Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A master chef on the march

CLIFTON PARK -- Recipe for disaster: Change residences three times in six months, start a new career phase that stretches beyond the kitchen into general managership of a Lake George resort, build a relationship with a new significant other, and travel to Italy to help an 83-year-old father rekindle memories of his World War II service. Oh, and then change professional direction again as part owner of your own restaurant in bustling downtown Albany.

Recipe for success: See above.

Welcome to Dale Miller’s world, a mélange of food and finance, décor and detail.

He entered the culinary world as a teenager in Amsterdam, NY, in the’70s where he took “a lot of flak” for making wedding cakes. After all, in those days how many of his classmates were involved in much beyond school, sports and “fitting in”?

His persistence, which he parlayed into an education at the Culinary Institute of America (Class of 1979) in Hyde Park, NY, has paid off with a distinguished career that has seen him reach the top of his profession’s certification ladder, gain a seat on the board of the CIA, and secure international recognition as a consistently innovative chef.

He briefly moved from a decade-long post as executive chef of the iconic Jack’s Oyster House, Albany’s oldest restaurant, to the former mansion on Lake George that owners David and Cheryl Kenny renamed The Inn at Erlowest. However, the lure of ownership got him back to Albany in short order. The result: The restaurant Dale Miller.

Miller, 49, who probably could have had a successful career as an interior decorator had not food been his main passion, marries the two endeavors in his Clifton Park

The color palette of the recently-constructed two-story contemporary home is laden with food names, burnt okra and black truffle among them. They help one room blend seamlessly into the next while allowing for individuality of each space. And, he reworked the original builder’s blueprints to create several entertaining spaces, coffered ceilings and intriguing spaces to display antiques and art.

The immaculate kitchen is a chef’s dream with its standalone freezer, glass-front refrigerator, farm kitchen sink, and granite-topped workspace. Throughout, the furnishings include an array of Pottery Barn contemporary plus antiques ranging from a Carrera pink-marble-topped hallway sideboard with intricate carved wood to such family heirlooms as his grandmother’s grape-themed chandelier hanging over the dining area of the open kitchen that spills into a living room/sitting area with a broad view of a forever-wild stand of trees adjoining his property.

“I like the idea of mixing period furniture,” Miller said as he worked on an aromatic lunch -- sauteed shrimp and arugula appetizer followed by sliced flatiron prime beef in a rich, brown wine reduction with a vegetable terrine, grilled asparagus and roasted fingerling potato strips – for a small group of visitors. “If you think it through and do it right, it works very nicely. I won’t buy anything just to have it. It has to be just right for the space or I’ll wait as long as it takes.”

Miller is the chef ranked highest in the Capital Region by the American Culinary Federation. He is one of just 61 people among the nation’s three million cooks who hold the designation “Certified Master Chef," earned only after completing a rigorous 10-day supervised examination at the CIA facilities in Hyde Park. He also is one of only 300 or so Global Master Chefs.

Like so many of the region’s most recognized chefs, Miller has long been a mainstay on the philanthropic scene. He has been a major factor in the annual Culinary Cornucopia chefs competition that helps support Living Resources, the Cor-CIA Food & Wine Classic fundraiser for the Cornell University Hotel School and the CIA, and the Feast of the Fields that supports Saratoga PLAN (Preserving Land And Nature), to mention just a few. And this came while forging a reputation for his cuisine, first at his own Stone Ends restaurant in Glenmont, Albany County, then at Jack’s.

Not that everything has run smoothly for Miller. Stone Ends was a financial black hole that forced him into bankruptcy a decade and a half ago, but he managed to battle back from it to emerge more determined than ever to make a success of it in the culinary world. That stands in stark contrast to many of his brethren who sink beneath the pressures of the cutthroat business that, nationally, claims a 60% business mortality rate in the first two years of operation.

On a more personal note, the end of a long relationship and the start of a new one made emotional demands at about the same time business opportunities were pressing him. Today, Miller and his significant other are meshing their formerly separate residences into one cohesive whole, which took selling off both men’s homes then briefly living in a chain hotel while the timing of all the moves was worked out.

“I feel like it’s time to pack and move again,” the fastidious Miller lamented a mere two months into his new residency. “That was something I know a lot of people go through, but I never want to go through it again. What tremendous confusion!”

On the business front, his new restaurant has met with unstinting praise for its cuisines and its design, which Miller himself did most of.

His recent trip to Italy, where he helped his father retrace his 1940s wartime service there, was a vacation add-on to a guest lecturing invitation in Switzerland. It ramped up his liking for fresh and simple ingredients that can be taken to higher levels.

Few seriously doubt this is more than mere speculation. Miller’s record for getting things done on the homefront and in business is a strong one. Relais & Chateau, take note.
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