Fine dining means different things to different people. For some, it might be the best local chain restaurant in town. For others, it is a meal that comes with excellent ingredients and a hefty bill. The proprietor of Essie's Restaurant in New York's Hudson Valley set out to create a “keeper” where patrons would find both comfort and satisfaction.
“As soon as you enter the room you feel like you are at my house,” says Brandon Walker, the chef and owner of Essie's. “The goal was to create a great value, give a superb product and give great service.” That goal is being accomplished based on reviews for the restaurant the Brooklyn native opened in June 2016.
Before he could open his place in Poughkeepsie, NY, Walker knew he had to become an excellent cook. He interned at a top New York City hotel while still in high school after learning the basics from hanging out with his mom in the kitchen. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in the Hudson Valley, he returned to the city to hone his skills at such renowned restaurants as Oceana, BLT Prime and TriBeCa Grill. “It taught me how to sharpen my techniques, how to develop flavor profiles and how to be well-rounded in different cuisines,” says Walker.
Travels to Europe and Asia broadened his exposure to different cuisines even more and gave Walker a global perspective on what he wanted to serve at Essie's. He calls his culinary creations a tribute to the diversity in America. “American food is a combination of cultures from around the world,” adds Walker. “You can go into any major city and get different types of cuisines, and that's a great thing.”
Essie's menu reflects the chef's local connections as well as global influences. Walker started building his brand with B&L Hospitality in 2014. He decided to leave the big city for Hudson Valley to raise a family in a less hectic environment and to take advantage of the quality products available from local farmers and purveyors. “I built a lot of different relationships with people in the community. I networked and networked, and it was really beneficial to me to get my name out there,” says Walker.
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The chef's dedication to locally sourced ingredients is an essential component of his approach to providing patrons with exceptional meals. Popular dishes on Essie's menu include the grit croquettes and grilled octopus. The menu changes with the seasons and allows Walker and his staff “to get these local ingredients and let them shine” and serve “globally influenced dishes.”
All of Walker's hard work has produced only part of the dream he has for the future. “I'm excited. I'm happy, but I'm not satisfied. I haven't reached my ultimate goal yet. It's just a foundation right now.” The chef's larger goal is to evolve his business into B&L Hospitality Group with several successful restaurants serving different culinary concepts.
Walker believes developing a loyal team is necessary to maintain Essie's success and open new restaurants. Although he requires his staff to uphold high standards of food and service, the chef also feels strongly about giving back. “I do my best to provide my employees with a happy environment. I give them the means to succeed in their jobs,” says Walker. “At the end of the day, it's about helping people achieve their goals as well.”
Essie's owner does have a seafood concept as well as a Southern-inspired menu in mind for future restaurants. However, he wanted his first place to be global to help dismantle the stereotype that African-American chefs primarily cook fried chicken. Whatever his next venture is, Walker expects to apply the same standards he acquired cooking in top restaurants where quality and consistency were the essences of success. “I want to challenge myself to be consistent, to pay homage to my culture and to create great food,” says Walker. “I want to leave a legacy behind for my family and be a role model for another African-American youngster who wants to own a restaurant.”
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Go online to www.essiesrestaurantpk.com for more information about Essie's located at 14 Mount Carmel Place in Poughkeepsie, NY. For reservations, call 845.452.7181. You can also follow the restaurant and Walker on Instagram.