My first time visiting Vassar was on an unbearably hot Thursday in May 2021. Maybe it was a touch of fate from the Culinary Gods themselves that my initial flight was pushed back a week and I decided to skip my high school graduation for this visit instead—either way, it was through these series of events that I met Chef David Cruz of Reconnect Foods. Famished from my campus tour, I stumbled upon the Poughkeepsie Farmers Market. From its wide selection of local farmers to craftspeople and even a Tupperware salesman, the Poughkeepsie Farmers Market was the perfect indicator that Vassar was an ideal fit for me, though I was too busy at the time trying to find something to eat to make anything out of these observations.
There it was, under a tent, with just a cooler and a whiteboard for a menu: Reconnect Foods. I bought an aguachile with hibiscus and mint as well as a delectable tamale, yet it was Cruz’s personality that left a lasting impression. His love for food translated into his cooking and hospitality;we talked about food for hours. Whether he was explaining his own sourcing methods and cooking processes or giving recommendations on chef’s knives for the regular home cook, Cruz’s food and personality remained with me after I left Vassar. Since then, I eagerly awaited my next trip to the Poughkeepsie Farmers Market.
I didn’t know this until our interview a week ago, but my interaction with Cruz happened during his first month of business with Reconnect Foods. But Cruz has always been working with food. Starting as a dishwasher at local Poughkeepsie restaurants throughout highschool, he eventually brought his experience and passion to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 2016, saying, “Once I knew [food] was my calling, I had to go.”
At the CIA, Cruz learned technical skills such as plating and skills outside of the kitchen like sourcing ingredients, budgeting and building a network. While in culinary school, Cruz was given the opportunity to study abroad in California and Peru. “It was through these experiences that I learned how to acquire, source, and grow my own food, and it started my passion for farm to table cooking,” he shared. Before our talk, like many, I associated farm-to-table with overpriced tasting menus, looking to charge twenty dollars for two sauteed carrots. But Cruz has a different perspective “The concept of farm-to-table is what drives Reconnect, and it is my mission to create a web of hyperlocal connections throughout the Hudson Valley,” he shared.
For Cruz, farm-to-table is more than just a phrase—it’s a mission. Throughout our talk there was a constant theme of hyperlocality, what it means, what he does for it, and what we, as consumers, can do for it. Stressing the importance of seasonality, Cruz explained, “I don’t understand what pico de gallo has tomato all year round; if it isn’t in season, don’t serve it. You see so many restaurants serving dishes with ingredients not in season. It doesn’t support the local community and the environment as a whole.”
The example of pico de gallo struck a chord in me–my Chipotle order is dependent on the pico, after all. “We live in such a rich area for local ingredients, we should use it and support our farmers,” Cruz shared. As he told me of the wide variety of squash in the Hudson Valley, I began to understand what it means to Reconnect in our web of hyperlocal connections: food is grown by the farmer, served by the restaurant and eaten by the consumer.
Now, what is our role in this hyperlocal community? “What you guys are doing with the farmer’s market is honestly amazing. So, continue asking for more. Advocate to your school the importance of buying and supporting local farmers and restaurants,” Cruz encouraged. Though the Poughkeepsie Farmer’s Market will not be opening until spring, Cruz, and many other food truck owners, are hosting a variety of pop ups around the Poughkeepsie area until then.
As our interview came to an end, I decided to ask a more “fun” seemingly simple question: “What are your top restaurant recommendations?” After thinking about my question for a while, Cruz threw a curveball: “Can I give farm recommendations instead?” This final question and response really cemented to me what it meant to be more educated about what I consume and just how important it is to know where food is being sourced.
According to Cruz, passion emerges when working through the lense of hyperlocality: “Hyperlocating brings creativity and motivation for me. Creativity is being able to make dishes from ingredients that aren’t commonly associated with that food. Whether it be pico without tomatoes, or braised beet carnitas (which I can vouch for, are amazing), I am always learning, and I love sharing my knowledge to the community.”
Speaking of his future goals, Cruz told me of his plans to create a more educational, lab-like learning space for food for up-and-coming chefs through classes, open kitchens and private dining experiences. According to Cruz, the most important thing is to reconnect the community to local dining, from the neighborhood farmer to the hungry first year looking for the best food in Poughkeepsie.
For those looking to have their taste buds blown away, Chef Cruz recommends the 1915 Wine Cellar, Hudson and Packard, Rossi Deli or The Poughkeepsie Grind.