The newly opened Mirbeau Inn & Spa Rhinebeck, brings 50 rooms and a 12,000 square-foot spa to this treasured town in the Hudson Valley, located two hours outside New York City. It is the third of Mirbeau’s resorts — the other two are located in Skaneateles, New York and Plymouth, Massachusetts — and will feature Willow, a restaurant operated by renowned chef Charlie Palmer. After a career running a restaurant empire, that includes New York City favorite Aureole, and winning numerous accolades, including the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef in America” in 1997, I spoke with Palmer about his vision for the restaurant and what inspired him to partner with Mirbeau.

What was the evolution of Willow By Charlie Palmer at The Mirbeau Rhinebeck?

I met Gary and Linda Dower (owners of the Mirbeau) about 3 years ago. I grew up in upstate New York, Gary is from upstate, and we had this connection right away. He asked me to take a look at the plans for what he was doing in Rhinebeck and I’ve always loved the town. I’m a true believer that these things are about relationships. Anyone can spend money building stuff, but you want to be involved with great people who want to do something special. Gary and Linda are not accepting of second-rate anything, they want it to be the best.

Where did you grow up?

A little town called Smyrna, of about 236 people. Not 236,000 — just 236. I grew up on a dairy farm. We always had amazing vegetable gardens, and my dad and I fished and hunted. But from a culinary standpoint, things started in high school for me. I started working at Colgate Inn (Hamilton, NY) as a job , not a career. First as a dishwasher, then a prep guy, but then I became the brunch guy, because everyone hated brunch.

What goes into creating a new restaurant for a new hotel?

It’s an opportunity to represent the region, and the surrounding area of Rhinebeck and what is happening here, food-wise. No matter where you are, you want to find the best ingredients, and there’s not many places that have access to bounty we have here. Linda designed a beautiful dining room, and to put something like this in the middle of this quaint town is special. Then you put thoughts on paper and start putting the right team together. It can’t be just about me, you need everyone to be passionate to make it a success.

How do you design the menu?

Thomas Burke, our Executive Chef, has some history with us, but we brought him to New York for two months so he could learn our system and language in the kitchen. It’s important we both understand how we think about food, so when we seasonly change dishes, or talk new ideas, we’re talking the same language. We feature what I call progressive American cuisine. We’ll […]

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