Seasoned chef pedaling new business venture
After years of setting the table for Rockland’s fledgling chefs, Kendell Brenner is taking his act on the road. Literally.
Brenner has launched Eat. Laugh. Cycle., a touring company that combines his gourmet cooking talents with his enthusiasm for bicycling. The company's inaugural season has booked five-day tours in the Adirondacks and Maine at the end of June, and is seeking riders for trips in Vermont and the Hudson Valley.
Currently the culinary educator at Rockland BOCES, Brenner is a Culinary Institute of America graduate who has served as chef in various restaurants and hotels. He’s also an avid cyclist who logs some 125 miles a week during peak season.
His wife, Ashley Logan Brenner, is the endeavor’s creative director, handling hospitality matters, everything from running the website, to choosing linens and glassware for the guests.
Here’s a Q&A with Brenner about his new endeavor.
Question: What made you decide to try combining your culinary expertise with cycling?
Kendell Brenner: All of my business ventures have revolved around my passions. Chefs2be in Nyack was a kids cooking program and camp. J&K Brenner — hot sauce and spice blends — was the opportunity to get my kids involved at a young age with the family business from 2012 to 2019. Eat. Laugh. Cycle. — the next chapter of my life — really does involve my passions of travel, cycling, and food,
Question: What is your role in preparing the menus at the various inns and private homes where your guests will be staying?
Brenner: As we get started I will be the chef for our day trips in the Hudson Valley and use some of my former culinary students who are now attending CIA for prep and service. In Vermont and Maine I have local chefs whose cooking reflects the region’s particular style. At the majority of our accommodations, I design the menus for all meals and tastings based on survey questions our guests answer beforehand on their likes and dislikes.
Question: There are numerous well-known bicycle touring outfits that tout luxurious accommodations and food/wine experiences. What leads you to believe you can go up against the bigger companies?
Brenner: What will hopefully set us apart is we are really taking the personalization of food and service into account to create an experience, not just a tour. Working with food erases boundaries and brings people and cultures together.
We’re working with local farms and businesses so our menus offer fresh ingredients that are specific to each region. Of course, we will have indulgences that might include a chocolate tasting or varieties of Vermont cheeses and local wines or spirits, but we also want to be able to give the history and education that goes with it.
By putting a chef in the mix we have the opportunity to offer a more personal culinary experience that can include cooking classes. I want our guests to feel that they can actually build a relationship with the chef over the course of the trip.
Question: What have the challenges been running this business during the pandemic?
Brenner: Finding unique locations that allow us a big enough kitchen and dining room space to house our guests and meals. Also, due to the pandemic we have seen a run on bikes. Inventory is very low due to demand. Several bike shops have no inventory and the waitlist is 6-to-9 months in getting new bikes.
Question: What types of cyclists have been most attracted to your tours: Casual riders who want comfort rides, hard-core enthusiasts, etc.?
Brenner: Most of our trips are designed for the more casual C and B level riders as opposed to the triathlon rider. We have also aligned ourselves with various cycling clubs and many of the ride leaders have shown interest in leading rides, so building an A-level ride tour is very foreseeable.
Question: Who will be leading this summer’s rides?
Brenner: Our staff includes leaders who live in the Hudson Valley as well as Vermont and Maine so they know the roads, history, and travel spots.
Question: What types and brands of bicycles do you offer?
Brenner: We are looking at Giant and Fuji for our hybrids and Specialized and Felt for our premium road bikes. I do have a Cervelo P series all-electronic tri-bike in our inventory for use as well.
Question: What are your plans for Eat. Love. Cycle.’s future?
Next year the goal is to do teen tours that also incorporate culinary skill-building and life skills. We are also looking to target more corporate clients by providing team-building outings after our third year.
I had the opportunity of riding in Spain both in Madrid and Barcelona last year and I am in talks with a friend who leads bike tours there so we are talking about partnering for 2022 to do a joint venture over there.
This interview has been edited for brevity.
Read more about bicycling on my Shifting Gears blog.