Monday, July 30, 2012

A Homegrown Double Feature in the Hamptons

It was top billing for The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook Saturday in the Hamptons.  Two marquee invites on one day!  

First up was Loaves & Fishes Cookshop where I joined the incomparable Anna Pump at the Bridgehampton Cookshop, her family’s go-to emporium for every conceivable – or inconceivable  -- culinary tool.  

Located on the main artery, Montauk Highway, which makes it easy to locate but a devil to navigate especially given weekend’s high car volume, including the peripatetic fender bender occasioned by the elephant train that passes for moving traffic.   Needless to say, it was a stress inducing to arrive a tad late…

The consummate professional, Anna was already in front of a rapt group of customers, explaining how she was preparing her Lobster & Potato Salad recipe that is featured in the Homegrown book. 
Simply made with superior ingredients, the sweet dill and corn fragrance alone were intoxicating the eager food fans.            

Both Anna and I enjoyed talking with the guests and signing books for them. 
I especially liked the man who, fresh out of the military, had taken a training course at Denver-based school I’ve never heard of it before but it sounds like a gem of an idea – training people to become home managers and/or cooks for those with needs or who have multiple homes.  He is now a private cook employed by a family in the Hamptons and he Loves to cook.  He was inspired by the Homegrown book and Anna.

It was so very good, my husband asked if he could marry her!  

Also sweet was Anna’s gracious acceptance and enthusiasm for the watercolor I did of her shop in Sagaponack. 
It was inspired from a photo I took of the food mecca’s simple and charming front at the time of the book’s professional photo session with Jennifer Calais Smith.

In the original book concept, the chef and grower profiles included the garden’s plant list and a layout of the garden design that I lovingly rendered. When the book doubled in size some things got left on the cutting room floor.  These two additional art items were victims of the cut or edit.

Following the Loaves & Fishes event, it was lunch with my husband, his boss and her husband, and a friend. 
We enjoyed the great company and the respite in one of their favorite restaurants in Bridgehampton.  They treated too! 
However, all too soon it seemed, we left to visit another business associate’s home before the next book event.

Off we went to what was to have been an “around the corner” drive. The female British-voiced GPS (so tuned long before Siri), and aka “Ellen;” so named after my British great, great-grandmother whose father’s occupation is listed on her marriage license as “Gardener.”  (Years ago while doing the family genealogy and a garden trip to England, I thought it was karma and secured a copy of the marriage certificate.)
Ellen told us in her crisp Mary Poppins nanny tone that we wouldn’t get to the destination until a little after 5pm.

We had to be at the Chefs Dinner at the Hayground School at 4:45. 
Regrettably and with great apology the call was made.

We turned around and made it to Hayground right on time.

The staff and volunteers could not have been nicer.
I am so grateful and honored to have been invited to attend and showcase the Homegrown book at this prestigious, annual fundraising event for the Hayground School.  Thank you so much, Toni -- and Samantha!
The evening features great Chefs from the local Long Island area and from New York’s culinary constellation.

I displayed the books at the welcome tent area and was able to talk to the guests as the came in.  
The Homegrown book was also included in the event’s Auction package.  

This all came about through the “prep line” if you’ll forgive the metaphor.

First, Chef Bryan Futerman, Foody’s restaurant, was a guest of the local radio show, WPPB with Toni Ross, of Nick & Toni’s and the co-founder of the Hayground School.  Ross launched Hayground School in honor of her husband Jeff Salaway.  
Chef Bryan gave Steve from the publisher Toni's contact information and one thing led to the next. 

The Chefs Dinner is the big annual fundraising event for the Hayground School. 
Jon Snow, master gardener, co-founder Hayground School -- and poet!

It's priceless

It’s a delicious and fun way to support an extraordinary educational program. 

Cindy Realmuto, beautiful wife of Chef Joe Realmut & mother  of budding chef, Nicole!

