June 19, 2024


World's finest Food

NYC chef shares her restaurant plans for Kinderhook

It’s not easy to take the city girl out of the city — but NYC chef Hannah Wong is doing quite well in her new Hudson Valley home of Kinderhook in Columbia County.

Wong relocated in July to be the executive chef of a trio of food concepts in the Kinderhook Knitting Mill, a 19th century knitting factory turned culinary oasis. Under Wong’s direction is a daytime coffee, tea, and lunch spot, Morningbird, which began serving lunch last week; a cocktail lounge called The Nest slated to open in spring 2022; along with a new Indo-Dutch restaurant, the Aviary.

Other shops will join the multi-purpose space: OK Pantry, a general store and soda fountain with a curated selection of Scandinavian and Japanese brands; and the Kinderhook Bottle Shop offering natural wines from smaller producers, both opening in December.

Wong, who is ethnically Korean and grew up with adoptive Chinese parents, is especially drawn to Southeast Asian flavors, which she explored while living in Hong Kong as a Fulbright scholar. After traveling through Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia, she says, “I fell in love with street food flavors and how vibrant everything was in those countries, in particular the great balance of spice, heat, acid, and sweetness. I’m always making sure those different elements are balanced in my food, and there’s a full flavor profile for each dish.”

She spent the last 10 years cooking in New York City at high-end restaurants like dB bistro Moderne and Gramercy Tavern, before branching out on her own in 2019 with her friend and business partner Yen Ngo. Together they opened Van Đa, a modern Vietnamese restaurant in the East Village, which was recognized as a Bib Gourmand by the Michelin Guide.

In 2020, just as the pandemic started, Wong was opening her own restaurant, Haema, in Brooklyn, with an eclectic menu of street food-inspired dishes from different parts of Asia. But at the last minute she backed out of the lease and turned Haema into a series of New York City pop-ups instead that riffed upon Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Southeast Asian flavors, sometimes through a western lens: “surf and turf” fried rice, pho short rib pappardelle, shredded duck spring rolls, kabocha-squash curry.  

“I was just really feeling like I needed to take some time for myself,” she said. “I was questioning the value of paying so much to live in the city. Also, it’s relentless and you don’t have a lot of space for yourself. I had been thinking a lot about community and how to build community through the food that I cook.”

The pull to Hudson Valley

The menu at Morningbird utilizes locally sourced foods from farms like Lover’s Leap and trout from Hudson Valley Fishery in dishes that draw upon Thai influences like a Hudson Valley Trout Larb or these Stir-Fried Turmeric Rice Noodles. 

The menu at Morningbird utilizes locally sourced foods from farms like Lover’s Leap and trout from Hudson Valley Fishery in dishes that draw upon Thai influences like a Hudson Valley Trout Larb or these Stir-Fried Turmeric Rice Noodles. 


Meanwhile, Ngo had already purchased a home upstate — she still manages Van Đa in the city — and bought the Kinderhook Knitting Mill space, along with local Darren Waterston.

The avian theme, says Kinderhook Knitting Mill creative director and manager Nic Der, took flight after Ngo and Waterson toured the soon-to-be Aviary space. The metal depot behind the mill served as a production facility during World War I when the textile mill shifted gears and began knitting hats, gloves and blankets for soldiers. The airiness of the space inspired the Aviary name; it was only later that the team discovered that there once was an aviary in Kinderhook.

Initially this project didn’t appeal to Wong, but then pandemic mentality hit. “I did not predict it. But I mean, that’s the pandemic, right? It just taught us to be more flexible and think outside the box.”

In March 2021, she accepted Ngo’s invitation to move up to Kinderhook to be the Aviary’s executive chef as well as oversee the food at Morningbird and The Nest.

Related: 15 things to see. do, and eat on a day trip to Kinderhook

“I had never thought about living upstate before,” said Wong, who grew up in New Jersey. “It just so happened that this was a good time in my life to make a move. I just packed my bags and moved up in the summer.”

Between preparing lunch at Morningbird and preparing for the Aviary’s opening, Wong is adapting to life upstate. She leased one of four large apartments in the Kinderhook Knitting Mill building.

