This story was originally published in the March 2017 Princeton Echo.
The first time I interviewed George Rude Sr. of Griggstown Farm was in 1999. Back then it was called Griggstown Quail Farm, and Rude agreed to sit down with me reluctantly because, as this straight-talking Vietnam vet made clear, he wasn’t really interested in having folks traipse all over his farm just to buy his all-natural birds one at a time.
At that time the business, which got its start in 1975 with Rude raising a handful of quail on two acres of rented farmland in Griggstown, just outside of Princeton on Bunker Hill Road, was strictly wholesale. By the time I sat down with Rude, Griggstown Quail Farm had become the go-to supplier of quality game birds to New York City’s top restaurants, after none other than James Beard himself had discovered and touted its quail, pheasant, and duck.
Griggstown Farm still fulfills that role for restaurants in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. But, my, how times change! With the blessing of George Sr. (now 70), but under the guidance of his son, George Jr., 40, the business recently launched its own YouTube channel: the Griggstown Chicken Channel. The first episode features a chef familiar to many in the area: Chris Albrecht, who was the opening chef of Eno Terra in Kingston and who is now the executive chef of the venerable Ryland Inn in Whitehouse Station.
In the 37-minute video, Albrecht is assisted (off camera) by Crawford Koeniger, the director of operations for the mushroom products division of Princeton’s Shibumi Farm, which cultivates exotic mushrooms. Koeniger and Albrecht worked together at Eno Terra and have remained good friends. During the taping session, Koeniger committed to being the next Griggstown Chicken Channel guest chef, conjecturing that he will feature a dish that utilizes both Shibumi’s mushrooms and Griggstown’s chicken stock, which is sold frozen in quart containers. (The inaugural video can be viewed on Youtube.)
The aim of the Chicken Channel is to increase foot traffic at the farm’s own retail store on Bunker Hill Road. How did Griggstown Farm go from being strictly a wholesale operation — to this day, it is a prime supplier to D’Artagnan, the highly respected meat purveyor based in Newark — to a thriving retail farm as well? By 2002 the farm had expanded to 65 acres and was owned solely by Rude and his wife, Joan. As his output increased, Rude erected a USDA-inspected plant that currently processes poultry five days a week. He also established an onsite farm store, complete with a chef-led commercial kitchen that was recently expanded from 600 to 4,500 square feet. The kitchen produces seasonal fruit pies, pot pies, soups, chili, sauces, and other fresh and frozen prepared foods. Its cases and shelves are stocked with fresh vegetables and specialty grocery items, as well as the farm’s poultry, game, sausages, and quail eggs. In recent years, Griggstown has also become an anchor vendor at dozens of seasonal farmers markets around the state.
The video series was the inspiration of George Jr., who took over as general manager three years ago. In the first installment Chef Albrecht demonstrates how to make two versions of the beloved French braised dish coq au vin, which he describes on camera as “classic and rustic,” adding, “there are as many versions of this as there are French households.” What they all have in common, he points out, are fresh, local, seasonal ingredients — such as the assorted root vegetables, onions, and kale he uses, as well as slab bacon, which in this instance was made from pork belly that had been cured and smoked over cherry wood at the Ryland Inn. “The secret to coq au vin is long, slow cooking to develop the flavors,” Albrecht says, looking directly into the camera.
An alumnus of celebrity chef/restaurateur Tom Colicchio’s stable of restaurants, Albrecht first introduces himself on-camera by saying, “I’ve cooked in DC, Las Vegas, and New York, but I always come back to New Jersey. It has the best ingredients, certainly the best people, and easily the best farmers!” To emphasize that point, he notes that the “fabulous” garlic he uses is from Roman Osadca, who grows award-winning heirloom garlic varieties on his small farm in Johnsonburg, Warren County.
During breaks in the taping, George Rude Sr. offered encouragement and light-hearted advice. “Make sure you get the Griggstown label on camera,” he said of the four-pound chickens that Albrecht would eventually cut up. To entice viewers into the farm market, each segment will feature special deals promoted only through the video. For this first one, viewers were given a phone number to call to order pre-made coq au vin from the farm’s kitchen that would be available for a limited time only. (Orders had to be placed by February 28, with the prepared meals ready for pick up on March 4 and 5.)
For technical assistance — including professional crew, camera, and lighting equipment — the Rudes also looked to local resources, choosing the Light House of Branchburg, an Emmy Award-winning company that, among other things, produces seasonal promos for the AMC series “The Walking Dead.” Owner Sandy McDonough donated his firm’s technical assistance and crew for the first installment of the Griggstown Chicken Channel.