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After one year under Clare de Boer, Stissing House surges forward

PINE PLAINS —  Stissing House has remained a centralizing force to the town of Pine Plains in one form or another since its construction in 1782. That’s 241 years of milestones. It reached a new one on Friday, March 10: a full year under the ownership of Clare de Boer.

A James Beard Foundation nominee for Rising Star Chef of the Year in 2018, de Boer’s move to take on ownership of Stissing House in 2022 was reported on by the New York Times, Eater, and beyond. Her work there has since born fruit: Stissing House was named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant 2023 by the James Beard Foundation on Jan. 25. Next to a Michelin star, recognition by the James Beard Foundation is one of the food world’s most prestigious honors. On March 29, the nominees will be announced, and a winner will be decided at a James Beard award ceremony on June 5.

Having earned her chef stripes working at King in Soho, de Boer now splits her time between the city — where she co-owns both an Italian restaurant and a French restaurant — and Dover Plains, where her family spends much of its time. As for what drew her to opening a restaurant in Pine Plains, the answer was unambiguous: “Stissing House. Period. Stissing House is magnetic. It’s a forcefield.”

From 1995 to 2021, the Stissing House operated under a series of owners as a French restaurant, and the journey for de Boer to providing a fresh take on an established and historic mainstay involved taking it back to those historic roots.

“[It was] really about restoring the building to its full potential. It has such brilliant bones, so we didn’t want to change anything that was pre-existing…. So our focus is really on creating a sense of place…. For instance our camel logo came from a doodle that we found in one of the old diaries of someone who had slept upstairs at the inn!

“That’s kind of our approach to food as well. But the bones of our food are the incredible local produce. We work with all of these incredible farms in the area, and we try and keep it simple by using the wood oven and wood-fired grill. We’re kind of locked on all sides by farms, and we want to celebrate that…. Just do simple, country American style cooking.”

That first full year of operation, however, was not without difficulties for Stissing House. Though jobs filled in restaurants have now surpassed pre-pandemic employment levels, in April 2022, restaurants were staffed at 6.4% below the 2019 norm. This staffing shortage was met by both a surge in demand — during many of the months of 2022, levels of dining out exceeded pre-pandemic levels — and record inflation. Though this kind of industry-wide difficulty was impossible to avoid, de Boer credited her team for much of the success in navigating it.

“The headline is truly the team. I’ve been so lucky to find these people that are really doing all of the hard work day to day to make Stissing House what it is. My chef de cuisine, Roel Alcudia…. and my general manager Nathan Rawlinson…. they’re wonderful. It takes good people to attract and retain good people. Unless you’ve got awesome leaders, you have nothing, and I really think that we’ve got the best of the best.”

As for what keeps de Boer tethered to her work both as a chef and business owner amid the busyness and chaos of life, the answer is simple: “People and produce. I’m in constant contact with my team, and love working with them. And I love being in the restaurant, chatting to all of our customers and our regulars. There’s a real sense of community around it.

“And then as it comes to food, you can never really get bored of it—because when you do, the next season arrives. Obviously, right now it’s March and I’m very bored of kale and potatoes. But just as you lose interest, the ground thaws and you’ve got peas and rhubarb, and it starts all over again…. I love how food ties into life, how it can make us all feel, and bring people together.”

Whether or not Stissing House takes home an award in June, for de Boer, the future of the restaurant is one full of potential and challenges.

“There’s just so much room to grow with that building. There’re rooms to feast in upstairs, there’s a room for us to open a bakery, there’s a huge garden that we haven’t even begun to landscape! I think we’re just at the very beginning of our journey.”

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