ADAMS -- John Dudek has serendipity to thank in part for how he came to be chef at the rustic Bascom Lodge on the summit of Mount Greylock four years ago.
"At the time, one of our partners and I were planning a restaurant in Pittsfield we thought would be nice," recalled Dudek. "We had a location in Pittsfield picked out, but the owner of the space wasn't interested in converting it to restaurant."
The proposed Pittsfield location, an office space on Allen Street opposite city hall, was in an area that Dudek liked for its eclectic buildings. Dudek felt it would make a beautiful café, especially if he added outdoor seating near the de facto pedestrian walkway to create a town square sort of feeling. However, the property owner wasn't interested making the expensive investment to convert it.
That's when Dudek's brother Peter came to visit over the Christmas holiday with a proposal for an interest in the lodge.
"He asked me to look it over since he knew we were thinking of opening a restaurant," recalled Dudek. "I grew up in Adams, so I knew the lodge and the reservation, and thought it would be a more interesting, secure investment, especially given the association with the parks department."
Bascom Lodge, thanks to its prime scenic location, had a track record of 150,000 people coming through the front door every year. This kind of reliable foot traffic struck Dudek as an important leg up in the restaurant business, since restaurants often have a short lifespan due to the risky nature of the business. With a business plan for a restaurant already in hand, Dudek simply converted it into a business plan for the lodge, and two years later, began his 25-year lease.
Dudek has spent 30 years in the restaurant business, ever since attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn to study food science.
"I got a summer job at a small café in Brooklyn Heights, originally a small German bar opened after the Civil War, a restaurant called Hubert's," said Dudek. "Because most of the clientele came from Manhattan, it was slow in summer, so they started a ‘guest chefs' program."
This program, Dudek explained, invited various chefs and cookbook writers to come in and design menus featuring the foods they were known for. Edna Lewis had written books on Southern cooking and black communities, Paula Wolfert was known for Moroccan cooking, John Clancy was a student of James Beard, and Dudek got to work side by side with all of them, providing him with a diverse background of various cuisines.
This culinary diversity informs Dudek's menu at Bascom Lodge, which changes daily.
"The whole theme of our menu is to focus on the ethnic influence in American food," said Dudek. "Over the course of seasons, the goal is to expose our clientele to a huge range of American food, and nowadays, locally produced foods and fresh organic foods. We have an emphasis on a lot of fresh veggie prep."
With menus going online up to a month in advance, Dudek spends the winter months putting together menus for June and July.
"We try to think about what might be in season," he said. "We try to make the most interesting menus on days we know it will be busy, weekends and holidays. In the last four years, we've gotten a sense of what people like, what nights to do popular dishes like osso bucco, and then do more eclectic dinners on other nights."
Dudek finds it hard to pick a favorite dish, but he does admit to a predilection for spicy food. "I do have a tendency to like Sicilian or Middle Eastern food," he said. "We have a Cuban flank steak on the menu that has a lot of chili peppers and fresh oregano."
With the 75th anniversary of Bascom Lodge coming next year, Dudek plans to spend the winter developing a series of programs and events to celebrate the birthday. Bascom Lodge will be undergoing additional restoration this fall and spring.
"When we open again in June," said Dudek, "It will be an even more beautiful spot to visit."