Monday, January 3, 2011

The Start of the Prequel

It was just about this time last year that I had not quite recovered (!) from the change in locale for my book, ” Homegrown.” 

I had already had the penultimate honor of interviewing the top New York City chefs who were – and remain – keystone leaders of the locavore, farm to table, in-season menu.  They are also game-changers for bringing attention to upgrading school menus and edible school gardens and inaugurating cooking lessons for our children…  
And not so curiously, many are now pretty much known by their first names: Dan, Michael, Peter, Mario…
In what seems like a New York minute, we now know chefs are rock stars, right? J

I had carefully researched each and every potential chef for the book.
It was not good enough that they were great chefs. 
After all, I can say with no undo humility, that Gotham has more amazing chefs per square block than anywhere else in the galaxy. 
No, what I was in search of, were the leaders – those who denied the phone ordering from the purveyor for – well, frankly; for the unknown. 

To those who weren’t with me when I first started the book in early ’02, “my” chefs were those revolutionaries who inspired a sea change in how we think about food, cooking, local farmers and fishermen, and artisanal food makers. 
Predominately, the chefs I researched and selected were from New York City and two from the Garden State.
Later, my publisher asked me to add in the Hamptons. 
Whey not? J  I found five chefs and their restaurants right off the bat there that would add to the New York Homegrown book.

You see, I started with the concept that gardens and farms are so beautiful and magical that they inspire artists – all artists – but especially the culinary artist.   It seems obvious but maybe not. I felt this is a compelling story that needed to be told.  Unlike musicians or painters or fashion designers, culinary artists use the bounty of the garden in their own artistic endeavors.

I promise that when I say or write ‘My” chefs I will stop using the quote marks. 
But I must admit I’ve used the “designation” as a way to distinguish “my” selected/chosen chefs in the local/sustainable/food/culinary cuisine arena vs. other good /great chefs. 
See how exhausting and challenging it is to label a food movement with more monikers and descriptors than a Greek diner’s menu offerings?!

And I am ever mindful not to suggest possession or too much familiarity.
But truth be told; I love my chefs.  Like children.
Each and every chef is extraordinarily special to me. 
Chefs are loving and sharing artists.  They want to give what they have created to others. (Food just won’t keep like that Picasso!) 

So you might better understand when I say ”my” chefs, these are the chefs I selected for the book.
But in fact, the chefs belong to all their adoring customers, foodies, and frankly, to history -- because they have and are forever changing how we define food and cooking and, by no small means, how we manage our national and international agriculture, healthcare and nutrition.

These inter-related issues are consuming.  To say the least.
And my chefs are passionate about using what is now their bully pulpit to change the world and make us all healthier and happier to enjoy delicious, tasty food that is good for us and the environment.
Oh, and they love to entertain.  They have successful restaurants. 
While they were busy changing the world, they needed to have legions of loyal dining customers who just cannot live without their culinary creations.

I am forever blessed to live in a part of the extended culinary “world” (there are those quotes marks again that serve to suggest something more.)
In this case my culinary world includes more than local geography or locale.  It includes a commitment to the concept of Slow Food, international sustainable food production and caring for our environment.  To maintaining a garden filled with a variety of vegetables, herbs, bees, flowers and love.
And delicious, amazing seasonal food!

Therefore -- I wanted - and needed -- the chefs in my book to be the best of the best in the local farm to table and sustainable food movement (see above!)

For some, their names were already familiar to me. I had eaten at their world-class restaurants. 
For others, I had read about their work, researched their commitment and dedication to the locavore/sustainable food initiative and only then, approached them to ask if they would agree to be part of the book. 

I have already written of the list of New York City chefs that will be included in that book.  (see earlier blog post)
I am thrilled my editor recently asked for an expanded list of New York City chefs and that we're back up in the queue. 

But last year, the change in locale to focus this first book exclusively on Long Island, as opposed to including The Hamptons in the New York City book was a directive from my publisher.

The first Homegrown book from me was to be from Long Island. New York City would be the second book from me.

The magnitude of this was extraordinary to me. 
Not only did I have many of the profiles text written for the New York City chefs but we had completed almost all the photography of the chefs in their inspired gardens or farms, and cooking their recipes in the kitchen restaurants.

My Homegrown book features a profile for each chef – their story of how they got to be a leader who is passionate about seasonal, local ingredients, Four recipes from each chef, a garden art rendering I do of their inspired garden or farm, and the corresponding plant list.
My dream is that readers will in turn be inspired by the master chefs and their gardens and farms and be able to grow a garden based on the garden designs and plant lists and then cook and bake the recipes gifted by the chefs.

Furthermore, I was privileged to have been able to spend special time with these extraordinary chefs interviewing them to garner their unique stories of how they got to be successful and then, along with my photographer and food stylist, photographed the chefs in their inspired gardens and with their farmers and gardeners.
It is a very personal, intimate relationship. 
Not so different from my garden design clients.  Meaning you are in their homes– and in their head…
I respect all they do with their craft. 
I start from that perspective.

You see, the process of getting to a list I could be proud of required me to establish critical criteria in order to get to a book-worthy chef.
Every chef had to have demonstrated pioneering leadership in developing relationships and infrastructure for a food community of farmers, fishermen and artisans.

