There are many great achievers in the Capital Region-those paving the way in the arts, teachers and coaches and businessmen and women. We highlight four achievers on the following pages: a pioneer in the spa industry, a master chef, a college president and a choreographer.
By Ciara McCann
Dale Miller is a name synonymous with the Capital Region. Many got to know him when he was head chef at Jack’s Oyster House in Albany, and more recently he brought his culinary creations to the Inn at Erlowest in Lake George. Now, he has embarked on a new adventure: opening his own restaurant in downtown Albany called dalemiller. Knowing Miller, we’re in for quite a treat.
At an age when most of us were more worried about surviving the daily life of junior high than laying the groundwork for our future career, Dale Miller was busy learning the fundamentals of cake decorating and developing his passion for cooking.
As one of the most prominent chefs in the Capital Region, Miller, 49, is known for his culinary flair, but you might be surprised to learn he actually began his career as a self-taught cake decorator at the young age of 11. He credits his aunt for turning him onto the hobby after she gave him a book on the topic. He soon began baking cakes for family friends and neighbors in his hometown of Tribes Hill, about an hour west of Albany.
Miller made cakes for weddings, showers, birthdays, and even made the local paper after baking a cake for the town’s bicentennial. However, it wasn’t until one of his clients asked him to not only bake the cake for her wedding shower, but also to make all the food for the party that he learned where his true passion lied.
“I found that I liked cooking a lot more,” said Miller, who was 13 at the time. “It was more off-the-cuff. It was adding some seasoning here, a little more there – it wasn’t just measuring and baking.”
As a child, Miller always enjoyed being in the kitchen with his mother and has fond memories of helping her can and pickle food. His father also pitched in by hunting wild game.
“My mother was an excellent cook and I grew up around it,” Miller said. “It was really the best thing for me to be around wanting to be a chef.”
Though he had the talent, he wanted to further his skills by attending the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, south of Albany in Hyde Park. His aunt, a continued source of encouragement, showed him an article on the school and after a visit with his parents he decided it was the place for him.
“Those years really were the best years of my life,” he said. “It was like being a kid in a candy shop.”
After getting his degree it wasn’t long until Miller was doing what he loved. His first job after graduating was as executive chef of the newly opened Raindancer Restaurant in Amsterdam in 1980. He helped the restaurant get on its feet and after five years moved on for a short stint at the Albany Marriot on Wolf Road.
At 26-years-old, Miller decided it was time for a change and purchased his first restaurant. The Stone Ends in Glenmont, which originally opened in 1955 by Henry Junco, was in need of some renovations – including a new roof and updated equipment, but the young chef was up for the challenge.
“I’ve always been a gambler, always taking risks and chances,” he said.
He took the restaurant and made it his own. The menu was progressive American with international influences and also featured tableside cooking.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and Miller learned a lot from the mistakes he made during that time, like not fully investigating the condition of the building which caused many unforeseen costs.
“It made me realize that you have to be prepared for the unexpected. But I’ve always been a hard worker and I have a great work ethic that I learned from my parents.”
After 11 years there, he decided to sell the Stone Ends as his career started to take form. In 1996, only a year before he left, he took part in one of the country’s most prestigious culinary programs – the Certified Master Chef Exam. Begun in 1981 by the American Culinary Federation, it is the highest and most demanding level of achievement for a chef. The intense 10-day long test (today it’s an eight-day long test) encompasses every major cuisine in the world, wines and spirits, dining room management, sanitations and more.
“I never thought I could pass,” said Miller of the exam, which has a 90-percent failure rate.
It was held on familiar turf for Miller, the Culinary Institute of America, where it is held every year. No surprise to anyone who has eaten his food, Miller passed with flying colors. Scoring a five out of six, he was told by the sixth judge, who are master chefs themselves, he would have gotten a perfect score, however, “no one is perfect.”
Passing the test made Miller one of only 53 chefs in the country with the esteemed certification, and since then only eight more have passed. This isn’t Miller’s only impressive achievement – he has been a guest chef at the James Beard House, a non-profit organization that promotes the culinary arts and frequently hosts industry professionals; is a member of the World Master Chefs Society; and has been honored with countless culinary awards.
