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An Artistic Taste
Adobe Stock / Olga Kriger

An Artistic Taste Celebrates Jamaican Flavors in Orange County

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At his Orange County restaurant, An Artistic Taste, Chef Andre Robinson delivers dishes inspired by his childhood in Jamaica.

In February of 2020, Andre Robinson, the chef and owner of An Artistic Taste, signed the lease to his brick-and-mortar location in Harriman. At that point, his focus was catering—after developing himself in New York City’s fine dining scene, he catered for the likes of Hillary Clinton, Al Roker, and Bon Jovi. Of course, only a month later, the world changed in a big way, throwing a major wrench in the hospitality industry. “I literally sat in my living room watching the news, seeing the death total rise and was sick to my stomach,” Robinson remembers. “I thought this was the end. Hospitality as we know it will never be the same, and I needed to adapt.”

 

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Adapt he did. At the beginning of the pandemic, Robinson put his culinary talents to good use by preparing meals for families and shelters in the Bronx. But there was still the matter of his storefront in Harriman. As he was helping to feed hungry families, he realized that what folks really needed was a place to sit down, take a breath, and get lost in the joy of delicious food. “I wanted people to come in and forget what was going on outside, even if it was just for an hour,” says Robinson. “Let your taste buds take you on a journey that will ease your mind. This was the only business plan.”

 

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With the help of a few friends, Robinson transformed the space—formerly a liquor store—into a COVID-safe eatery. (Remember those transparent dividers?) One friend helped build the tabletops. Another lent a hand with plumbing. Robinson took care of the flooring, tiling, and construction of the restrooms. In July of 2020, An Artistic Taste opened with just three staff members: one server, Robinson, and his wife, Norise. “It was hard,” says Robinson, but “people drove from all over to support” the new restaurant.

Robinson remembers thinking, “we are building a restaurant in a middle of a pandemic with fear in my mind but hope in my heart. Hope that I will provide something that will bring people back together. Hope that I can build something that will ease the anxiety everyone was feeling at the time.”

Becoming Chef Robinson

Robinson’s interest in cooking began during his childhood in Jamaica. “Watching my mother in the kitchen as a child was a work of art,” he recalls. Despite his love for cooking, he did not pursue it professionally at first, instead working at a nonprofit after graduating college. It left him feeling unfulfilled. “It was a struggle to go to work,” he laments. “It was my girlfriend at the time—my wife now—that pushed me to go to culinary school. I was always in the kitchen, and she noticed the joy in my cooking.” With his partner’s support, he took a leap of faith and quit his job to pursue an education in fine dining. Robinson often worked 14-hour days for no pay just for the “opportunity to soak up as much knowledge” as he could. He had his idols—he cites Alexander Smalls, the James Beard Award-winning chef, as an inspiration—but says he learned the most from the executive and sous chefs that “you rarely ever hear about.”

 

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When he began cooking more seriously, Robinson was interested in French cuisine and had his sights set on a position at one of New York’s more prestigious eateries. But, with the advent of the pandemic also came a transformation in his impetus for cooking. “I had to change my mind set on food,” he reflects. “I [wanted] to make dishes that remind me of my mother coming home from work and making us a quick meal. My mother is my guide to every dish I put out.” And that is precisely what makes An Artistic Taste so good: it’s comfort food as prepared by a supremely gifted chef with a whole lot of heart. It’s a reflection of Robinson’s fondest memories and the simple comforts that keep us going through hard times.

 

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Without exaggeration, his dishes burst with flavor. The ribeye steak tacos, for instance, are a display of Robinson’s creativity and culinary exuberance, loaded with chipotle aioli, tomatillo, cotija, and a coil of pickled onions. The meat, needless to say, is tender and artfully seasoned. Also excellent are the plantains dappled with Aleppo pepper, queso, truffle aioli, and parsley. When we paid a visit to An Artistic Taste, it was around 3:30 p.m. on a Sunday—the lunch rush had waned, and it was too early to eat dinner—yet the place was packed. Regulars hardly looked at the menu, opting for Robinson’s famous Gracejoy jerk chicken, served with jerk jus, rice, peas, and braised cabbage.

 

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It’s no coincidence that An Artistic Taste has so swiftly garnered a reputation for excellence. The menu rotates to accommodate fresh, seasonal ingredients, many of which come from Chester’s Rise & Root Farm and Pine Hill Farm. “We have a small freezer for ice cream, and that’s it,” Robinson boasts. “It’s not acceptable to purchase on price alone. We feel a sense responsibility that shouldn’t be limited to the bottom line,” he asserts, adding that beyond the culinary benefits, buying local reduces food waste. That philosophy extends to the drink menu, too, which is worth a visit in and of itself. Destiny Vargas, who acts as the restaurant’s general manager when she isn’t serving or bartending, prepared a hibiscus margarita for us to sample. When asked what makes it so delicious, she informed us that the eatery grows its own herbs onsite, elevating the dishes and drinks at An Artistic Taste to a whole new level.

 

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What began as a home base for Robinson’s catering company has metamorphosed beyond his wildest dreams, proving that hardships can, at times, yield wonderful gifts. For this, Chef Robinson feels immense gratitude. “Thank you to everyone and anyone who supported us in the past two years,” he says. “Whether it was a purchase or a simple word of encouragement. Thank you.”

An Artistic Taste is open Wednesday and Thursday, 12-8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 12-9 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information about the restaurant, including catering options, head to the website.

Hudson Valley Restaurant Week is back this April 8-21!