“Hands, Pans, Flames and Heart”

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
St. Lawrence Spirits Chateau executive chef Christian Ives poses in the dining room of the restaurant.

BY: Holly Boname

Food. It’s something we all require on a daily basis.

It keeps us nourished and is a staple around many events that we have throughout our lifetimes. It brings people together and in many instances creates a sense of comfort. But for executive chef Christian Ives, it is what gets him out of bed each morning. It’s what pumps through his veins and is how he expresses himself. It’s an art, one he has mastered over his career in the kitchen.

CHEF CHRISTIAN IVES

     Chef Ives got his start in the kitchen at the age of 15 in his hometown of Ogdensburg as a bus boy at a local restaurant. After weeks of busing tables and watching the chef prepare the daily meals, he knew that the front of the restaurant wasn’t his calling.

     “After two weeks of asking the chef constantly, ‘What’s this? What’s that? Why are you putting that in this?’ He asked me if I wanted to jump in the kitchen and the first thing I ever made was a red potato and basil soup,” said Mr. Ives.

     Because of that early experience in the kitchen, he developed his love of flavors and his career went from simmering to a rolling boil in 1998, at the young age of 20, in Orlando Florida with Emeril Lagasse where he assisted in opening Emeril’s Orlando restaurant. Following the experience at Emeril’s Orlando, Chef Ives returned to his home town of Ogdensburg, where for six years he worked as the executive chef/pastry chef at the Gran View Restaurant. 

SAINT LAWRENCE SPIRITS CHATEAU

     Most recently you can find Chef Ives preparing to open a new restaurant and bring a culinary experience to the taste buds of Thousand Islands residents, The Chateau at Saint Lawrence Spirits.

     “I had loved this building for many years,” Chef Ives said. “It was the building that my wife Kristina and I had wanted to open our own restaurant in.”

     The building is none other than the historically recognized Fairview Manor which was built in 1937 on Route 12E, overlooking the St. Lawrence River in the town of Clayton. Fairview Manor began as a private home, turned into a “retreat” for the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and finally was a restaurant before it closed in 2008. Doreen and Jody Garrett, owners of Lucky Star Ranch Estate and Saint Lawrence Spirits, noticed the buildings slow demise and purchased the property in 2014. After completing a restoration, the manor is now the home of Saint Lawrence Spirits tasting room and distillery, and the soon-to-open fine dining farm-to-table restaurant, The Château.

     “When I spoke with Jody and Doreen about their vision for the place and with the creative control they were going to give me to run it- in my fashion and my way- it was really hard to say no to,” said Mr. Ives. 

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
St. Lawrence Spirits Chateau executive chef Christian Ives, left, Doreen Garrett, center, and Joe Taritero, right, toast on the porch of the chateau.

     “Before head hunting for an executive chef we felt that it was important to start to look for a local talent first,” said Doreen Garrett. “Chef Ives was the local chef that immediately came to mind as part of our mission is a passion for educating through exceptional experiences. Chef Christian Ives shares that same vision and passion as an adjunct professor for the farm-to-table course at Jefferson Community College.”

     From that moment the team joined forces to develop a menu and experience Northern New York has never indulged in before, utilizing as many local, fresh and farm grown resources as possible, especially the Garrett’s large wildlife sanctuary, Lucky Star Estates.

     “I’m blessed to be with an ownership that has a 2,000-acre ranch that is used for hunting,” said Mr. Ives.

     “At Lucky Star Ranch we have the ability to not only grow our own corn and botanicals for the distillery, we will put our greenhouses to work for fresh produce, herbs and flowers for the restaurant,” said Mrs. Garrett. “In addition, we look forward to making a commitment to sustainability by using our spent mash from the distillery to feed bovine and swine, a true still-to-grill experience and providing fresh rainbow trout, also being farmed.”

     The Garrett’s Lucky Star Ranch Estate plays home to many varieties of wildlife including whitetail deer, red stag, and Pere David’s deer, which are endangered in the wild. The ranch also has a 100-acre private lake managed for largemouth bass, black crappie, and northern pike. And, according to Chef Ives, the group is currently working with the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Fisheries Department to stock their own trout to use on the restaurant’s menu.