With his new title as Master Chef also came many job opportunities. He almost moved to Ohio, but was persuaded to stay after an offer to become executive chef and partner at one of Albany’s oldest and most popular establishments – Jack’s Oyster House.
“I was really given full reign on the menu,” he said, one of the selling points for the transition. While maintaining the more traditional Jack’s-style dishes, Miller created a two-sided menu in which he was able put his own spin on things. In addition to the more traditional 1913-era style menu that catered to Jack’s loyal customers, he created an updated “new millennium” side, which was more his style and contained more progressive and contemporary dishes.
A decade of satisfied diners later, Miller found himself settled into a routine, something that goes against his personality.
“I wanted to try something different,” he said, “Shake things up.”
And that he did, with a move up north to Lake George and a new position as general manager and executive chef at the Inn at Erlowest in January 2008.
With intentions of staying for the long run, Miller found he was not as happy as he thought he’d be at the restaurant and missed the Capital Region and his loyal client base. Then, last summer, he received an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“It was a dream come true,” said Miller, of the opportunity to open his own restaurant in downtown Albany. The offer came from James Linnan, an Albany attorney and frequent patron of Erlowest who refused to open the restaurant without Miller at the helm. And, he insisted it be named after Miller to reflect the reputation behind the food.
“I was really honored,” he said.
The idea started to really take shape this past October, and since then Miller has been heavily involved in every aspect of the development of the new restaurant, from the dcor to the menu.
“We’re going to have a lot of different options,” he said. The menu will feature American portions, which are regular sized plates, and European portions which are half the size for those who aren’t big eaters.
“The half portions are also great if you want to try more than one entre,” said Miller.
The restaurant is located at 30 South Pearl Street in the Omni Plaza. Previously it was Stars Restaurant, which closed in 1995. It will also feature a multi-course tasting menu that Miller calls a “discovery menu,” as well as a banquet facility on the penthouse floor, a garden terrace for use during warmer months, and a to-go kiosk that will feature small lunches.
One of the best things about the new restaurant will be the affordable prices.
“We’re in an economic crunch, but I think people still want to go out and have a good time,” he said. “We’ll give them a wonderful meal and the Dale Miller experience, but at reasonable rates.”
In his spare time, which isn’t much, Miller enjoys gardening, travel, and not surprisingly, cooking at home with friends. He said he enjoys the Capital Region area and while he has toyed with the idea of moving, he is happy he stayed.
“I love the people here and the community spirit,” he said. “There’s also a great pool of talented chefs in the area that are constantly inspiring me.”
For those aspiring chefs out there, he recommends working in an establishment first to see if you truly love it. While it is a rewarding career, it is also very demanding and you can’t always be with family and friends on weekends.
But for Miller, who believes he has a God-given gift, it’s all been worth it.
“It seems like I fell into something I really loved to do. I don’t recall ever wanting to do anything else.”
For more inforamtion visit dalemillerrestaurant.com.
By Mary Beth Galarneau
Ellen Sinopoli is proof that you can successfully pursue a career in the arts. For 17 years the Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company has been performing cutting edge, modern dance performances for audiences in the Capital Region. And, she has the prestigious honor of being the resident dance company at The Egg in downtown Albany.
Like many artists, the talent is innate.
“Dance was not something I chose. It chose me,” said Sinopoli, 65, who credits her parents for her passion of dance and art. Both were artists – her father a violinist, her mother a dancer.
Regardless of the type of business, Sinopoli believes passion is a must to running a successful business. In the art world, determination and relentlessness can’t hurt either. “Whatever you decide, get the very best training, advice and mentoring you can.”
Sinapoli grew up in Hartford, CT, where she was exposed to various forms of dance, such as ballet and tap, from the time she could walk. As a teen she was exposed to modern dance and found she really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until she was an adult that she really fell in love with it.
“I felt it was more exciting and I liked the approach to movement.”
