Summer 2021

Eat, Drink & Have a Fabulous Summer

By Lilian Peña

What better way to enjoy coming out of a pandemic than hosting a summer get-together, graduation, wedding or just a delicious meal you don’t have to prepare yourself. 

The answer lies simply in the kitchen of Chef Renée Kashuba of Foods Made by RK in Tarrytown. Whether it happens in Chef Renée’s kitchen or yours, the result is one of the most wonderful memories you will have.

We recently sat down with Chef Kashuba to learn more about her passion for cooking. Her strong food-related family history has been passed down from generation to generation. “As I think back, the kitchen has always been the center of every gathering – the place of warmth and aromas and where it all happens. I’ve always been most comfortable there, and it’s the room that peaks my interest first and to which I gravitate in any home I enter. There is really no beginning to this, no first memory that stands out, because I think it’s always been

true. I loved visiting with my Nana in the kitchen at holiday meals, where she would prepare dish after dish in a seemingly endless stream of tastes and textures, and casually plant them on the table before we had finished the last dish. I have no idea how we managed to eat for so many hours, and then eat dinner afterward, but it was simply impossible not to taste it all.”

As a chef, we asked if there was a specific influence that steered her in this direction and Chef Renée responded, “I find my influences all around me, in the least expected places, really, and I welcome them all. New ideas and new tastes may come from anywhere, and sometimes just from a desire to be a little off-center. I often put together a new dish by saying, “Oh, I was just going for weird.” And it works! And then I have to try to remember it for the next time.”

As a mother, we wanted to know how she was imparting her passion for food and cooking on to her own family. “I think my kids would probably say that the primary mechanism is just by making food they like to eat, and certainly I do enjoy spoiling them with their favorites. I hope they’ve also appreciated seeing me grow as a chef and as an entrepreneur. As with all small businesses, this is really a family business. Each of my children has worked with me over the years. My oldest remains my best sous-chef, although he’s happy to be off the hook for work now that he’s in college. My middle child is both gifted in the kitchen and with creativity in presentation, and she’s my go-to assistant now. She’s also wonderful with the guests of all ages. My youngest, though, has been cooking with me since he did demonstrations of kids’ recipes as an 8-year-old, and he shows the greatest passion and interest. I’m working on handing down some of my best recipes now, just like my father did when I was his age. He also shows an inclination to just play around in the kitchen.”

Chef Renée shared how she creates an event or meal and make it personal to her client. “The first step in planning for me is really listening. I build a close partnership with my clients, and we often remain friends after their event. I want them to feel that their celebration has been put together by a good friend, not a stranger. I often say that I have to love people at least a little bit to cook for them, so planning is really about building that love. I have to see the event from their perspective – really understand their vision – and then I can pull back to a more birds-eye view to plan how everything will work to create that vision seamlessly, with no effort on the clients’ or guests’ parts and without revealing the inner workings. In the end, I hope that everyone feels absolutely spoiled and indulged with what they’re seeing and eating, with all the work hidden.”

We asked if Chef Renée was able to utilize locally sourced products into her dishes. “Yes, locally sourced and organic is always best. Working with food is like working with a living thing. Fresh, local food just participates in the cooking process better. This, of course, is an ideal that not every client can afford, and I work for a very wide range of folks. I know how to work within a budget, too!”

When asked about the challenges over the last year, Chef Renée responded, “The biggest challenge for a chef like me is missing in-person contact with the public and seeing my clients. I rely on that close contact to build relationships and grow as a chef. I miss seeing people more often! And it was sad to be contactless, instead of standing and visiting with people. But I was happy to keep people safe and fed by using extra safety precautions, and it was really rewarding to feel helpful by providing a little delicious joy during the pandemic. I’m really looking forward to seeing more people up-close, visiting, and doing larger events again.”

Looking into the future and especially this summer Chef Renée smiled and said, “I’m being inundated with people wanting to plan – which is great! So many people want to get back to life, get in touch with friends, and celebrate again. People are looking for excuses to celebrate! I see a future of outdoor gatherings first, while we all get more comfortable, and then moving inside as we get things more and more under control next fall. People are ready, and I’m ready, too! I’ve learned so much over the last year and I can’t wait to share it all.”

Any new dishes on the horizon? “I’ve been doing variations on a theme for a bit now, with new sweet and savory dishes that riff on old standards. It’s been very popular, and delicious! Summer for me is all about fresh herbs, so I’ll be playing around with that, too.”

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Imagine actually being able to relax this summer with friends and family indoors and out with a crisp, clean and utterly delicious fruit liqueur concoction featuring the best of the best from Heimet NY, located right in Mamaroneck. 

