Rebecca Ffrench started cooking at the ripe age of eight, attempting homemade donuts in the kitchen with her grandmother. But it was the chef, cookbook author, and recipe developer’s love of the Catskills community that prompted her to create The Upstate Table down the line.
“I’ve always wanted to introduce people to this incredible upstate life that we were experiencing,” she tells SemiStories. “Here, I can highlight incredible local makers while sharing my love of cooking and entertaining.”
Armed with a treasure trove of locally-sourced decor, Wilsonart quartz countertops, Semihandmade DIY Shaker fronts, and a vision, Ffrench fashioned her dream kitchen and event space during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, the cakery and culinary studio has already played host to countless private dinners and cooking classes since its late 2020 opening, and is poised to expand its offerings in 2021 and beyond.
Ahead, Ffrench shares the Upstate Table story, plus her experience curating her dream kitchen using IKEA and Semihandmade.
SemiStories: First of all, congratulations on opening your space!
Rebecca Ffrench: Thank you! It’s been a journey!
SS: How long was The Upstate Table in the making?
RF: Well, we’ve had our house up in Phoenicia for over 20 years, and I’ve wanted to do something like this for as long as I can remember. I’ve written multiple cookbooks and worked on staff at magazines like Martha Stewart Living, and all of that kind of set the stage for The Upstate Table. I eventually connected with local architect Scott Dutton around 2018, who was in the process of renovating an old shirt factory and turning it into a community space. I finally felt like I had found the perfect venue.
SS: How did you feel when you walked into the building for the first time?
RF: Honestly, my jaw just hit the floor. It was so beautiful — it had gravel floors and a backhoe in the middle of it, but I saw so much potential. We finally opened our doors in December 2020 after many COVID delays, but it was all worth it!
SS: Just so our readers understand — can you give a quick summary on the Upstate Table?
RF: Yes! The Upstate Table is a cakery and culinary studio in the Catskills that hosts cooking classes, private dinners, parties, photo shoots, and more.
SS: What do you think makes the space unique?
RF: We’ve really tried to keep it bespoke and flexible — even our classes can be tailored to what the attendees are looking to taste and experience. For example, we recently hosted a cake baking class and someone wanted chocolate ganache, so we went to the back and pulled it out for them. We’re hosting a linen dyeing workshop this summer, which is something we’ve never done before. We’re really open to customizing experiences for our guests and responding to the interests of our community.
SS: I love that! How did that community-oriented mindset translate into the design of the space?
RF: I’d say the studio is really reflective of the Catskills area and the community we’ve built here — we don’t want people to walk in and say, ‘Oh, this reminds me of XYZ in Brooklyn.’ It’s filled with found objects I’ve collected over the years as well as pieces created by designers and makers in the area. For example, we have a piece from local ceramist Doris of Lost Quarry, the floating shelves are made out of reclaimed timber from a local maker, the windows were made by an upstate craftsman, and the flowers and branches are foraged from the surrounding nature. I was even able to customize the DIY Semihandmade cabinets with a beautiful shade of blue-green paint inspired by a recent trip to Greece.
SS: So beautiful — I love the cabinet color! Did you design the layout with community in mind as well?
RF: Definitely — I purposely designed a very open kitchen with a large island and two tables on wheels that we can relocate as needed. I’m a self-taught chef. I learned how to cook from my neighbor, my grandmother, my husband…always with people. I wanted to recreate that environment here. It’s not a culinary school; there isn’t going to be a chef breathing down your neck watching your knife technique. It’s a place where you can pick up tips, have a good time, and make something delicious.
SS: I love that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
RF: Exactly. As bespoke as we try to make it, I don’t want the space to feel in any way exclusive or intimidating. We want our guests to feel inspired, but at home at the same time. Things aren’t perfect, the space can get a bit messy, but it’s who we are. I hate the word ‘authentic’ because it’s so overused, but it does describe the mood here.
SS: Does that also describe the way you approach cooking and teaching classes?
RF: For sure — I very much encourage people to try everything themselves and just have fun with it. Like if your cake falls apart, it’s not the end of the world. You can make it into a trifle or compost it and start over; it’s not rocket science! I think that cooking side-by-side takes the intimidation out of it and really emphasizes the community element here.
SS: Speaking of community, why was it so important to you to create a community-oriented space in the Catskills?
RF: The community here is just so incredibly supportive. It’s really what you imagine a small town to be like — people bring you homemade food when you’re sick, they’ll take care of your kids when you need a moment, they’ll drive you to the doctor or hospital for a treatment. I really wanted to be able to highlight all of the amazing talent up here while providing a fun gathering space for like-minded people. Things are very word-of-mouth and I love being able to introduce people to new farms, florists, woodworkers, vendors, the list goes on.
SS: Okay you’ve convinced me, I want to live there! It almost sounds old school in a refreshing way.
RF: It really is! People really do help each other out up here, both on a personal and professional level. To me, this community is about unconditional love and support, and I hope that the Upstate Table embodies that spirit.
SS: Would you say that The Upstate Table is the dream kitchen and event space that you always envisioned?
RF: It really is — I’ve always had this desire to share the magic that goes on up here, and I’m so thankful that I finally get to do that.