She enrolled at Adelphi University on Long Island, where she earned a Bachelors Degree in Dance and was fortunate enough to work with the Paul Taylor Company; the resident company at the college for two years. “The experience was amazingly inspiring,” said the 65-year old.
During college, she met her husband, Tom. His three-year stint in the military took them down south – North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia. In each new state, Sinopoli taught dance at local schools. In 1969, they were back in New York and she entered the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance as a scholarship student.
She also became pregnant with her son and realized it was too difficult to continue dancing.
“I was a good dancer, but not professional. I couldn’t put the time in that I needed to start performing.”
During her seven-year absence from dance, she enjoyed the early years of her son’s life and managed to earn a Master’s degree in Library Science.
Her husband’s new job relocated the family to the Boston area. Now in her early thirties, Sinopoli was ready to dance again. Through local studios she became involved with choreographers, and within a year formed a small modern dance company with another woman.
She also began teaching modern dance at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, a private performing arts school in Natick, MA where she remained for 11 years. With a strong group of talented students, Sinopoli started thinking more of choreography with professional dancers.
When her son, now grown up, enrolled at NYU, the couple decided to follow suit to be closer to him. But, they didn’t stay there too long. After a year, her husband’s job relocated them in 1990, this time to the Capital Region.
And with the move, she decided that if she was going to stay within her field, she wanted to create a professional modern dance company that would allow her to work with highly trained dancers while continuing to develop her skill as a choreographer.
“I didn’t know anyone,” she said, but quickly discovered the dance community. A year later she formed The Ellen Sinopoli Dance Company. “With every major move, I have been able to reform myself and regroup and figure out what I wanted to do.”
As a choreographer, she is not one who demands the dancers learn a movement in a specific way. Rather, she prefers to utilize their ideas.
“I feel it’s a creative process and I enjoy taking ideas from them. They bring artistry to it. It is essential we work as a team.”
She currently has a group of five part-time dancers, all women in their mid-twenties. They typically come from across the country, but she has also worked with dancers from as far away as Japan.
“Each year, the dancers who come to work for me bring increased artistry, training and professionalism. They inspire me and they expand my vision.”
Her performances are known for being different and “outside of the box” and her knack for creating unique choreography was what landed her the gig at the Egg, where every year her company puts on one to two performances.
In her early years of the company, collaborations were far from her mind. But she quickly realized that working with the many other artists in the area could be beneficial.
“I find that collaborations, if worked and developed intelligently and with respect for each artist’s genre, can be extraordinarily invigorating, rewarding and successful.”
Presenting concerts at the Egg is only a small part of her daily job. Sinopoli has taught dance at Russell Sage College for the past 15 years and, more recently, she began teaching at Siena. She formed a partnership with the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy where she teaches workshops, and works with between 30 to 50 local public schools by bringing creative moment workshops to them. In turn, this helps them meet their New York State Learning Standards.
“Most schools are not in a position to have a full-time dance teacher,” she said. Many times she works with the art teacher, gym teacher, or even the principal, to develop programs they’re interested in. She averages between 250-300 movement workshops a year and 8-12 concerts.
“We might do a workshop for a day and leave, or it might take several weeks.”
In her experience, Sinopoli has found that many of her students come in with a preconceived idea of what dance is about. “If one or two go on to become dancers, that’s wonderful. If the majority go on to become audience members, that’s even better.”
Her concert work also takes her up north and down south and she hopes touring nationally is in her future. Other future ambitions include expanding the company to allow for full-time dancers and allowing students to apprentice.
Finally having planted down roots, Sinopoli relishes her time spent in the Capital Region. “I have always felt that the Capital Region easily and openly embraces its artists.”
She remembers her mother once telling her how fortunate she and her father were to make a living doing what they loved. “Not everyone can make that happen,” she said. “It was not until my adult years that I truly realized how much dance defined me as a human being.”
To learn more visit www.sinopolidances.org.
By Mary Beth Galarneau
When you think of a college president, you’re not likely to conjure up the image of a motorcycle-riding, chorus-singing, community-oriented anthropologist with a sense of humor. But that improbable picture describes Susan Scrimshaw, Ph.D. in a nut shell.
