Interview by: Janet Irizarry
There is no doubt that we’re spoiled for choices here in the Hudson Valley when it comes to food – whether it be dining out, prepared meals or event catering. So, as you look to plan your next event or holiday party, let me help you narrow your search and suggest you may want to start with Simply Gourmet in Poughkeepsie for your catering.
Polasek says that he was destined for the restaurant business, “I remember loving to play in the kitchen cupboards and pulling out all the pots and pans. I am not sure if that was a sign or just a fun thing to do, but there was certainly a lot of cooking going on in my home growing up. And we also ate out a lot as a family, every Friday night we would go out and I always wanted to try something different. Food intrigued me.”
He remembers being fascinated with the cooking shows, absorbing techniques used by Julia Child and Graham Kerr. As the Food Network took off he couldn’t get enough, “I would watch the shows, tape them on the VHS and play and pause and play and pause so I could write down the recipe, because there was no internet and you would have to send a letter with a self-stamp envelope in order to get the recipe. So I would record it, write it down and just start cooking it.”
When he was fourteen he got his first job working at Dutchess Manor where he stayed till he graduated college. Yes, you guessed it, he received his bachelor’s degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. “It was never a question of where I was going to go. I didn’t even apply anywhere else,” says Polasek.
For several years after he graduated from the CIA he worked in some of the best kitchens in New York and Boston, until he knew he wanted to open a place of his own. Then he moved back to the Hudson Valley to start the next phase of his food journey, opening his own business.
When Simply Gourmet opened in 2008 it was small shop that was a quick-service café specializing in small catering jobs, prepared take-out foods and heat-and-serve dinners to go. But as their popularity grew, so did their customers’ requests for them to do larger catering events. In 2013 Polasek was awarded a contract to run the café, Uncle Sam’s Canteen, at the FDR Presidential Library & Museum visitor center in Hyde Park, and he realized that he had grown out of his small space in East Fiskill, so he was on the hunt for a new location.
As he looked for a place to expand, he came back to an idea he had as a young culinary student to open a restaurant. “You go to culinary school knowing that you want to own a restaurant. That is your goal,” says Polasek. He thought that if he could find a location where he could accomplish both, a space he could run the catering business out of and also have space for a restaurant, it would be the perfect scenario. And that is exactly what he did. In 2014 he moved to IBM road in Poughkeepsie, bringing his catering business with him while opening Bluestone Bistro Restaurant.
Since the move to IBM Road there have been a few changes. Just this past June, Polasek closed Bluestone Bistro. The catering business, Simply Gourmet, took off exponentially since the move, and Polasek saw the opportunity for its growth in the ability to carve out a niche in the area, “We were getting such a demand for the catering that we decided to close the restaurant and focus all of our efforts on being the best caterers we can possibly be. By closing the restaurant it allows us to give many more people many more options on the catering side.” Polasek also explains that it allows people who are looking for onsite catering the ability host an event, on any day of the week, in the Simply Gourmet restaurant. It’s nice because you get the whole place to yourself and the restaurant space seats up to 50 people. It’s a perfect place for a shower, cooperate dinner or cocktail party.
Right now Simply Gourmet’s biggest business is weddings and it is listed as one of the prime vendors at many venues around the valley.
When I asked Polasek what he loved most about the business, he told me, “What other business do you get instant gratification from? In the catering business, as soon as you provide the service, you get the feedback. On those weeks when you spend a hundred hours working and then you put on the event and you get 150 people saying ‘OMG this was the best food I’ve ever had!’ it makes it all worthwhile.”
Polasek is also a big proponent of buying local and he feels that everyone should do their best to support local businesses. It was working at Peter Pratt in Yorktown which gave Polasek his first taste of farm-to-table, working with local purveyors, and even growing their own. He saw how buying local was good for everyone involved: the farmers, the restaurants and the customers, “If a business is committed to purchasing local products and services, even if they have to pay a little more, the end result to the local economy is amazing.” He goes on, “It is absolutely incredible the bounty of products we have available here in the Hudson Valley. If a restaurant is not doing it, they should be. Even if it is one product at a time. It creates a sustainable economy locally, and at the same time, everything tastes better.” He believes that buying local has been one of the main driving factors in his success because people notice the quality.
I asked Polasek why he thinks you should use Simply Gourmet to cater your next event. His response, “We have developed a model that works well. We are in the occasion business, it’s a celebratory business and whether it is a large off-site wedding or you are looking to come here and throw a baby shower, we know how to do it well.”
All I know is that if you are looking for personal service and delicious food for any event, you should give them a call.
10 IBM Road
Poughkeepsie, NY 12601
Phone: (845) 214-0300