Chef Drew Nierporent
And everybody who loves food and sustainable, edible gardens is there. It’s a special, homegrown event.  

I was thrilled to be there.

Lindsey Morris, one of the Homegrown Cookbook photographers, Edible East End photo arts & husband, Chris 

Guests are treated to two separate, ticketed events:  Cocktails, where they can bid on artwork, while tasting hor d’ouevres or “starters” that are brimming with flavors and textures designed to make you see stars.   Local oysters with fiery chile garnish, lamb sliders with cucumber and Tzatziki sauce, sun gold tomato consommé/gazpacho, sustainable scallops, and goat tacos.

While sipping cocktail creations and local North Fork beer.

Following cocktails was dinner in “Jeff’s Kitchen” cooked up by more chef stars including Eric Ripert, Amanda Freitag, and Claudia Fleming.

Here is a photo gallery of the Homegrown Chefs creating and making people happy at Chef Dinner cocktail tasting:

Chef James Carpenter, Maidstone Inn

Chef Bryan Futerman, Foody's (& goat taco) 

Lest anyone doubt the veracity of the meat, here is the goat's head!

Chef Joe Isidori, SouthFork Kitchen
Chef Joe Realmuto, Nick & Toni's, grilling up lamb sliders.  mmmm

Chef Joe Realmuto & budding chef, daughter Nicole

Southfork's Chef Joe dreamed up sustainable seafood supreme!

Almond's Chef Jason Weiner and the gazpacho-like sun gold tomato - from Pike Farms

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Book Signing at Loaves & Fishes & Exclusive Anna Pump Profile

A generation or two of Food lovers on the East End know and love Anna Pump and Loaves & Fishes. 
Not to mention all the extended food family who have received food gifts from returning East Enders or those who order online or the legions of dedicated cookbook fans.

Did you ever see take out that looks like jewelry confections?

She is the doyenne of elegant entertaining. She is Hampton royalty.

I am thrilled and honored to have been invited to her food “palace” for a book signing!
Anna Pump is one of the featured chefs in my book: “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.” 
Anna will also be doing a cooking demonstration (and tasting!) using one of her famous recipes, included in the book. 
See you Saturday, noon till 2 pm at Loaves & Fishes. 

I’m also looking forward to meeting her daughter, Sybille.  I was delighted to see her legendary baby food at the Cookshop :)

Anna Pump cooking and delighting customers at Cookshop

And I have a surprise for Anna too.  Can’t wait to see her reaction!

Here is part of the pretty email that landed in my inbox yesterday, announcing the book signing: (I've been on the email list for ages - and you can sign up too for all the news and happenings.)

Very Exciting!

And here is the first, full-length profile of chef Anna Pump as written for the book. 
It got edited down for space reasons, as every profile did.
However, as a special treat and salute to chef Anna, you can enjoy the full Anna Pump food story profile here:

Food Fairy Godmother

Anna Pump is the proverbial fairy godmother presiding over this magical land that is most often referred to simply as “The Hamptons.”   
Simple is the operative word.
That she is an enchanting “Food Goddess” bestowing her charms of pure and simple ingredients, elegant and simple entertaining advice and a cosmopolitan and simple approach to enjoying life, you soon get the idea that Anna’s poised combinations are why her unique and much imitated style enjoys so much respect simply because it is authentic and, increasingly; rare. 

Lest you think she is a creature from a Grimm’s tale, rest assured Anna Pump is the real thing. 
There was no one who helped establish the much-touted Hamptons lifestyle like she did. 
Almost single-handedly she crafted the sophisticated yet casual approach to dining and entertaining that is sought after by legions of weekenders and magazine feature spreads, food fans, and the locals.
And she accomplished this by doing what came naturally to her. 

