Behind the menu at Indian Ladder Farms

The Enterprise — Noah Zweifel

NEW SCOTLAND — Inside the kitchen at Indian Ladder Farms, two perspectives come together as a unified vision of good food.

Executive Chef Luca Brunelle was trained at the Culinary Institute of America and went through the daunting process of attaining executive chef certification through the American Culinary Federation, for which he was mentored by one of the 71 master chefs in the United States. He’s been in competitions and spent three years at the Gideon Putnam in Saratoga Springs before joining Indian Ladder Farms during the pandemic. 

Meanwhile, Brunelle’s sous-chef, Laur Faljean, who uses the pronoun they, learned the trade through working in kitchens and following food trends. They took culinary courses at programs through the Board of Cooperative Educational Services and have a two-year degree, and also have competition experience, but otherwise have “no real professional training,” they said. 

Plus, Faljean is vegan while Brunelle is not. 

But by melding those different backgrounds, the two have created “this amalgamation that makes a super well-built food that has five to six different components to it and usually always turns out good,” Faljean told The Enterprise in late June.

“There’s just so many different elements that make us us, and I think a big part of that, too, is Luca is so knowledgeable and has that traditional training and I’m like, ‘Hey, I learned this on TikTok; let’s try this,” they said. 

Together, Brunelle and Faljean are responsible for all the menus attached to Indian Ladder Farms’ various events, like the Renaissance, pickle, and oyster festivals; and its food spaces, like the Yellow Rock Café and biergarten. 

There’s also the weekly cookout special, which typically features an entrée with a vegan “mirror” — for instance, summer beef brochettes and summer seitan brochettes.

Making a menu is no easy task, especially for a kitchen that’s as duty-bound as Brunelle and Faljean’s. They’ve been entrusted to perpetuate, through food, the legacy of a farm that was established in 1916 and has been a titan in the local community for decades. 

Most readers have probably intersected with Indian Ladder Farms at some point, whether it be through dining, apple picking, weddings, an educational program.

So, the food has to be really good. 

When considering what to put on the menu, Brunelle and Faljean start with what’s available to them through local producers, which of course depends on the season. 

“It’s a lot of seasonality,” Brunelle said, “and also keeping up with trends. Some years, something’s hot, and next year it’s not … Right now, we have a huge vegan base, so we’re making our own seitan.”

“What I like to do is think about what vegetables are in season, and then I pull from that, like, what can I do based around this vegetable for either the vegan special or just to incorporate into a new sandwich or another plate,” Faljean said. 

“Then we always keep our tried-and-true,” they went on, “like the Max Taylor chicken sandwich is super popular, and pork tacos. We just try to add as much variety from those things … It’s a pretty solid rubric to make a good menu.”

Brunelle said that some foods are popular no matter where and when you are. Just as chicken tenders, chicken sandwiches, and burgers were top sellers at the Gideon Putnam, so they are at Indian Ladder Farms. 

“We have a lot of staples, and then on weekends it gives us the [opportunity] to create something seasonal,” he said. 

Faljean added that they like the challenge of coming up with a vegan counterpart to the weekly entree.

“It’s super fun for me because it’s kind of hard to create whatever fusion of chemical compounds,” they said, “like if I’m going to use pectin or a stabilizer or whatever to try to emulsify things together to make a ‘meat.’”

Faljean said that Brunelle tends to approach recipes from a more traditional, “well-rounded” standpoint, and that they jump in and tweak and interrogate the different elements. 

“Like, are we going to give this a spin?” they said. “Are we going to put something sweet in something that should be spicy? And then he’ll come back to me and say, ‘If we do this, we should put it on this kind of roll,’ and then I’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s super trendy right now,’ or he’ll be like, ‘This is so classic, we’ve got to bring it back.’”

To illustrate, Faljean ran through the process of developing vegan macaroni salad that accompanied a brisket plate the kitchen put out in May, highlighting how much communication was involved between not just the pair but the kitchen staff too. 

 “I add in that we have to get this brand of vegan mayonnaise because it’s the best,” they said, “and he adds, ‘Make sure you cook your noodles just like this, make sure you salt the ever-loving life out of them so that you’re building that flavor level.’ And then we bring our line cooks into it like, what kind of vegetable do you want to put in here? What do we have on hand? That’s where they kind of fall into it. And after that whole step down, step down, step down, and back up, you get a super well-rounded dish. It’s super cool.”

As one might assume, Brunelle and Faljean are a natural team who, throughout the joint interview with The Enterprise, often took over speaking for one another without collisions or confusion. That easy rapport was established almost immediately after they met just over a year ago, Faljean said.

“The first few days [I worked here,] he was so professional,” they said, “and I was very timid. I have an outgoing personality but I was scared because it’s a new environment.”

But once Faljean told him they preferred their nickname to their full name, sucking away the air of obligatory professionalism, “it just took off from there,” they said. “Every day we just got closer and closer, and now he’s like my best friend. You have to work well and get along well to manage a place like this.” 

Their process of putting together a recipe is not unlike how Indian Ladder Farms operates overall, Faljean pointed out. They describe it as a kind of Disney World, with different attractions that, in this case, are constantly evolving through a series of improvisations, with new features designed to flow into and out of old ones. 

“Right now we’re using a shipping container as a refrigeration unit,” they said, “We’re using a grain silo that’s on the farm. And it always fits into the overall aesthetic, which is nice.” 

Brunelle added that the downstairs kitchen was an army-surplus field kitchen once used in Afghanistan. And, over the winter, the team had a gigantic pizza oven built out of an old beer barrel that was sitting on the property unused for over 60 years. 

“They cut it down, put firebrick in it, so now it’s seven feet in diameter,” he said. “It’s wood-fire with a gas-assist straight from Italy.”

That creativity and patchiness is, for Indian Ladder Farms, “everything that makes people want to go to a place,” Faljean said, searching for the right word to describe it. Brunelle jumped in: “Culture.” 

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