Meet the Chef of INNESS Alex Napolitano
Alex Napolitano is on a mission to establish INNESS as a world-class dining destination; knowing him, this is already taking place. Born and raised in an Italian-American family, Alex developed an affinity for cooking at an early age. He has worked at some of New York City’s most highly regarded restaurants; Michelin-starred A Voce Madison, Charlie Bird, The Elm and Rubirosa Ristorante. Most recently, he served as Executive Chef and Culinary Director at Escape Hospitality, which encompassed Prospect Restaurant at Scribner’s Lodge and Fellow Mountain Cafe in Hunter, NY. Let’s learn more about what Alex is up to today…
INSIDE+OUT: For people that might not be familiar with Inness, tell us about this sexy, new destination in Accord, New York.
ALEX NAPOLITANO: INNESS is an intimate country refuge and members club located in Accord, New York sited on 225 pastoral acres. It includes 40 hotel rooms (28 cabins and a 12-room farmhouse), a restaurant and lounge, a 9-hole golf course designed by King Collins, a sports outfitter, swimming pools, tennis courts, hiking trails, an events barn, a farm shop, as well as a 3-acre organic farm embedded into grounds imagined by landscape designer Miranda Brooks. INNESS is a respite from urban living rooted in the comfort and contentment of the shared experience.
Tell us about your new role here at Inness and your future plans.
Accepting the role of Executive Chef at INNESS was an exciting growth moment for me. I could not pass up the opportunity to take the helm of such an immaculate kitchen. What attracted me to INNESS was the chance to use my entire skillset under one roof and on one property- I love pizza, pasta, and live-fire cooking, and having access to all simultaneously was a huge draw. Being able to meld all my interests within one menu is creatively freeing for me, and it is already showing in the food. Regarding future plans, the ultimate goal is to establish INNESS as a world-class dining destination. In my estimation, we have the opportunity to build not only the finest dining experience in the Hudson Valley but one that remains in the conversation on much larger stages.
We recently interviewed you while you were the Executive Chef at Prospect, a restaurant at Scribner’s Lodge. What is it like to move from one of the Hudson Valley’s favorite restaurants to another–maintaining your signature style yet adapting and creating a unique experience for a new establishment like Inness?
I think my “Signature” style is an amalgamation of all my personal and professional experiences expressed through a lens of place. INNESS is visually stunning and immediately serves as part of my inspiration here. However, the most significant difference between my previous offerings and those I am currently working on is the physical tools I have access to here at INNESS. A wood-burning grill and an imported Italian pizza oven allow me much more menu flexibility than I have ever had. Given that I still have access to some of the best local ingredients in the country, the new equipment simply allows me even more freedom to use these ingredients to their full potential.
Let’s go behind the scenes in the kitchen. What does it take to lead an existing staff as the new Executive Chef? Is there much training involved, and did you bring a team with you?
Entering a new kitchen is always a challenge, but I am blessed and lucky enough to have a fantastic core team that opted to come with me to build this program. Having a few trusted team members with me made the transition easier than it could have been. Working with existing staff, especially those who have been through some tough times together, is all about trust. Leadership is something that I actively try to cultivate every day. Earning the trust of a team is hard work, and I do my best to lead by example and prove myself worthy of being followed.
What makes a dish great, and do you have a process when creating new ones?
A great dish starts with great ingredients. My process when it comes to menu development always begins with what is going to be at its peak in the near future. The seasonal variability here also aids in menu development- in the Summer, when the weather is hot, and things like eggplant, peppers, and tomatoes are coming in, I creatively drift to the Southern Mediterranean. Sicily, Greece, Calabria, and North Africa drive my artistic thoughts. In the Winter, I tend to move North to Piemonte, Alto Adige, France, and Central Europe. After ingredients and a “vibe” are set, I lean on my experience, collaborating with my staff and a library of cookbooks to come up with the framework for a new menu item. After that, taste and simplicity rule the day.
Give us a favorite seasonal ingredient you love to incorporate for each season: Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter.
SPRING: Ramps, Spinach, Local Mushrooms
SUMMER: Tomatoes, Peppers, Cucumbers, Eggplant
FALL: Squash, Apples, Brussels Sprouts
WINTER: Potatoes, Celery Root, Polenta* (This year’s local corn harvest)
Can you share one of your favorite Summer dishes?
One recipe that I love right now is the Saffron Linguine with Charred Tomatoes, Garlic Scapes, and Local Basil. It is a simple pasta with a ton of flavor, accentuated by roasting the tomatoes and garlic scapes in the wood oven. The saffron’s floral notes, the sweetness of the tomatoes, the piquant flavor of the scapes, and the char play well together. Local lemon and opal basil round out the dish.
Where did you study/ to become a chef, and do you have any words of advice for up-and-coming chefs when it comes to working in the Hudson Valley?
I formally studied to become a Chef in high school and had a brief culinary school experience in Italy and NYC, but most of my learning and growth has come from work experiences. I have worked for some amazing Chefs both in Europe and New York, and the years spent as a stage, cook, and sous chef did more to mold me than any formal training. My advice for cooks on their way up is to be humble and open-minded, taste everything, and remind themselves daily that less is more when building a dish. That, and nothing replaces hard work and time spent in the kitchen. There is no way to rush becoming a good cook, and no amount of Youtube videos can prepare you for working the pasta station during a busy service.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your career as a Chef?
I am most proud of the growth of the people that have worked for me over the years. Watching cooks become Chefs is truly special.
What’s the first dish you learned to make really well?
A sandwich! As a kid, sandwiches were the gateway to feeding myself and others.
What music do you like to listen to when you cook?
It all depends on the day. Generally rap, but there’s always room for Bocelli.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I am excited to see what the first year at INNESS will bring.
Where, in your opinion, is the best place to travel for a foodie vacation?
The motherland, of course, Italy.
Which profession would you have chosen if you had not become a chef?
If I was not being interviewed for this article, I would have been conducting it. I got my Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Journalism from Rutgers, and writing has always interested me.
If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be?
Marcus Aurelius–the most interesting of the Roman emperors.
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10 Bank St Accord, NY | 845-377-0030
The Restaurant at INNESS is currently open seven days a week from 11 am – 3 pm and 5 pm – 9 pm.
From April until October, guests can enjoy outdoor seating near the grills; where simple but flavorful dishes are prepared a la plancha.
Reservations can be made at [email protected]
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