In 1980 Anna started her business in the Hamptons, buying the business from Susan Costner & Devon Frederics (Devon is now married to Elie Zabar of New York City, of Zabar’s Deli and gourmet food renown)

The rest is history she says, now looking ahead to the third decade of summering in Long Island.
She and her daughter operate the Bridgehampton Inn, described as an elegant bed & breakfast, built in 1795.  It’s more like an exquisite visit with a very well to do relative.  All cozy and filled with stories abundant in every well-appointed room.  Anna is the owner of the Hamptons Specialty Food Shop where “food is lovingly prepared” in her Sagaponick Cookshop.  There she launched the gourmet take-out food business, Loaves & Fishes that is today, as she sweetly describes it,  “a shack - held together with…I don’t know what to say.” She hesitates before it’s agreed that it is love that is the ‘glue’ that holds it all together.   Her grandchildren now work the Shop with her, sweetly and with authority dispensing sage culinary advice such as “Trust me on this, as you are contemplating the chocolate brownie cake.” 

She makes it look simple.  But as a chef, baker, innkeeper, food and entertainment entrepreneur, cooking instructor, community food and health activist, not to mention the author of four cookbooks featuring her brand of entertaining and cooking, Anna is a force to be reckoned with.

When asked why she wanted to write cookbooks, she says,  “I love to cook.” 
It was that simple.

In fact, the first book came about through a friend whose wife was an agent.  The overture, such as it was, appears rather chaste.  “She invited me to lunch and said, “Anna, wouldn’t you like to write a cookbook?”
And I said, “Yeah, I do!”
Anna recalled that even at that time, there were already so many friends and customers who liked her food and wanted to learn how to make her signature Loaves & Fishes dishes for themselves. 
“I have so many good recipes and if you give me some advice, I can do it,” she noted to the literary agent-friend. 
That is how the first book was launched in 1985.
No nonsense.  Simple and delicious served up straightforward.    
In 1986 the original Loaves and Fishes was published.
And making it sound almost effortless or obvious as in ‘anybody could’ve done this,’ she guilelessly offers, “It evolved from there.”

How did this matriarch of all things “Hamptons” come to preside over such an enchanted land of bounty and beauty?  After all, the tip of Long Island may be one of the farthest points on the east coast but it would seem to be a world away from her European roots where she grew up on her family’s farm on the Danish/German border.

Anna and her husband immigrated to the United States after World War II. “There wasn’t much opportunity near us and my husband wanted to join his brother who had moved to America,” she says.  
Perhaps it is not surprising that they settled in the Garden State, along the Delaware River, near the town of Stockton.   It was the 1960’s and Anna was a young mother with two small children in a new world. 

She describes how her innate interest in food led her to read gourmet magazines and cookbooks to nourish her passion for food  -- and perhaps to learn about her adopted country’s culture. Remarkably, she didn’t speak any English when she moved to America, so all that reading also helped her learn the language, she commented.

In a mark of culinary valor, it wasn’t too long before she signed up to study cooking for several sessions.
With James Beard.  In New York City.
Without hesitation, she says she loved the cooking adventure.  She particularly remembers that Chef James Beard was very complimentary to her because she was “earthy’” in her cooking, as she describes it today.   She thought he could see she was someone who knew how to handle ingredients – how to cook a chicken and how to make stock.
It was an affirmation of her cooking prowess and her devotion to real, quality ingredients.  She adds modestly, “What I learned from him, I knew already…”

Acknowledging that she was privileged to study under the tutelage of the influential cooking master, Anna describes how James Beard would sit in the middle of the kitchen on a large director’s chair and watch the students cook.  Then he’d walk around and talk to the would-be cooks, dispensing hands-on training and support.
“And it was so great. “ she exudes.  Anna cites a then-tantalizing and exotic food introduction that she first made there: couscous.  “It was the original – we learned how to make a big plate of couscous and I can never forget that.  It took hours and hours to make and it was ‘Wonderful’ ” she sighs.

