JI Restaurant Consulting
One reason I love living in the Hudson Valley is that you never know what to expect. There are so many hidden gems, and the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck is one of them. I met executive chef Adam Cincotti at a volunteer recognition event for Dutchess Outreach where The Omega Institute was being thanked for their generous donation of food to the Outreach throughout the year.
Sitting at the same table with Cincotti but knowing nothing about the Omega Institute, I asked him to fill me in. In our brief initial discussion Chef Cincotti threw around food terms and trends, words like holistic and retreat, and talked about a dining room where they serve an average of 1,800 meals a day. Intrigued, I knew at that moment I had to see what was going on there.
What is the Omega Institute? The most generic way to describe it is that it is a nonprofit holistic retreat and education center that focuses on everything from personal and spiritual growth to community involvement. Located in Rhinebeck on a peaceful 250-acre property of gentle rolling hills, a tranquil lake and adorned with peaceful gardens, it is a place that drips serenity.
People come from all over the globe to take advantage of the Institute’s vast array of workshops and professional trainings in all areas of life, including health, healing, arts communication, the environment, and social change. Over the course of their season more than 23,000 people will come to participate in workshops, most of which will stay several days at the facility. Although there is so much to know about the Omega Institute, and I highly suggest you go to their website to find out more, I went there specifically to learn about the kitchen and what they are serving, so I sat down with Chef Cincotti to find out.
The department that Chef Cincotti runs is called FoodWorks, but you won’t find much about it on their website, or anywhere for that matter, which is a shame because what they are doing is truly something special and they have been doing it for a very long time. The Omega Institute FoodWorks team have been doing farm-to-table before it became a trend, and goal is to put best practices in that allow them to run an environmentally sustainable restaurant.
“At FoodWorks it’s about putting the idea of sustainable living into practice,” says Chef Cincotti, “Our focus is on local produce and striving to be very conscious about who we buy our food from. That means that our suppliers must be incorporating organic and sustainable practices. Our menu centers around, and is predominately, plant-based cuisine, but is not completely vegetarian.”
Chef Cincotti goes on, “The mindset from the start here was to provide food that could be pulled from the local farms that we could source from right here in the Hudson Valley and feed the Omega community from what is around us. This was our mission even before it was hip,” he chuckles, “I think it’s funny that farm-to-table is called a trend. This concept is not new, this is the ancient way of doing things, using whole food products. We really have just lost our way in the food industry and we are trying to get back to that idea that no matter how many people we are feeding we can utilize local food, local businesses, local people.”
“The focus through FoodWorks is to show people that whole food and farm-to-table can be done on a large scale. We are able to show people this is not only a movement for a 30-seat restaurant. The movement does not just have to apply in places like Brooklyn and Williamsburg. It can be done in an affordable way on any scale, just like we do here feeding 1000 people on occasion,” shares Cincotti.
Cincotti’s background in the food business goes back to his roots. His mother’s family is Creole and his father’s side of the family is Italian. “Food was always the real part of the narrative,” says Cincotti, “My mom was in the catering business and I remember when I was thirteen passing hors d’oeuvres at catering events for her.”
Cincotti grew up in the Hudson Valley but after graduating high school in 2002 he traveled around the country working in the restaurant industry to support himself. “I started travelling around the country living in various places such as Texas and even Alaska. I think I’ve worked every job there is in a restaurant, from scrubbing floors to managing a bar to being a line cook.” Eventually he got burned out from the crazy, fast-paced lifestyle and decided he needed something more, and so, at twenty-five, he enlisted in the Navy.
Unfortunately, due to a medical issue, Cincotti had to cut his military career short. “It turned out that my thirtieth birthday was the first day I returned to be a civilian and I thought, ‘What now?’ I realized it was a great time to follow my dreams and go back to my passion, cooking.”
Cincotti enrolled in the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park and after his first year needed a place to do an internship. “I knew I did not want to go back to the traditional restaurant business again and that is when I found the Omega Institute and Chef Bob Turner. Everything about the place was appealing.”
Coincidentally, after Cincotti’s internship, Turner decided that after 14 years at the Institute it was time to move on and his position became available. Cincotti applied for the open position and got it and he has never looked back, and he is always looking to bring new things to the table, pardon the pun.
Cincotti approaches food and leads the kitchen as a collaborative effort with his staff, “I put my stamp of approval on everything and will not serve anything that does not fit the mission, but I am surrounded with chefs who really understand what the goals are here so we all work together to keep ideas fresh. We are constantly keeping up with trends and what flavor profiles and ingredients people are really excited about. We try to push the boundaries and look to do things with food that haven’t been done before even though we are essentially serving at a “campground” not a regular restaurant. That means we are never going to get a Michelin Star, but we can take the same ingredients and see how we can incorporate them into what is realistic to do here and still make it exciting.”
“We are so fortunate in the Hudson Valley. It is the fertile crescent of North America. We have the four seasons but it is the swing of very cold winters and very hot summers that enable us to grow a very full cornucopia of food,” Cincotti adds.
When I asked what he wants people to know about sustainable living in regard to the food he creates at the Omega Institute, he said, “Many people, when they think of vegan or vegetarian cuisine, they think ‘Oh gross – tofu, rice and beans,’ but what they don’t understand is that there are cuisines out there that are vegan or plant-based, such as Creole food, where the meat is just an addition. These foods can taste delicious and be just as satisfying without the meat as well. Plant-based meals can be ‘stick-to-the-bones’ types of meals that are not only delicious, but also healthy and allow you to feel good about what you just ate.”
With one of Omega’s core missions being sustainability, the FoodWorks menu, although not completely void of meat, emphasizes a vegetarian diet. The reason for this is twofold, not only for the nutritional and health benefits but for the environmental advantages too.
Menus are focused around the resources that are consumed in the production of the food and are sourced with the goal of having the least impact on the land and the amount of CO2 produced. Attention is place on using the whole food product and minimizing food waste. It may be only over the past few years that the topic of food waste has made its way to the forefront of global social, economic and environmental conversations, but it has been on the minds and in the actions of the Omega Institute since the Institute’s inception. Leftovers are donated on a regular basis to The Lunch Box at Dutchess Outreach in Poughkeepsie and food scraps are sent to MacEnroe Organic Farm in Millerton to be composted.
Dining at the Omega Institute is communal and considered a “community” event, a place to meet new people and share the day’s experiences. Meals are served buffet style and guests bus their own dishes. Meals can be purchased as part of your stay or individually. The dining room is open to the public and if you are interested in dining there you are welcome to do so. Meal tickets can be purchase when you arrive, however they do suggest you call first (800-944-1001) in case the campus is full.
Breakfast: 7:00–8:45 a.m. $10
Lunch: Noon–2:00 p.m. $12
Dinner: 6:00–7:15 p.m. $15
Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
For more information: https://www.eomega.org/
150 Lake Dr, Rhinebeck, NY 12572
Images, Courtesy of Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, Rhinebeck, NY. eOmega.org