By Chris Mohney
Dale Talde is chef-partner at Goosefeather restaurant in Tarrytown, New York, earning a James Beard nomination for Best Chef: New York State among other accolades. Formerly involved with a number of popular spots in New York and New Jersey with the now-dissolved Three Kings Restaurant Group, Talde has also appeared as contestant on Top Chef and judge on Chopped, Knife Fight, and Beat Bobby Flay, and he now hosts All Up in My Grill. Shortly before opening Goosefeather, Talde formed Food Crush Hospitality with his wife Agnes to explore ways to expand their work beyond restaurants.
In the early stages of 2018, I got approached by the ownership at the Tarrytown House Estate. It was the tail end of their renovation of the property, and they were looking for someone to run the flagship restaurant. We were connected by a mutual friend, and it took off from there.
We did a slow open of Goosefeather in 2019. We didn’t do a lot of publicity. We were easing our way into it, and after the first month the word got out and all hell broke loose. We were busy, we were understaffed, we were just pushing out food. And people were digging what we were doing. By the time October, November, and December hit, we were full tilt.
Then January 2020 rolled around. January in the Hudson Valley is going to be slow. Then February hit and that was okay, though we were getting really slow. Then in March it came to a full stop. We laid off everybody, all the hourlies. We tried to keep as much management on board as possible to do whatever to-go and takeout we could. I was delivering food—I was literally the only delivery person we had besides the apps. There was nobody in the kitchen except three chefs doing everything—prepping, cooking, breaking the kitchen down. But we were able to keep people on salary. We made no money, but did not have to lay off key members.
Going through lockdown was heartbreaking. Luckily, I had partners who believed in what we were doing. They had just as much to lose as I did. They believed in us, they supported us, they understood what we were trying to do. We were six months into it, and then we got shut down.
But when we were able to reopen, almost 90 percent of the people that we had on staff came back. And it was the same crowds. It was just as busy, if not busier.
Anything you go through makes you tougher. But on the other hand, I’ve got to be honest—I don’t love or hate the business any more because I’ve gone through the pandemic. I’m not going to say, “Oh, it invigorated my passion for what I do.” I love what I do. I hate and love what I do. I mean, there are moments when I hate hospitality and restaurants. Anyone who doesn’t say that is lying. It’s the roller coaster that keeps it exciting and fun. There’s moments that are just downright awful, but there are also moments when I can’t imagine doing anything else.
But that’s also why, with Food Crush and during the pandemic, we started thinking, “How do we work in food and not solely rely on restaurants because of the volatility of it all?” We reached out to connections and said, “Hey, we have what we think are pretty cool ideas about food. How do we stay involved?” So now I’m the host of a show called All Up In My Grill on Tastemade. That’s been great and fun. It’s staying in food without having to be in a restaurant every single day.
When you close a restaurant, the naysayers and the haters love to step on the grave. They love it. And listen, I can’t tell you that’s not motivation. I read it. People are like, “Oh, I don’t read the comments. I don’t read reviews.” I read them.
Especially in our business, they’re always saying, “You have to be better than the critics.” Why do I have to be better than the haters? I just love it. Bring it on. I’ll eat the criticism. Those dudes, the keyboard gangsters, the guys who love to hate and drop a DM or criticize when an article comes out—they go away real fast when the James Beard nomination happens, or when the Esquire magazine Best New Restaurant happens, or when the Michelin Plate happens. When that comeback hits, it’s the ultimate “I told you so.” Shutting up the haters is petty as hell, but it’s super gratifying.
Food Crush is just myself and my wife, but it involves more than just the restaurant group. My wife’s background is as a journalist. And I have other interests than just restaurants. The focus will always center around hospitality—we have another restaurant project happening in LaGuardia—but with my wife’s background as a journalist and writer, and with some of our other interests including media, we’re developing content for hopefully a show or two. With my wife and friend, we’ve been slowly developing a screenplay around hospitality and the world of food and restaurants. We’re also looking at topics like the place of Asian-Americans in this world, and especially in the hospitality world.
When you’re in a restaurant group that has three different people who are all operators and have three different opinions, is the voice of the restaurant the truest voice that it can be? It’s not. There are different people. They all have a share in it. They all want to put their opinion on it. When it’s one person like myself at Goosefeather, it’s the truest expression of who I could be as a restaurateur and chef. The things that are there were picked purposely by myself and my wife. Every glass you pick up, I’ve either chosen or I’ve okayed it. Every glass of wine, every cocktail that you drink, I’ve tasted and said, “This is great.” Every dish that’s on the menu has my hand in it. Down to the music and the artwork in the back—every piece of that is something that I’ve done.
And even though this hospitality brand is trying to do other things than just open restaurants or consult or license restaurants, there is more of a focus to everything because it’s our voice. It’s the voice of just two people who are on the same page. Instead of having five meetings about what the uniforms should be in the span of three weeks, it’s really just saying, “I like this uniform. What do you think? Great. Let’s go.”
To get the kind of recognition that we’re getting, like a James Beard nomination—I never had any of those types of accolades working with other people. Honestly, it’s probably one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve ever had. I had great teams before in restaurants, but this is probably the best team I’ve ever been involved with. It feels really good because it is a team game. It’s not golf—it’s basketball, it’s football. The day-to-day credit really should go to those guys. They’re the boots on the ground, they’re the ones grinding every day to make the experience what it is.
One of the greatest parts of this work is being a culture creator. Culture is such a huge part of what you have to bring to the table as an owner-operator. You’re responsible for what the culture is in your place, and you’re defining it, almost solely. It’s been great to be part of that and have people who are invested in what you do and agree with the culture of the restaurant.
You start off these conversations with, “Hey, man. We have all worked in kitchens and restaurants where it was a very disciplinarian mentality. You know, guys who screamed and yelled. That’s not this.” Everyone says those things now. But how do you achieve it? By being that person—being the guy who doesn’t yell. If you’re not yelling, there’s no need for everyone else to yell and scream and get super fired up about things.
Obviously, we’re passionate about what we do. I take what I do and what happens in the restaurant very seriously, but I don’t take myself too seriously. It starts with the idea of not super micromanaging every single person. Once you’ve decided that person is the right fit, you have to let them make mistakes. You have to let them manage in the way that they feel is their style, and then reign it back when it becomes like, “Hey, man. That’s not what we do here.” And then they start to understand. That learning curve of what is right for the restaurant happens in those moments. Not with you raising your voice. Fear is never going to be the way that people learn how to be great at their jobs.