Sometime in the late 70’s, a friend who had rented a house in the Hamptons for the summer and couldn’t use it for two weekends offered it to Anna and her husband; her children having grown up by then.     
Her first visit struck her like a clarion call.  “It was all so great… it felt so right. I can never forget that it even ‘smelled great.”  We loved the Hamptons right away.”

The reason it felt so very right was that Anna grew up on her family’s farm located where the Baltic Sea is on one side and the North Sea on the other.  She says there are potato fields and seagulls overhead not unlike Long Island.
The area where she grew up was known for its fishing and farming and in Anna’s way of thinking; it is the geographical twin to the East End of Long Island.  Stepping out into the fresh, clean, salt air of the Hamptons felt a lot like being home.  

As a child, Anna learned to cook from her Danish mother who was very inventive. “There was always a lot of cooking going on in our house,” Anna recalls.  “My mother could make something out of nothing – and everything started from scratch.”   She also noted that in the early years after the war, there was no delicatessen for sandwiches – we had to serve and feed the farmhands from our kitchen” 
The link with Anna’s menus of gourmet take-out food was fomented early on.   Anna dedicated her first book to her mother:  “

In the same way, most of what she knows about gardening she learned from her mother and father. 
Her parents owned and managed a 40-acre small farm that is still part of the family. Anna’s sister and brother in law now run what was once a sustenance farm for the extended family and many of the Fransberg-area’s local residents. “We grew everything.” she said about the early years.   “There was rye and a lot of potatoes.   After World War II their big garden fields of produce contained so many edibles including peas and berries.  They also had dairy cattle.
“We supported the local people in the city who couldn’t buy anything else but would come and pick their own peas and carrots and pay for it and leave.” 
It seems she continues to draw strength from the family roots.  It is a family tradition that Anna visits her family’s European farm every year.

Anna brought her family’s heritage of cooking and baking and gardening with her to Long Island.
A hallmark of Anna’s cooking is her own inventiveness, or in today’s seduction, she cooks seasonally – just like her mother did.
In addition to learning from her talented mother and the esteemed James Beard, Anna further studied with Scotsman Maurice Margette, who ran a nearby cooking school on Shelter Island.  Anna also studied with Ann Maria Husta who cooked for the Kennedy White House. 
In the next breath, Anna claims she doesn’t consider herself a chef.  When confronted with the evidence she is billed as a Cook and Chef, she demurs.  “I am not a chef.  I can’t claim that title.”  Asked to explain, she says there is a distinction.  “The difference is a cook doesn’t have a degree.  A Chef has formal education. It has nothing to do with talent or actual preparation – One just can’t claim the title if you don’t have degree.”
Reminded she has several degrees, she yields. Anna is so modest at heart…

She reflects how today, so many people have great ideas about food.   “We’ve come so far. Everyone is now so interested and so knowledgeable. Even if they don’t cook themselves, they read cookbooks. They travel.  People are very inventive.”
She is adamant that the homegrown focus is not a trend at all.  “It’s here to stay.”  She thinks it’s very important that we persist with farm to table initiatives and make the fresh natural foods available for the population as a whole and not have low cost be the factor that leads to purchasing processed foods. 
“We must make organic and farm raised costs more affordable.  We need to come to come to a level where people who don’t have a lot of money can afford it,” she explains.  “If we could eat just fresh foods, it would be wonderful.” 

And if this Hamptons food doyenne has anything to say about it, they will.

“I just sent an email about this topic to the Slow Food Movement,” she says as ideas come tumbling forth.  “We need to do something local to create small groups in town to go into schools or invite them in to help teach them how to cook fresh food. For example, tell them how to get bones from the butcher  -- which costs nothing – and that they can make a great stock.  Then they can just throw in some vegetables and… But people don’t know how to do this anymore.” She concedes. 

