From Cat Cora to Rocco DiSpirito to Todd English, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park has trained many celebrity chefs who have made a name for themselves with successful restaurants and TV careers. And Anthony Bourdain, a 1978 graduate of the CIA and the host of popular travel shows, is perhaps the most well known of the alums.
“Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown” debuted April 14 on CNN, and is Bourdain’s first culinary travel series since his hit Travel Channel show, “No Reservations,” concluded last year. “Parts Unknown” follows Bourdain as he treks around the world to showcase offbeat global cuisine, and the premiere episode saw him tour Myanmar. But a few years ago, Bourdain visited the Hudson Valley, making a stop at a Yonkers restaurant, among other locations.
In celebrating the premiere of Bourdain’s new show this weekend, we’re looking back at five local restaurants, starting with the aforementioned Yonkers spot, that have been featured on TV shows or have celebrity chefs behind them.
Executive chef Peter Xavier Kelly, the owner of four award-winning local restaurants — X2O in Yonkers, Xaviars in Piermont, Freelance Café in Piermont and Restaurant X in Congers — is a Hudson Valley celebrity in his own right. So it only makes sense that Anthony Bourdain made a stop at X2O for the Hudson Valley episode of “No Reservations” (71 Water Grant St., Yonkers; 914-965-1111; xaviars.com).
In the 2010 episode, Bourdain, accompanied by actor Bill Murray -- a Rockland County resident -- looked out over the Hudson River from the main dining room. “I can see my house from here,” Bourdain said. “I can see your house from here,” Kelly joked. “Now that’s the scary part.”
Before the “No Reservations” episode, Kelly honed his TV chops on a 2007 episode of “Iron Chef,” where he beat Bobby Flay at his own game with a cowboy rib eye crusted with cayenne and brown sugar and served with a béarnaise sauce, a dish he served on the day of Bourdain’s visit.
“I was not nervous,” Kelly said of the day Bourdain visited. “I just do what I do.”
Part of what he does is open successful restaurants. Kelly opened his first local restaurant in 1983 in Garrison. Built on an old Victorian pier with breathtaking views of the Tappan Zee and George Washington bridges, X2O opened in 2007.
“It was, for me, a return to my roots,” Kelly said. “It was nice to be a part of Yonkers’ revitalization.”
Serving contemporary American cuisine with international influences, the restaurant has been a critical and commercial success since it opened.
“There’s a saying: The closer you get to the water, the worse the food gets,” Kelly said. “We try to reverse that and create good food in a good setting.”
Ripe Kitchen and Bar in Mount Vernon
To beat Bobby Flay in a grill-to-grill showdown once? That’s impressive. To beat him twice? That’s an accolade Nigel Spence, the Jamaican-bred “King of Jerk” behind Ripe Kitchen and Bar in Mount Vernon, has firmly secured under his belt (151 W. Sandford Blvd., Mt. Vernon; 914-665-7689; riperestaurant.com).
Back in 2006, the Food Network contacted Spence about being featured on the network. “I thought they were just profiling the restaurant,” he said. “The first two days of shooting, I was under the guise that it was for a show called ‘Melting Pot Masters.’”
On the third day, the TV crew had Spence go out to the restaurant’s backyard, a secluded outdoor space surrounded by hibiscus and banana trees. Then, in walked Flay for what was actually a competition for “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.”
“I freaked out,” said Spence. “I ran inside and stayed there for a few minutes because I had to catch my breath.”
When Spence gained his composure, he stepped outside and got down to business. “I would have been very embarrassed if I lost to my own jerk rib eye steak,” he said. “I thought, ‘If I lose, the Jamaicans are going to have my head.’”
Ripe Kitchen and Bar, which Spence calls a “shabby chic jerk shack,” serves Caribbean food with a twist. “It’s palatable for a lot of different people,” Spence said, “and if I may say so myself, this is genuinely good stuff.”
DePuy Canal House in High Falls
Ten years ago, Bobby Flay visited John Novi, the owner and executive chef at DePuy Canal House in High Falls, as part of the Hudson Valley episode of FoodNation (1315 Route 213, High Falls; 845-687-7700; depuycanalhouse.com). In this series, Flay and his crew traveled the nation, examining local culinary history and the people who keep those traditions alive.
