Before Agnes Devereux moved upstate in 2000, she had been working as an interior designer in New York City, near the farmers market at Union Square. “I was excited to be coming to the place where all the farmers were coming from.” An avid advocate of the early farm-to-table movement, she was more than a little shocked to arrive in New Paltz and see the disconnect between the local farms and the businesses around them. “No restaurants were serving this stuff. We were surrounded by orchards, and there was a health food store on the corner, but no local apples.”
The family had “no intentions” to open a restaurant when they purchased the property with their house and the Tea Room building right in the Village. That said, Agnes was extraordinarily well groomed to take this project on. Born in Ireland to parents who kept pigs and ran a rural guest house in Canterbury, Agnes was accustomed to feeding and hosting folks from a very young age. Her mother cooked three meals a day for guests, who stayed anywhere from a night to 15 years. By 6, Agnes was baking and before her 12th birthday had her own subscription to a pastry magazine.
|The Village TeaRoom owner and head chef, Agnes Devereux.
“My mother was a farmer’s daughter. She bought her potatoes from one person, her milk from another. She grew her own rhubarb. There are so many things people think are trendy and new, but they are really old. Growing up in Ireland you had to eat seasonally. You never ate strawberries except in June, because that’s when they were available. We weren’t yet in that culture of having whatever you want whenever you want (even if the quality is not quite so delicious). This way you really look forward to it. You’re excited, and it’s better than ever.”
Agnes has brought this practical sensibility to her menu planning, which is entirely local and seasonal—including their bakery. “Most pastry shops have perfect little strawberry cakes all year round. In winter, we’re serving gingerbread cookies with cardamom creme anglaise, chocolate cakes, carrot cakes,” Agnes says contentedly…in case you had any question whether seasonal implied a lack of indulgence.
“We like our food to be unpretentious. We make everything from scratch. We make all our own stocks and pastries.” And they succeed—everything from the rustic ambiance to the dishes themselves feels hearty, approachable, and downright good for you.
The Village Tea Room is built in the former tailor shop of Aldred Schoonmaker. Alas almost the whole building had to be gutted and rebuilt from the inside. A lot of the renovation was done using second-hand materials, to reduce waste and maintain some of that old-world charm. “I wanted to feel like you were coming into someone’s home. Which is in line with the type of food we serve—braised meats and comfort food— homey but elevated,” Agnes says.
“When I look back on the past 10 years, I think of how far we’ve come. Farmers could sell to the public back then, but not to restaurants. Now there are so many farms offering things…It is about relationships. I am buying x amount of stuff from a farmer each year, and he is growing it for me. It is a reciprocal relationship. You have a vested interest in your community.”
Agnes certainly isn’t one for sitting still. In September, the Village Tea Room will celebrate 12 years in business. Alongside the restaurant, she’s built up a catering business that does 15 to 20 weddings a year, plus birthdays, bar mitzvahs, funerals, and other gatherings. And she’s on the board of Hudson Valley Restaurant Week.
“Our work with Hudson Valley Restaurant Week has really been an effort to recognize the Hudson Valley as a food and dining destination. I think we are really achieving that. A lot of chefs from NYC are moving up here because they understand that they can be closer to the source and maybe have a better quality of life.”