PHOTOGRAPH: LAWRENCE BRAUN, COURTESY OF EARLYBIRD COOKERY
When the average person grows weary of her desk job, she usually stands up, stretches and goes for a walk. But when Amy Miller left her New York City-based graphic design business, she headed in a completely different direction. “I was tired of sitting at a desk all the time,” she remembers, “and I had always loved to cook.” Amy had also been running a little bed-and-breakfast in Sullivan County, where she bought a weekend home in 2001. Feeding her guests from the bounty of local farms inspired her to enroll in the chef-training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute. It was a bold move and one that had a big impact on Amy as well as the many who have enjoyed the many pleasures of Early Bird Cookery in Callicoon.
What started as a private chef business in the city turned into a meal delivery service based upstate when Amy moved to her weekend place full-time in 2010. “Early Bird Cookery is all about the amazing farms in this area,” says Miller. “My clients—in the city and everywhere— really want locally grown food and I’m proud to highlight it.” In Miller’s creative hands, locally sourced ingredients are transformed into delicious dishes that emphasize fresh vegetables and sustainably raised meats. Offerings like radish tempura, crostini topped with nettle pesto and leg of lamb with a thyme-salt crust subtly allude to the ethos and sensibility of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, where Miller had previously interned.
Busy city folk can sign up for weekly deliveries of prepared meals on Early Bird’s commerce-friendly website. Hudson Valley denizens can pick up her wonderful ice creams, sweetened only with local honey, at the Callicoon farmers’ market. Flavors range from elderflower to tomato-watermelon to goat cheese with maple walnut. Early Bird is known for putting on quite a spread, and Miller has her hands full catering upstate weddings from May through October. Several years ago, she also began hosting seasonal four-course dinners at venues such as Basin & Main in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. “We don’t have a proper storefront or a place where people can come find us,” explains Miller, “so these supper clubs are a chance for us to get exposure, connect with the public and dream up some fun menus.”
Last fall, Early Bird hosted nearly 100 outrageously costumed diners at a festive Day of the Dead-themed supper club that featured a local band and ornate spun-sugar skull favors. Despite this high-octane ambience, the food more than held its own. Standouts from the Mexican-themed menu included a flavorful nut-crusted guinea hen with tomatillo mole and a decadent dark chocolate tart with caramel corn ice cream. As with everything from Early Bird Cookery, it was accompanied by a full portion of local charm. —Laura Silverman