     “You’re eating a rainbow trout that I went out that day, scooped out of the lake with a net and then back to the kitchen to prepare. You’re eating a fish that was swimming four hours before, and it’s hard to say that in upstate New York about your seafood program,” said Ives.

THE EXPERIENCE

     For the team, it’s all about giving another level of experience to the customer.

     When you approach the newly restored Fairview Manor you are struck with its architecture and use of large round river stones adorning the façade of the building. The curved nature of the building is inviting and as you enter you’re greeted by a large wooden door which opens into a waiting area with fireplace and open rounded stairs that guide staying guests to their suites upstairs.

     “What I really feel that people are going to experience when they come here is the experience overall. They are not just coming to a restaurant, they’re not just coming to eat, they’re coming to experience this place in every way shape and form,” said Chef Ives.

     And an experience is what he plans to wow their guests with- a flavor they have never indulged in before.

     Chef Ives’s passion encompasses all aspects of the restaurant, flavors and service. He says when you first enter the restaurant you will be greeted by a sommelier, a wine steward who is a trained and knowledgeable wine professional, to find out what specifications in wine you are looking for or a cocktail if you prefer, carefully crafted by their onsite mixologist. You can choose to peruse the menu and plan your own dinner, or you can choose from a seven-course degustation menu which Chef Ives writes as it’s ordered, so its chef’s discretion.

     “If a customer tells my servers that they don’t like salmon, they don’t like veal; chances are they are going to get it on their tasting menu,” Chef Ives said. “I am a firm believer that if you don’t like something it doesn’t mean you don’t like it… you probably never had it prepared properly. I would say that 100 percent of the time when I do that and they don’t like salmon or veal they leave happy.”

     With the strongly bonded partnership between the Garrett’s and Chef Ives, the menu palette has been developed around the farm-to-table model. Ingredients and concepts are developed by what is locally available from area farmers and seasonally throughout upstate New York.

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY LIVING
Drinks made with spirits produced by St. Lawrence Spirits.

     From their cocktails to the view, to the entrees to the desserts, everything is going to be made from scratch. Chef Ives says that part of the reason he crafts and creates his dishes in this way is because the art of cooking has moved to quick production, using microwaves to heat food instead of what he says should only come down to, “Hands, pans, flames and heart.” He will be making his own mozzarella cheese, his own ice creams and sorbets; he’s curing his own meats and making his own sausages. Wood for the fires and to smoke the meats is coming from local purveyors, as well as their maple syrups. But the nature of farm-to-table is also used in Saint Lawrence Spirits distilled liquors; for example the gins created by the business are made with hand-picked juniper berries at Lucky Star Ranch.

     “What farm-to-table truly means to me is that you need to source local from the area farms. You need to know them (the farmer), you need to go to the farms,” said Chef Ives. “You can buy stuff from any large broker firms and they can say it’s from this farm and that farm but at the end of the day I know I’m talking to Dani Baker about my goats and duck eggs and my specialty produce that Cross Island Farms is producing, I know I’m going to talk to Almeda about her rabbits. Steve Winkler at Lucky 7 Farms is providing me with my pork, bacon, eggs and chicken.  It’s actually going to the seller, knowing them from the beginning- knowing their kids and husbands and wives. You are keeping the money local, not to a farm in the Midwest.”

     It’s the focus on the freshest products available, the partnership between chef and owners and the community that surrounds the newly renovated manor that has the Saint Lawrence Spirits and Chateau team abuzz with excitement and ready for their opening in May.

     “The most rewarding aspect of opening the Chateau has been the journey,” said Mrs. Garrett. “Over the last three years we have been able to meet and get to know so many amazing people in the community who have helped and supported our vision of restoring and repurposing this property. We have many talented people in our community that have breathed new life back into this gem on the St. Lawrence, and we truly look forward to sharing that vision.”

     The Chateau is set to open in May with a soft opening at the Clayton Chamber of Commerce’s Business With a Twist event from 5 to 7 p.m. on April 27th.