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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Everybody Loves Ray

The first thing I noticed about Bradley Farm was the man himself. Ray's beard – bushy, salt and peppered, visible from fifty meters – welcomed me from go, but it was his produce that kept me coming back.

Nor I am alone. During one visit to his Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket stall I counted a baker's dozen (dare I say) groupies, loyals who brought offerings (sauces and jams made of his goods), pressed for friendly banter (what's good today Ray?), and purchased fruits (and veggies) with broad smiles.
Ray Bradley talks food

Ray may have a way with farming, but he got his start in the restaurant industry. He began humbly enough, “peeling carrots” in 1976 for a hotel chef who split the years mainly between Cape Cod and Clearwater, Florida. By the decade's end he learned enough to move on – and up – running the Ram's Head Inn restaurant in Shelter Island for three years before migrating to Manhattan. Initially, he felt (in his own words) “way over my head” working as sous chef for the storied Le Cirque. But his subsequent stints – including The Westbury Hotel's Polo and Montrachet – suggest anything but defeat. It was during this time that Ray rubbed elbows and prepared dishes with a rising group of soon-to-be culinary stars like Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller.

Of these, childhood friend and fellow Connecticut native David Bouley proved his most memorable collaboration. The two reconnected in the mid-80s at Montrachet, before moving on to start Bouley. It was here that Ray helped build the heralded restaurant from the ground up, literally, serving as sous-chef and carpenter both, prepping meals, purchasing product and running the meat station, while laying down mason and installing fixtures with David and his brother.In spite – or perhaps because – of Bouley's success, Ray found restaurant work to be taxing (“it never ends, unlike farming”), so he moved on after three years. In 1990 he left to work as a distributor with Frank Wilkow (Bouley's supplier of ducks, herbs, veggies and the like), while renting a small plot of Wilkow's land in New Paltz to grow his own organic vegetables. He started selling this produce directly to the people, at the then-new Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. Three years passed and Ray again switched gears, moving to Costa Rica to oversee the kitchen at a friend's bed and breakfast. Contemplating a more permanent shift south of the border he, and I quote, “chickened out,” returning to New Paltz and renting land across the street from a million dollar horse farm to expand his organic lot. After gentle prodding from his girlfriend Iris (“stop working for other people!”), he contemplated starting a farm of his own.

Which he did. In 2000, Iris and Ray purchased 27 acres of land and opened Bradley Farm. And he hasn't looked back since.Bradley's operation is relatively small (he employs only four fulltime farm hands). And despite the fact that his vegetables are not “certified” organic, everything is grown according to organic practices. Government stamp or no, you can taste the natural love. To wit, try one of his flagship tomatoes, ripe heritage breeds that come in technicolor reds, yellows, purples and greens. Or sample something more unusual from his quirky stock, long fresh Hungarian paprikas or tiny bright yellow firecrackers, stout lemon cucumbers or french gray shallots, Jerusalem artichokes or coils of aromatic ramps, tender just-picked haricots verts or plump green fava.

Which is all well and good, but we, gentle reader, are here for porkier pastures. And it was Ray's latest venture that brings us to the point at hand.
Much to our delight, Bradley Farm recently started selling pork. And it is fantastic. He began last year with ten pigs, and has upped production to thirty. The hogs are predominantly Large Blacks, reared by his brother Charlie in Connecticut, and their meat is rich bordering on gamey: distinctively porky cuts of meat with clean white ribbons cutting through the deep dark pinks. The flavor is bold and fresh, and never at a loss for moistness.
What should you buy? Whatever you fancy, friend. Every cut is $11/pound (save the bacon at $13), which helps simplify things. So go with your gut, and be prepared to experiment.
Atsa Pork! Italian Sausage with peppers and onions
C'est Pork! Thin-sliced chops sauteed in butter and wine
Das Ist Porkenschwein! Scnitzel, fried in butter

Long story short, everything is great. The boston butts melt wonderfully in a braise, and roast up moist and lovely. The sausages – sage breakfast and clean spicy Italian – fry up uncompromisingly juicy and delicious, thanks to measured seasoning and a healthy fat content. The thin chops are big on pork flavor, deeply-hued with a robust finish. And the pork cutlets – pounded, dipped in flour, egg and fresh breadcrumbs, and fried in butter – made a world-class schnitzel. Rather than deliberate, we suggest picking a porcine meal to cook, then visiting Ray for an appropriate cut. You have the official Porkchop Express guarantee on this one: you wont be disappointed, as this is some of the most satisfying meat we've tasted in some time.

So go pay the man a visit. Great pork, vibrant veggies and wonderfully fresh eggs ($5/dozen) to boot is a recipe for some serious culinary joy. All this and... the beard?!! No wonder everybody loves Ray!

Bradley Farm
317 Springtown Road
New Paltz, NY 12561

You can catch Ray at the following NYC Greenmarkets: 97th Street on Fridays and Grand Army Plaza on Saturdays. When visiting, be sure to try one of his new Piggie Bites, a $2 mini pork pie to drool over.

As for how best to his hogs, bask in Ray's exclusive top-secret recipe below. Enjoy!

Ray Bradley's Pork Chops and Country-Style Ribs (adapted with permission)
1) Salt and pepper the chops/ribs
2) Sauté (chops) or grill (ribs) quickly over high heat
3) Remove before overcooking
4) Let rest before serving
5) Eat

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Anonymous jess said...

haha to the large black!

you should definitely submit some of your photos to www.donteatthatyet.com. it's a visual restaurant review site.

7:41 PM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

yeah i think the breed description is something like "docile & delicious"

yr site looks good btw, tks for the heads-up

11:22 AM  
Anonymous we are never full said...

the picture of shrink-wrapped pork products is making me hot.

liking your site.

10:33 AM  
Blogger J. Slab said...

tks never, you're clearly a poster of fine taste. FYI: its even sexier live

4:57 PM  
Anonymous marcelbreuer said...

Ray Bradley truly is awesome. I'm one of those groupies. If only he'd sell me some pork bellies! He uses them all himself, unfortunately.

12:37 PM  

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