“I thought it was a great honor,” Novi said, “but I was very nervous. I’m not a person that does well with cameras.”
Luckily, those jitters disappeared when Flay entered the kitchen of the historic venue.
“When Bobby came through the door, he made me feel so at ease,” Novi said. “For such a popular person, he was very receptive and gracious and accepting and very much into being there. It just made it much easier for me.”
Novi welcomed Flay into his kitchen for a cooking lesson, teaching him how to make a culinary favorite, Choucrout au Champagne, a seasonal soup made of sauerkraut, onion and smoked meats cooked in Champagne.
“It was like cooking for my brother,” Novi said. “It was a delight.”
Novi said that he’s had an interest in culinary arts since he was a young man. While working at his parents’ bakery, Novi fell in love with a building a half block away, the eventual home of DePuy Canal House.
“I loved the building and wanted to revitalize it,” Novi said. “I bought the house for $4,500 when I was just 21.”
Now open for 44 years, the restaurant is a dining destination, lauded by critics and frequented by A-listers like Robert DeNiro. Open on Saturdays and Sundays only for dinner and brunch, Novi is also offering his cooking lessons to the masses at $125 per person (call for more information).
As far as Flay is concerned, Novi said he’d welcome a future visit.
“It would be great if he came back again,” he said. “I’d love to take him on a tour of the Catskills and show him the farms around here where I get some of my ingredients.”
Eveready Diner in Hyde Park
You don’t have to empty your wallet to have an amazing dining experience. Just ask Guy Fieri, the host of Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” a show that features the nation’s best home-style eats. One of Fieri’s early discoveries is Eveready Diner, a popular food destination for residents and celebrities alike (4189 Albany Post Rd., Hyde Park; 845-229-8100; theevereadydiner.com).
“He’s a very cool guy,” said Alex Serroukas, one of the owners of the Eveready, of Fieri. “He’s very down to earth and very quick with his jokes.”
The spiky-haired host, who visited Eveready in 2007 for the first season of “Diners,” was most impressed with the basement bakery where co-owner Theodore Vanikiotis makes sinfully sweet baked goods from scratch.
Vanikiotis and his brother, Constantine Serroukas, opened what was then just a little dining car in 1974. In 1995, they hired a diner historian and rebuilt the venue.
“We didn’t want some cheesy be-bop diner, but a 1930s streamlined, art deco, real deal diner,” said Alex Serroukas, Constantine’s son. “We are pretty much diner-obsessed.”
The place has grown into a monumental institution, well known and often mentioned by Hudson Valley residents. Celebs like Tom Hanks, Uma Thurman, Martha Stewart and Billy Joel have all made their rounds at the Eveready. Stewart sat at the counter and ordered a turkey club. Hanks opted for a Blackjack Burger and milkshake.
Need another reason to visit? “It’s the best diner in America, hands down,” Serroukas said.
Port Chester’s Tarry Lodge hasn’t been featured on the small screen, but it’s the product of a couple of big-name celebrity chefs who have (18 Mill St., Port Chester; 914-939-3111; tarrylodge.com). Mario Batali, a frequent guest on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and one of the critically acclaimed stars of Food Network’s “Iron Chef,” co-owns the Italian joint with Joe Bastianich, who judges FOX’s “MasterChef” and other televised cooking competitions.
The building that has housed Tarry Lodge for the past few years has held restaurants since 1906, including a 40-year run as a pizza joint owned by a local family. After a new owner ran the building into the ground, Bastianich purchased it and decided to build a new dining destination.
“He liked the idea of taking this space that was near and dear to people’s hearts and breathing a new life into it,” said Nancy Selzer, one Tarry Lodge’s four partners.
A top-notch creative team was entrusted with maintaining the turn of the century tavern feel of the place. “There’s tons of marble and a really old-world feel, but everything is brand new,” Selzer said. “The historic feeling you get in the space is really special.”
The Tarry Lodge menu, a compilation of Batali’s greatest culinary hits, is sure not to disappoint, Selzer said. A good place to start is a customer favorite, the guanciale, which is a wood-fired pizza topped with black truffles and a sunny-side-up egg.
“Port Chester has always had a really vibrant restaurant scene, but we brought sort of a New York City dining atmosphere to it,” Selzer said. “If I had wood, I’d knock on it. We have had a very happy first three years.”