

Brunch (view menu)
Saturday + Sunday
10am – 2pm

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Read all of Inside+Out’s MEET THE CHEF SERIES

Chef Jesse Frederick | Butterfield Restaurant at Hasbrouck House | Stone Ridge NY
Chef Corwin Kave | Deer Mountain Inn | Tannerville NY
Chef Kevin Katz | Red Onion Bar & Restaurant | Saugerties NY
Chef Clare Hussain | Runa | New Paltz NY
Chef Jamie Parry | Swoon | Hudson NY
Chef Christoper Weathered | Mill & Main | Kerhonkson NY
Chef Cheryl Paff + Chef Juan Tzitzimititila | Black-Eyed Suzie’s | Kingston NY
Chef Elizabeth Steckel and Dirk Schalle | The Gunk Haus | Highland NY
Chef Wyatt Jaster | The Pines | Mount Tremper NY
Chef Richard Erickson | Blue Mountain Bistro & Bistro To Go | Kingston NY
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