You would have to be living under a rock for the last 10 years if you have not heard of the farm-to-table movement, but John Lekic, owner of Le Express Bistro & Bar, is taking this concept to a whole new level. Lekic’s menu at Le Express has always been centered around a vast majority of the ingredients being sourced from local farms and food producers, but Lekic is looking at the bigger picture and he is on a mission to help put the Hudson Valley on the map for food, wine and spirits.
Lekic sees a thriving future for the Hudson Valley and feels it is on the cusp of becoming one the great food destinations of the world. “We are in a very special time here,” says Lekic, “It’s like Napa and Sonoma in the 60’s, but we have so much more to offer.” Lekic adds, “I am a big proponent of the Hudson Valley and an advocate. I want to help bring everything we have here together; the farmers, the buyers, the restaurants, the consumers, the, winemakers. But this takes us all talking to each other.”
Lekic grew up in Montenegro until the age of 14. He has memories of his father driving miles to a village on top of a mountain just to get particular cheese or prosciutto. “He drove the miles because it was so good. I feel we can do this. That is the magic, that is the romance,” says Lekic.
Lekic moved to the Hudson Valley 10 years ago and opened Le Express five years ago. Although Le Express has been a farm-to-table restaurant from its inception, the real turning point in Lekic’s vision came last year after purchasing a food truck.
At first, he visited local farmers’ markets and created and sold dishes around the raw ingredients he got from the local farmers and food producers who were participating on any given day. “It was an amazing opportunity for me to be there with the farmers. I was able to put a face and a story to the food I was buying,” says Lekic. For him, it’s not only the freshness of the food that makes it taste so much better than mass-produced food, it’s the real people and story they bring, too.
This year the food truck became much more than a food truck when he realized that it was an opportunity to bring the table to the farm, versus the farm to the table, “I now had a kitchen on wheels and it gave me a way to provide a truly unique experience for diners.” Lekic started partnering with both Fishkill and Ober Creek Farms to produce Farm Dinners where they set out a beautiful table outside in a beautiful, natural setting, and served a three-course dinner to as many as 150 diners.
The Farm Dinners start with a cocktail hour with passed hors d'oeuvres and then guests are seated for a plated dinner. 80-90 percent of the ingredients are sourced from the particular farm where the event is being hosted, with whatever the farm does not produce sourced from other local farms. Wines, spirits and beer are all local and the dinners are full service with local servers, bartenders and live music. Sounds amazing, right?
Lekic would like to see his Farm Dinners replicated, with other chefs, farms, wineries and restaurants creating these experiences. “It should be incorporated in the landscape of the Hudson Valley culture. I would like to see the Farm Dinner become part of the fabric of the Hudson Valley. It is very special. There are few place in the world that have what the Hudson Valley has to offer. It’s a destination for the whole experience – the food, wine, beer, spirits, history, art, and the endless beauty of the great outdoors,” says Lekic.
Lekic also sees this as an economic boost and a way to create much needed jobs and revenue for the area. “This area was mostly IBM, and we lost a lots of jobs in the last decade or two, costing the area billions of dollars in jobs. How do we fix that? We have to reinvent ourselves,” states Lekic. Lekic believes that these Farm Dinners are the start. They connect everyone – the farmers, wineries, brewers and distillers, historic sites, mountains, etc. – in a productive and creative way, unique to this area.
Lekic is very excited about the future of the Hudson Valley and the direction it is moving, “We have not quite defined who we are - but we are about too. I feel the energy around me!” And Lekic is clearly passionate about contributing to the future of the region and to making great things happen.
For more about Le Express Bistro & Bar, Farmers & Chefs Food Truck and Catering, and Farm Dinners visit lexpresshv.com.
Le Express Bistro & Bar
1820 New Hackensack Rd
Poughkeepsie, NY 12590