Meet the Chef: Clare Hussain, Owner + Chef of Runa
Welcome to Inside+Out’s ongoing series MEET THE CHEF, where we shine a spotlight on the fabulous Chefs living and working in the Hudson Valley. Here we catch up with Clare Hussain, Owner + Chef of Runa located in New Paltz, New York. Runa is known for its casual French bistro fare with influences from India, Bangladesh, North Africa, the Middle East and Vietnam. And let’s not forget to mention their tasty cocktails.
Inside+Out: Where were you born and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?
Clare Hussain: I was born in Bangladesh, went to school in Dublin, Ireland, to study hospitality management and wound up in NYC with my husband, who had been offered a job. We had met in San Francisco many years before. I was previously working in Baltimore with Marriott International so it made sense to move up to NYC.
Where did you get the inspiration to become a chef and what was your journey?
Growing up in Bangladesh we had a family cook, and in my teens, my grandmother moved in with us. Between our cook, Kaka and my grandmother, we were always fed delicious feasts. I was always at any given time pestering them to help, learn and experiment. Along with my folks always entertaining, it just came to me naturally and organically. So, it made sense to go to school for it.
What do you think is the draw of your restaurant and what do you do to keep things fresh?
RŪNA is different from anything else in the area. Everything is fresh and house prepared. We like to keep things simple but with a twist and everything is almost always organic or local.
Who or what inspires your menu and how often do you change it?
The lunch menu changes weekly. Our dinner menu’s appetizers change every couple of months to keep it seasonal and our entrees and desserts change weekly. I look to French, North African, Spanish and Indian cuisines.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or what’s the biggest misconception about your business?
That running a restaurant is easy if you are passionate about it. It’s not to say I don’t love what I do, but running a small business (especially as a single business owner)is all about constantly troubleshooting. This can get more than wearying at times. And the other misconception is that a restaurant should be open all the time. In fairness, before I owned RŪNA, I subconsciously expected that from restaurants. But now that I am in it and want to win at it, so to speak, it’s so important to have some downtime so you can feel re-charged and gain a sense of balance to be able to offer your best to your customers.
The restaurant industry has seen much change and disruption with Covid. How are you adapting and is there a silver lining to be had here?
It has been a brutal two and a half years. I opened 6 months prior to the lockdown. I had a head chef and I worked the floor. Business was not going as planned and I had to close down for 6 months. Upon re-opening, my head chef had naturally found another job, which he was enjoying, so he decided not to return. It was hard to try and find a new chef, so I decided to jump into the role since I have a culinary education and background.
It is such hard work and I am always torn between work and home as I have two young kids and a husband that travels for work along with back-to-back Lyme’s diagnosis twice now. With that said, I do enjoy working in the kitchen, it allows me an opportunity to be creative in the one sure way I know how to be and I have the greatest support team.
The silver lining is you learn every day when you challenge yourself.
How do you inspire your staff and what is your company culture?
We have fun! We respect each other and we teach each other. It’s all about everyone having a say and participating to your fullest. And it is so important to now and again have a beer after work and shoot the breeze off duty.
What do you love most about living + working in the Hudson Valley?
The nature and the wide-open spaces. I have been a city slicker for 38 years, so the past 5 years have been a treat to re-learn my space.
What impact does your business have (or strive to have) on your community?
I hope it adds to the community with a space that is welcoming, approachable and different so that customers want to learn and experience different foods.
What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?
Farms and local vendors for produce and supplies. Utility companies that partner with you as opposed to gouging you because they think they can make a quick buck. And Fellow eateries, so that we can all be part of an eco-system that nurtures our community through the most basic thing: FOOD.
What is missing in the area (or town) that you wish we had?
Nothing, coz we have RŪNA, it completes New Paltz “n’est pas?”
What is your favorite thing to eat/cook when you’re home alone or with your family?
I love to cook Bengali food and new recipes for myself. I also like to get experimental with trying new pasta recipes. Also, testing the boundaries of Southeast Asian recipes and so my husband and kids are constantly learning as well.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn?
I went to boarding school from the age of 10.
Name three things you always have in your fridge.
Broccoli, Kale and yogurt
What would be your dream Hudson Valley Staycation?
A month off in the summer.
What was the best dish or meal you’ve ever had and who made it?
Gosh, there’s just too many to mention, but when my husband and I traveled around the south of France for a couple of months, we would grab a “poulet rôti” from a street vendor on the streets of Juan les Pins. Where the juice from the chicken would drip onto the most perfect little new potatoes. That along with a cheap bottle of French supermarket wine would have to be on my top ten!
Valentine’s Day is approaching, what would you serve a loved one?
Oysters with Champagne & Blood Orange Mignonette
- Shuck a variety of 6 oysters
- The mignonette is champagne wine vinegar, blood orange juice, a pinch of salt, chili flakes and some finely diced shallot with a pinch of sugar to round it out.
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Dine-in · Takeout
10 Plattekill Ave, New Paltz | 845-419-5007
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Read all of Inside+Out’s MEET THE CHEF SERIES
Chef Alex Napolitano | Prospect at Scribners | Hunter NY
Chef Corwin Kave | Deer Mountain Inn | Tannerville NY
Chef Kevin Katz | Red Onion Bar & Restaurant | Saugerties NY
Chef Jamie Parry | Swoon | Hudson NY
Chef Jesse Frederick | Butterfield Restaurant at Hasbrouck House| Stone Ridge NY
Chef Christoper Weathered | Mill & Main | Kerhonkson 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
Chef Cheryl Paff and Chef Juan Tzitzimititila | Black-Eyed Suzie’s | Kingston NY
Chef Francesco Buitoni | GioBatta Alimentari | Tivoli NY
Chef Tony Moustakes | City Winery Hudson Valley | Montgomery NY
Chef Doris Choi | Silvia | Woodstock NY
Chef Clare Hussain| Runa | New Paltz NY
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