Since moving to Troy last summer to take over as interim president of The Sage Colleges, Scrimshaw has embraced the area. In fact, extolling the Capital Region as a combination of “small-town intimacy [and] big-city sophistication,” Scrimshaw had indulged in a wide array of local activities, from riding motorcycles with her husband in warmer months to joining the “Sage Singers”, a singing group comprised of students, faculty and community members. At the other end of the spectrum, she has enjoyed many of the higher brow activities that the region has to offer. In fact, in her first three months here, she has attended more world-class musical events – the Philadelphia Orchestra at SPAC, Tanglewood in the Berkshires, The Troy Music Hall, Albany Symphony and Sage’s own NYSTI – then she had in her previous two years in Boston.
But the main attraction for Scrimshaw is The Sage Colleges. Since leaving her previous position as president of Simmons College in Boston, she has dived head-first into her new job, bringing with her a momentum that even she admits was not here a year ago. Much of that momentum has to do with marketing, something the school didn’t do much of in the past.
“They weren’t telling the story,” she said. “We have wonderful programs and began advertising in local papers, on billboards and in TV spots.”
The campaign has paid off. Applications are up in the 40 percent range, compared to many other private colleges that are experiencing enrollment declines of up to 20 percent.
“There’s a newfound energy and confidence now,” marveled Dan Lundquist, vice president of Sage. “That’s a pleasure to see – and be a part of – and there’s something positively contagious about that,” he continued, acknowledging that while Sage has always offered strong, relevant degree options, it was timid on the marketing side.
But marketing starts at home, and for Scrimshaw, that means involvement with her peers.
“I like to walk around and surprise people in their offices sometimes.” As an administrator, she knows she can be consultative, but ultimately, she is the one who needs to make decisions. “We are all creating it [change] together, but there is no question that the president has to lead the way.”
Part of Scrimshaw’s leadership initiative revolves around her commitment to change. In her experience, she has found that it’s important for an educational institution to have new blood, that “colleges need different styles at different times.”
And she certainly has the experience. Prior to her job in Boston, she was the dean of the School of Public Health and professor of community health sciences and anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago for 12 years. She also served as the associate dean of public health and professor of public health and anthropology at UCLA in California. In addition, she also serves on many national boards.
Scrimshaw’s emphasis in public health grew out of a long standing interest in public health -in her case, an interest that arose as a child growing up in Guatemala, where her father established a Nutrition Research Institute. At age 16, her family moved to Boston, where her father chaired the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at MIT.
She remembers the transition to a new culture and language as a “tough adjustment.”
Just two years later, she enrolled at Barnard College in NYC, where she majored in Latin American Studies and Anthropology. She obtained her M.A. and Ph.D in Anthropology from Columbia University.
Her career has taken her to the west coast, the mid-west and back to the east coast. Now settled at Sage, she hopes to bring the importance of public health to the forefront.
“One of the things we want to model here is the college as part of a lifelong learning experience for health.”
But Scrimshaw is also encouraging young people to develop behaviors that they can model for life. Since today’s students can expect to have 10 jobs in their lifetime, they must have an education that’s flexible and teaches them to think on their feet.
“It’s important to educate both halves of the brain,” she said, explaining, “cross education.” For example, an art major will also be taught to be an administrator and know how to do graphic design.
“It’s not business as usual,” she said. “I want Sage to be a 21st century small university.”
While it’s difficult for her to teach a class – “it’s very hard for a president to show up at the same time every week,” she said, she keeps active in the classroom by guest lecturing, calling it, “the best of both worlds.”
A typical day for Scrimshaw is packed with meetings and phone calls. On this particular day, she was at the re-opening of the swimming pool on the Troy campus, then she was in a strategic planning meeting for four hours, followed by another meeting with the advancement team and two faculty members.
When she’s not at work, she does a lot of “thinking and writing” at home in the evenings and on weekends. But this accomplished scholar has her vices just like everyone else. Recently, she wanted to catch an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy”, but knew she had a key letter she had to write, foregoing her weekly entertainment.
