Chef Brandon Collins & Farmer John Fazio

Farmer & Chef

Chef Brandon Collins & Farmer John Fazio

BORN INTO AN APPLE-FARMING FAMILY in Modena, John Fazio grew up in the produce business that “the other side of the family” is still in. Growing up, “An apple tasted like an apple, a tomato tasted like a tomato,” and his grandfather’s meticulous care of the fields yielded fruits and vegetables that the family was proud of and customers loved. (Even if he sometimes had to explain that corn picked only hours before being sold tasted “funny” because customers were accustomed to chewing on a 2-week-old product from the supermarket.)

“I don’t know what my chickens eat—if I knew, it would mean they were in a cage and not free range.”

Fast-forward a bit: Recuperating after an accident 13 years ago, Fazio realized he liked the idea of raising animals, and entered into the rabbit business, following that with chickens, ducks, eggs and an occasional flock of pheasant and quail. Along with his cousin Mike, he built Fazio Farm into a poultry supplier to some of the best restaurants and country club kitchens in the Hudson Valley. Fazio is quiet about his growing methods (“Macy’s don’t tell Gimbels,” he cautions). “I’m not a philosophy farmer,” he says straight out. “I don’t know what my chickens eat—if I knew, it would mean they were in a cage and not free range.” They even smell different than mass-market poultry—Fazio’s birds smell like, well, chicken. “If you like your chicken to smell like something from Whole Foods,” he says, “toss it into the laundry next time.”

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A few years ago, Brandon Collins, then co-chef at the Valley Restaurant at the Garrison, hosted a networking supper for farmers and chefs, where he met Fazio. From there it was a short hop to Fazio’s chickens—Collins noted Fazio’s birds were unusually consistent in size and quality, but mostly they had a moist plumpness and flavor that set them apart from anything he had worked with before.

When Collins came to Beacon’s new Roundhouse, a meticulously designed (by David Rockwell) former factory transformed to luxury hotel and spa, the challenge was to create a kitchen that would service a restaurant, outdoor café, lounge, private dining room, event space and room service menu. Swift, the main dining room, is a glasswalled, 120-seat restaurant overlooking (quite literally) Fishkill Creek and Beacon Falls. (The namesake for the restaurant is the former owner of the property, Horatio Swift, the local blacksmith). The furnishings—the bar, tables, chairs and lights—are locally sourced. Collins’ approach was to ensure the menu would be, as well.

"Fazop is always very upfront with me. He’s not just a purveyor; he looks out for my best interest, as well.”

“I really got charged up—I decided I’d focus on getting any local meat that I could,” Collins says. “Fazio came to mind because of his reputation and his products. We have a really good working relationship—he is always very upfront with me. He’s not just a purveyor; he looks out for my best interest, as well.” In addition to the chickens, Collins also sources all his eggs, quail and rabbit from Fazio—and if Fazio doesn’t have it, he’ll get it. “He sources products from other farms and purveyors nearby and offers to help distribute for farms that may not be big enough to do their own distribution,” Collins adds.

If Fazio keeps his growing methods quiet, Collins likes to make it seem his cooking methods are simple, but when he says, “I let the chicken do its thing—some salt and pepper and into a pan with some butter is how we do it here,” what he really means is that sherry-marinated beets and melted spring onions help raise the bird to new heights. Collins also admits he likes to braise the legs with red wine for some dishes, and adds with a sly smile, “The wings meet the deep fryer for a family meal—they’re a big hit in the kitchen.”

Chickens are what brought these two guys together but Fazio currently is re-purposing a 30,000-square-foot cold-storage facility into a USDA-approved facility for processing beef, lamb and other four-legged proteins—his effort to help revive small Hudson Valley farms by offering services that today can be up to four hours away and filled with legal headaches for small producers. Fazio currently manages the slaughter of his chickens via a New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets license; his rabbits are exempt from oversight because they are considered “exotic meat.” (This last item elicits a shrug and wordless look from Fazio that says, “Go figure.”)

Collins admits, though, that overall availability of local products is getting better. “It’s getting much easier to source, with Red Barn Produce, Hudson Valley Harvest, and people like Fazio, Nancy [McNamara] at Honey Locust, Nat Kagan meats,” he says. “There are so many ways to get local at the door without having to go to the farmer now as compared to five years ago—it’s 300 percent better than it used to be.”

Cut to the funny part: Fazio has not tasted his chicken (or any other dish) by Collins. Asked when he intends to make it over the river for dinner, his low-key reply is, “I think this summer, I’m gonna pull out the bike [a Harley] and come over—I may have to stay in one of those rooms with the giant soaking tubs to have the whole experience.”

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