“It feels like night and day between here and New York City,” she said. “I go through stages where I feel quite lonely, and I miss my people, but as far as the physical space that it has allowed me — I’ve never felt so free.”

And, of course, she’s sampling the local food — including Prospect at Scribner’s Catskill Lodge, and Harvest Smokehouse at Golden Harvest Farms in Valatie, where she now goes twice a week. “Their barbeque is really solid,” she said. “It’s very chill and there’s a distillery on site.”

She’s also a fan of Lil’ Deb’s Oasis in Hudson: “I love how queer it is. I love the vibe. And the food is always on point. It just feels like an industry kind of restaurant.” And she’s digging the grilled cheese, craft beer, and homey vibe at Saisonnier in Kinderhook.

Another perk of Hudson Valley living has been the direct access to farms. “It’s been a great joy for me,” Wong said. “In the city you can’t actually go to the farm and meet the farmer on their turf. Even working in a restaurant, there’s a buyer who goes to the farmer’s market every day.”

The Morningbird is located in the rehabbed Kinderhook Knitting Mill. The Aviary, an Indo-Dutch restaurant will open there in early 2022, along with cocktail lounge The Nest.

The Morningbird is located in the rehabbed Kinderhook Knitting Mill. The Aviary, an Indo-Dutch restaurant will open there in early 2022, along with cocktail lounge The Nest.


Wong’s favorites so far are Berry Farms in Chatham and Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, but she also has a soft spot for Troy’s farmer’s market. “I thought it was just like the cutest thing. And I discovered lots of cool things — like there was a fishery that had [smoked] scallops that I ended up using in my fried rice. And this small farm from the Berkshires that was making really incredible cheese.”

While she’s enjoying the local food scene, she said she’s missing true Asian cuisine. She drives to Albany for Chinese food, something she can’t find closer, and still travels to Queens for good Thai food.

This lack of diversity, especially when it comes to Asian culture, has been one of the hardest adjustments to her life upstate. “I’m just not seeing a part of myself reflected in the people around me,” she said. “I’ve sort of adopted a lot of those flavors and that is just what my heart and stomach crave.” The Asian population in Columbia County, where Wong lives, is just 2 percent, according to census data.

Infusing Asian flavors in planned menu

Fortunately, Asian flavors are in play at Morningbird, where the egg sandwich comes on a milk bun with lemongrass pork sausage, and the Thai herb salad uses local, slow-cooked trout.

The Aviary menu, meanwhile, is designed to be a mixture of Dutch — the historical background of the area — and Indonesian. “I think the third part of that is the Hudson Valley,” Wong said. “We want to be working with purveyors here as much as possible. That means getting trout from the Hudson Valley Fishery and meat from Kinderhook Farms or Lover’s Leap.”

Although the Aviary menu is still in progress, it’s clear that Wong is infusing these local finds with her signature sophisticated Asian flavors.

The Indonesian rendang stew on the Aviary menu will feature local lamb over a coconut milk polenta, with seasonal vegetables and a spicy sambal sauce. Mackerel crudo will be paired with pickled onions, and beef tartare with smoked beets and lemongrass. Another appetizer, scotch quail eggs, is a perfect representation of the restaurant’s concept.

“Quail eggs are very common in Southeast Asia,” Wong explained. “And I think wrapping them in sausage and deep frying them is very Dutch. We’re going to serve it in a little fried root vegetable nest.”

While Wong admits that she is still trying to tap into the rhythm of the town, she’s excited to be there, and to be back in the kitchen.

“I do feel like time moves differently up here,” she said. “I find that I’m getting up a lot earlier, which is great, and as soon as it’s like 9 or 10, I’m sort of done. I’m trying to lean into the pace and the natural cycle of life up here, which I think is something my body is craving.”

She’s even looking for a Hudson Valley spot to reopen Haema. “It’s a concept that I feel like I could open somewhere outside New York City,” she said. “So, we’re keeping an eye out on what towns are sort of up-and-coming and looking at spaces,” she said.

And she’s not alone. “Definitely a few chefs I know are starting to spend more time upstate,” she said. “And that’s pretty exciting.”

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