We were fortunate enough to interview the founder and principle, Ute Londrigan about her thriving business and the history behind it.

“I am the youngest of 3 kids and grew up in Geldern, a small town close to the Dutch border. We spent as much time together as possible as a family and especially loved the outdoors – hiking or long walks almost every Sunday (followed by traditional coffee and cake), riding our bikes everywhere, sports like tennis, etc. My father traveled months at a time for work, but every summer we would take a 3-week vacation, going to all different countries throughout Europe. He wanted us to see as much as possible in the world (little did he know …!) and to experience various cultures and foods. Speaking of food – food was always very important to our family as was eating meals together. My mom cooked everything from scratch and only what was in season, most times picking up what we needed from local farmers or our farmers market. Seasonality is so ingrained in me that it’s something I carry with to this day.”

Ute shared how her grandmother and mother were such an inspiration to her, “For my family, making liqueurs was as normal as canning fruits and vegetables. 

All vegetables that we didn’t eat fresh were canned and all extra fruits were either made into marmalade or used to make liqueurs. At the time, it didn’t seem out of place that my grandmother made liqueurs as that’s what so many others did. I draw a lot of inspiration from my mother and my grandmother today as Heimat for me will always be about the traditional way of doing things. By that I mean you take the fruits only when in season, make sure they are the focus of the liqueurs, and give the liqueurs lots of time to develop. Never any shortcuts along the way.”

On the topic of other women-owned businesses, Ute said, “Honestly, I think every business built from scratch is an inspiration to me. However, during my time at New Product Development at Radeberger Gruppe in Frankfurt, Germany, I was able to meet Kim Jordan, founder of New Belgium brewing company. Kim most likely doesn’t recall meeting me but our meeting left a deep impression upon me. She had just a contagious passion for her business, she created a really cool culture that you wanted to be a part of, and she was just a really nice person. Back then I had my dreams of my own business, and even though I wasn’t ready to pursue it yet, I knew from then on what I wanted my business to look like and what kind of business woman/owner I wanted to be.”

Ute went on to discuss how the past year has been for her business. “Luckily for us, the pandemic itself didn’t affect our business as much as it did for so many others. Yes, big events got cancelled (for example, we were supposed to have the Signature Cocktail at the US Open golf event in Mamaroneck), and we were set to enter a number of really great restaurants in NYC. But thankfully NY changed the shipping laws for alcohol and we were able to open an online shop on top of being able to sell at the usual farmers markets or retail stores. While 2020 wasn’t a pleasant year for anyone, business wise we did really well.”

When asked about this upcoming fruit season, scheduling and new fruits, Ute replied, “I love this question as most people take for granted the fruits and vegetables that they can so easily buy at the supermarket. But Mother Nature leaves an imprint on the fruit each year, and any cold snap or strong storm might wipe out an entire crop. Since we only source our fruit from New York, that was the problem we had with blackberries our very first year and we had to skip it altogether (oh there were many tears!). 

I’ve been on the phone this spring with our partner farmers and so far they are optimistic about an excellent harvest. I’ll also be visiting one very soon for an update. Every season is different but we plan to start crafting Rhubarb early June, followed by all the summer fruits in July and August, and then Cranberry and Bosc Pear in October. As we talk to the farms regularly, we know when to come by just as the fruits are being picked or harvested (literally). 

As for new liqueurs, we are constantly experimenting with different ideas. We might have a new liqueur coming this fall but I don’t want to share yet as I want make sure it turns out exactly as we have planned. I’m pretty excited about it though…”

New York State has truly become the “homeland” for Heimat New York. Do you look forward to passing down the tradition to your children? “Absolutely! Passing down traditions is so important to me and I don’t only mean making liqueurs – like also cooking various dishes my family used to make, special meals for all the different holidays. Now while my kids are still a bit young, they have been amazing helpers at Heimat and always ask about the business. As they grow older, I’d love to let them get more and more involved and to teach them the business. We’ll see where it takes us but either way I’m proud they will be getting first hand business experience.”

Because your business is still so young, to what do you attribute your success? 

Ute stated, “I guess it depends on how one defines success as there are so many things that I’d like to achieve – particularly across the community, underprivileged, and the environment – before I even dare begin to use a word like that. Ultimately though, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful group of family and friends who have encouraged me from day one and that have always been there to support me during the ups and downs. Also, some of the farmers have been absolutely amazing and they go to great lengths to help support us as they believe in our mission. Plus, it goes without saying, a lot of hard work and sacrifice.”

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