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The DeBruce: New York’s Newest Destination Dining Outpost

alex yocu

Executive Chef Aksel Theilkuhl gives us the exclusive on the incredible food-focused getaway.

Tucked away in the Catskills of upstate New York is a destination dining experience that will provide a peaceful oasis for your next detour. The DeBruce is country lodge at the edge of Willowemoc Creek and surrounded by forest. In blissful isolation, it's a weekend getaway that will make you want to stay. 
The ideal visit revolves around the lodge's culinary offerings. With beautiful sweeping views from its dining room, the DeBruce offers a delectable menu of locally foraged and farmed ingredients. Executive Chef Aksel Theilkuhl explains that their kitchen goes beyond the farm-to-table dining trend, as it's a way of life for the area.
Tell us a little bit about the concept of the DeBruce's dining venue. 
The DeBruce dining concept is built around our hotel guests. We welcome our guests on Friday evening with a casual dinner. This dinner is designed to ease our guest into the weekend and begin sharing the journey and story over the next 36 hours (or longer). Two courses of chef-created small bites begin the meal on Friday followed by a choice of local trout, grass fed beef, gnocchi, or our signature whole roasted chicken for two. Saturday nights, our guests will take part in a 9-course tasting menu in which we highlight wild edible ingredients from the mountain behind us and product from our friends and farms in the region. 
A guestroom and bathroom at the DeBruce. (Photo courtesy of the DeBruce)
The Michelin guide was predicated on the idea of veering off the road for a bite whilst traveling from Point A to Point B; three stars being a trip unto itself. Do you see the DeBruce as destination dining? 
I do believe The DeBruce will be a destination dining spot. The availability of product that only exists in our region and our strong emphasis on foraging will give guests an experience that I believe isn’t possible in NYC or any of the other larger Michelin-rated cities. There are few to no kitchens that have hundreds of acres of private mountainside from which to gather ingredients - we have our own park (Catskills State Park) to pull from daily. Beyond the food, we call our dinning room the "jewel box." It is truly one of a kind with sweeping views of the back property and the forest behind it. There is no restaurant that I know of that can paint such a natural picture of our region. 
What compelled you to join the Foster Supply team? 
Joining Foster Supply was an easy decision. The first time I spoke with Sims and Kirsten I knew I had to be a part of what they were doing. For years I had been searching for true passionate hospitality professionals to work with and Foster Supply embodies all this. The freedom and support given by Sims and Kirsten is truly amazing and for me it has changed my whole mentality as a chef for the better.
Tell us more about your feelings on living upstate/ in the Catskills. 
Moving to the Catskills has been amazing. There is no better way to put it other than that it's a chef's dream. My ability to have personal relationships with the farmers and suppliers is humbling and has changed my creative approach completely. Its incredible to have such a strong connection to nature in my region and it's literally outside my back door.
Common areas at the DeBruce provide peaceful ambiance. (Photos courtesy of the DeBruce)
What influences inspire the cuisine at The DeBruce and how will we see the food evolve throughout the rest of the year as the inn takes flight? 
The food is influenced by nature, seasonality, emotion, passion and dedication of our farmers. We are definitely an ingredient-focused kitchen allowing the product to dictate the menus. We rely heavily on our farmers and the mountain for ingredients and our only goal is to honor them. Another huge influence in the food is the history of our area and the types of food and dishes that were common in the past. We research the heritage of the food in this area and then look to recreate classics with our spin. As the seasons change, we will start encountering some major evolutions. Now as the growing season hits its peak, fruits and plants will be the staple of the cuisine. As the growing season comes to an end in the late fall, the kitchen will shift into a new direction. I think winter will be an exciting time for The DeBruce kitchen. A root cellar will have a major influence in the cuisine, and we will follow century old practices of pickling, preserving, canning and curing. The menu will shift to be very protein heavy and stock in our root cellar will become the major vegetable influence. I think this will be very exciting for us and will separate us from a lot of restaurants. We are defining ourselves by trying to only use ingredients from our region as much as possible, which forces a new level of creativity as seasons change. 
We're all sick of catchphrases including words like "locavore", "seasonal", and "farm to table"--how is the rural DeBruce different? 
All those catchphrases are a given for us and there is really no need to even have to emphasize it. Our location in the Catskills requires us to be all these things as we have limited access to more commercialized products. A lot of restaurants use these catchphrases to give them identity or to explain their style, but for us, we are actually living it. We have our hands in the dirt every day! We have true personal relationships with our friends, farmers and even animals. We are surrounded by our ingredients and live alongside them.
Tiger Prawns with Italian Cherry Butter and Spinach 
Drinks await in the DeBruce dining room while dinner is prepared. (Photos courtesy of the DeBruce)
What kinds of guests is the DeBruce hoping to attract and how is it different than the other Foster properties? 
The guests that come to The DeBruce are adventure-seeking: Both on a food level and for an overall experience. Coming to The DeBruce, in a sense, is about letting go of control and allowing us to take you on a journey. I think the major difference in this property from others is that you can park your car and honestly not leave for the rest of the weekend. Beyond the restaurant we offer everything you could ask for in a Catskill weekend. There is a private pool for our guests, fly fishing, hiking, nature/foraging walks and much much more. It's an amazing property!
Describe the perfect day of eating at your restaurant. 
The perfect day of eating would begin with breakfast. A simple old-school french omelette brushed in meadow butter from New York state grass-fed cows. After that, grab a bite in the afternoon in our Club Room, our tavern-style bar tucked downstairs on the ground level. It offers a small bar menu and, if I were you, I'd go with the "DeBurger" (grass-fed custom ground beef, duck confit, marinated onions, pickles, sunflower shoots, cheese fondue for dipping and our house-baked bun). Then enjoy an early evening cocktail and join us in the dining room for our 9-course tasting menu. After dinner finish the evening with a Last Word in the Club Room (my favorite cocktail) and a little late night snack from the chefs if you want to munch on something. 
Where do you see Sullivan County in the next five years? What words do you have about the DeBruce and the Catskills in general for the New Yorker who regularly visits the Hamptons or Montauk instead?
I have been in Sullivan County since September and I have seen so much growth in that short amount of time. I think in five years, Sullivan County will be the weekend getaway destination for people looking to experience something different and special. The food scene will continue to strengthen and the ability for people to have memorable dinning experiences will only get better. I think that's what the Catskills has to offer travelers who may have gone out to the Hamptons or Montauk before and are looking for something different. Different nature, different attitudes, and a different commitment to preserving the history of the area through food. 
For more info, visit the DeBruce.
Executive Chef Aksel Theilkuhl of the DeBruce. (Photo courtesy of the DeBruce)
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