It helps her that she has a husband who encourages her “to get out of the house and do something physical,” because her commitment to Sage appears, at times, to be unyielding, and that’s great for the institution. Scrimshaw’s commitment to the College is evident in the fact that, as we go to press, she is in talks with them about becoming the school’s permanent president. “It’s like a lease with the option to buy,” she laughs.
Well, we’re buying!
For more information visit www.sage.edu.
Jean Claude Simille
By Mary Beth Galarneau
Once the proclaimed “king of short hair” and the first to open a unisex salon in Albany, Jean Claude Simille has had his finger on the pulse of how to help Capital Region women look their best for over 30 years.
Simille, owner of Jean Paul Spa and Jean Paul Hair Salon, both located in Albany’s Stuyvesant Plaza, is a pioneer of women’s spas in the area. Since he opened up Jean Paul Spa in 1990, numerous other spas in the area have sprung up. But not all will attain the level of success that he has.
Born in the French Alps, Simille learned his trade by apprenticing in Paris with Elizabeth Arden. He’s traveled all over the world – Paris, Stockholm, Brussels, Cannes, Palm Beach and Chicago – honing his skills. Eventually, he moved to New York City where he worked at a hair salon for eight years. But, a trivial disagreement with his boss (over smoking cigarettes) forced Simille to take a leave of absence and he headed for his ski house in the Catskills with his late brother, Paul. On a drive up to Albany, they saw a “For Rent” sign on a building on Central Avenue and bought it on the spot. In 1972, the first Jean Paul Hair Salon was born.
They eventually opened another shop in the DeWitt Clinton Building on State and Eagle Street, or as Simille called it, “the top of downtown Albany.” (They ran both for about a year, and then closed the Central Avenue location.) After a local journalist wrote about the “hair stylists with the funny voices” everyone suddenly wanted their hair cut by the trendy Frenchmen from New York City. Jean Paul now was a famous name in the Capital Region.
In 1986, they closed this location and relocated for a third time to Stuyvesant Plaza. Four years later, Simille entered the spa business by opening a second location in the plaza – Jean Paul Day Spa.
He credits Elizabeth Arden for being the real pioneer of day spas and said the concept was something he felt he should pursue. “It was a natural next step.”
With years running successful hair salons, he soon found out that running a spa is significantly different, not to mention not as profitable as a salon.
Where a hair salon is comprised of a row of chairs, a spa requires a lot more attention. “Everything is done in individual rooms. There is more intimacy and privacy. A salon is very upbeat, whereas a spa is more tranquil.”
Though he offers dozens of spa services–body treatments, nail services, tanning and hair services – the facials, massages and waxing are the most popular.
A business runs smoothly with a defined management structure, and the salon and spa have both. Last year, Simille hired long-time trusted friend Michael Mande as the managing director of Jean Paul.
He also credits his staff for being the backbone of his company. They are his front line who deal with customers and present the Jean Paul image. He holds regular staff meetings and is in constant communication with them to ensure everyone is on the same page.
What makes him different?
Simille feels his success is a combination of his French background, his NYC experience and being in-tune with his customers.
“We pay constant attention to customers and constantly examine and reinvent ourselves,” he said. “We pay attention to presentation and make sure it’s friendly, welcoming and professional.”
He redecorates every five years, hires and trains the top talent available and constantly keeps up with trends. His stylists are often sent to Paris, New York City and California for further education. He also sets himself apart from competitors by carrying the exclusive product lines of Oribe and Kiehls and is one of two salons in the area to carry Kerastase.
Another big part of his success can be summed up in one word: location. He believes that Stuyvesant Plaza is the best spot for his type of business. “It is well maintained with high-end stores where people expect the best and we can provide that,” he said.
Even though the salon industry is a nearly $60 billion business, Simille will be the first to tell you that though it’s great to be your own boss, it also takes a lot of hard work to reach his level of success.
“To be a successful business owner, you need to work twice as hard. You have to have to have dreams, a vision and goals.
But, most important to Simille are his clients. “We want our clients looking good, but feeling great.”
For more information visit www.jeanpaulspa.com.