In starting the research for the Long Island roster of chefs, I turned the spotlight on key geographic spots that would not only fulfill my publishers desire to represent the entire Island, but would tell the best story about the culinary culture of this area nick named Pleasure Island. (For good reason.)
I found Long Island’s historical, agricultural, immigration, fine arts heritage including literature, painting, cinema and the arts, along with its unmistakable fabric of wealth and money - a fertile, fascinating exploration.

I identified my local Long Island area into the North Shore often called the Gold Coast, separated from Connecticut by the Long Island Sound and the South Shore.   Out on the East End of the Island and its two fingers jutting out to the Atlantic is the North Fork and its vineyards and the South Fork or the Hamptons and the Hampton Bays.
There is unmitigated beauty found here.  The bays and inlets, the shorelines, farms and dunes are indeed the stuff of dreams.
Nature blessed this region with caressing microclimates to allow its farmers to grow a bushel basket full of many varieties of world-class vegetables and herbs.  The rows and rows of fragrant lavender will make your grab your heart with joy.

Today, chefs are helping others to discover the native plants like foraged sea rocket and purslane!

Early on, hunters found game plentiful.
Flocks of duck soon became a brand for Long Island. 
And the herds of smiling goats produce happy, world-class cheese. 

The waters that hug Long Island give both the sports and commercial fishermen seasonal fresh fish that help define the culinary culture with its razor clams, oysters, sea bass, porgies and tuna.

Its garden history is the stuff of legend: from the estate gardens in Westbury and Bridgehampton to the vineyards of the North Fork to the cottage gardens in Sag Harbor.

From the early Dutch and English settlers to the Italians, the bouillabaisse of homegrown cuisine makes for a food tradition that, coupled with the proximity of a sophisticated New York City influence and clientele, the area’s artistic inspiration fuses an extraordinary culinary oeuvre.
It’s a vacation mecca. It’s an artistic muse.
It’s an enigma.  It’s a story I couldn’t wait to tell…

For about two months, I read restaurant reviews, travel pieces, real estate overviews, historical literature, Edible East End magazine and talked to food experts in Manhattan and Long Island in order to secure outstanding chef recommendations to add to the list of five chefs I already had secured as part of the New York City Homegrown book.
The original five are Chef Joe Realmuto, Nick & Toni’s; Chef Michael Rozzi, Della Femina; Chef Eberhard Mueller, Satur Farms; Ted Conklin’s American Hotel and Anna Pump from Loaves & Fishes and Bridgehampton Inn and cookbooks and …. (THE best orange marmalade anywhere. I promise.) 

By February and March, I had narrowed the search to produce a very solid list of about 16 to 18 possible chefs I was proud to call “my chefs!”

Here is the original list, below. 
The asterisked names are those who didn’t make it to the final manuscript.  The reasons for almost all were due to either bad scheduling or lack of or non-communication. Couldn’t confirm in time or to meet deadlines.
In the case of Ina, she initially agreed, as part of the first book and then… pouf.
Perhaps she got too famous … I thought she’d be noticed by her absence or omission from a book about master chefs and cooks from Long Island…
Believe me, I tried.  I sent congratulations peonies (her favorite flower) when she was awarded the Matrix Award from Women in Communication.  I asked her florist to put in a good word for me.  I asked Chef Joe from Nick & Toni’s to put in a good word for me when he appeared on her show last year. I promised to work with her schedule, and against my better judgment to use a standard bio she already has for the profile (dull, I know but I thought I’d make the exception.)  But despite the most wonderful assistant in the world, the PR folks went silent. Nada. Sorry.
But really, who cares?!

With only a few modifications, the list was an enduring one straight through to final manuscript.
But it’s another story about how we got to that point. J

List of Long Island Homegrown Chefs for the book:

North Shore
Bistro M, Chef Mitchell SuDock Glen Head
18 Bay, Chefs Elizabeth Ronzetti and Adam Kopels, Oyster Bay/Bayville

South Shore
The Lake House, Chef Matt Connors, Bayshore
The Grey Horse Tavern, Chef Meredith Machemer, Bayport

North Fork
North Fork Table & Inn, Chefs Claudia Fleming and Gerry Hayden, Southold 

Jedediah Hawkins Inn, Chef Keith Luce, Jamesport
Satur Farms, Chef Eberhard Mueller, Cutchogue
* David Intonato, Jamesport Manor Inn
* Hank Tomashevski, The Frisky Oyster

South Fork
Nick & Toni’s, Chef Joe Realmuto, East Hampton
Della Femina, Chef Michael Rozzi, East Hampton
Loaves & Fishes, Chef Anna Pump, Sagaponick
The American Hotel, Chef Jonathan Parker, Sag Harbor
Almond, Chef Jason Weiner, Bridgehampton
Foody’s, Chef Bryan Futerman, Water Mill
* Kevin Penner, 1770 House
* Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa

Hampton Bays
Starr Boggs, Chef Starr Boggs, West Hampton
OSO Restaurant, South Hampton Inn, South Hampton
* Christian Mir, Stone Creek Inn

Now I had to start talking to the master chefs to learn the details of their amazing culinary stories…

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