She points out that people are more connected to food when one gardens and knows where their food comes from. 
She relates a funny story about being removed from one’s food legacy, describing a woman who worked for her.  “A city girl all her life, she was a pretty good cook. She was making cornbread  -- and Anna’s recipe features buttermilk, she hastens to add.  The young cook comes to her and says, “Anna we can’t use buttermilk, it’s sour!”  Anna said she had to tell her, “Well it IS sour! “

Anna said she always knew she’d have the Cookshop and the take-out food business that is now referred to as “gourmet.”
Yet, she didn’t know quite where to start.   So in 1979, her first summer in the Hamptons, she ended up working for Ina Garten, now known as the “Barefoot Contessa.”
At that time, Ina had a little shop in West Hampton Beach on Main Street.
Anna remembers the interview with Ina was “kinda different.” 
Anna called Ina about the position and Ina asked her to cook something for her.
In turn, Anna invited Ina to her house for lunch.
What kind of meal would steal the Barefoot Contessa’s heart? 
When asked, Anna remembered she made a simple and delicious meal of frittata and green salad and fresh French bread.  And for dessert she whipped up her cur de crème.  This signature recipe is in Anna’s cookbook as well as Ina’s, who credits Anna accordingly.  Ina also wrote the forward to Anna’s most recent cookbook, “Summer on a Platter.  Anna also appears regularly as a guest on the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa.
“We have been best friends ever since” she declared proudly.   

Anna stirs the same deep-seated loyalty with her customers. “Most have been with me over all the years.  Every season, they come back into the shop with a hug.  They are glad I’m open again,” she radiates.  “They are almost like family now.  We have wonderful relationships and as people get older, if they sell their house on the beach and move to a small town like Sag Harbor, for example, the new couple comes in to meet me.  I sort of come with the house!”  She quickly adds that the older couples still visit.
Anna and the Cookshop are part of the local culture – she is a recognized and much loved Hamptons folklore.

Looking back, she remembers when she first opened the store, there was a farmer who came and wanted to sell her eggs.  And she has been buying eggs from him ever since.  And there is a beekeeper in Sag Harbor that delivers fresh honey to her.  A lot of that kind of original charm continues to this day.  It’s a way of life preserved that is dear to Anna. 
She also enjoys walking to some of the farmers, while some of them also bring fresh food directly to her.   Just down the road from her is Pikes Farm in Sagaponick, for example.  She walks there on Monday morning and buys her tomatoes lettuce, corn, beans; running a tab with farmer Jim Pike.   He delivers to Cookshop on Wednesdays and both Saturday and Sunday every weekend in the summer.
“He grows wonderful produce.  He has the highest quality,” she claims happily.
She relies on Pikes to grow the basics for her.  And on occasion, she will bring seeds to Pikes, asking them to grow a new vegetable or a variety, as she did when she first brought leeks to the area.
It seems curious now but at the time she moved to Long Island, no one even knew what leeks were, she said.   By the same token, she had never seen an eggplant in her life until she arrived in the Hamptons.  “So you see, there is a lot of back and forth. An exchange of ideas. We all learn from each other here,” she added.  

“In summer we “Do” summer food,” she exclaims matter-of-factly.  It follows then that she’d provide seasonal food for a variety of reasons including family and cultural traditions, pride of Long Island’s farming and fishing bounty, and her culinary artistry. 
At Cookshop, she changes her gourmet take-out menu recipes every week and posts the entire listings online.
Inspired by the unending variety of fresh homegrown ingredients, Anna has thousands of recipes in her repertoire she can refer to. And while she likes making summer foods for her family of Hamptons customers, she makes whatever marks the season or holiday.

“I always start with the ingredients – whatever is fresh.  For instance, in spring ramps are so easy to broil or grill.”  In the colder months, there is a world of stews and casseroles, and casoulettes to explore.
When fall arrives she loves to switch the menu to roasted eggplant, stew, beef bourguignon, and warm lentils with vegetables.  “I just love that time of year -- going from cold to warm food,“ she sighs contentedly. 
In the autumn, she’ll makes rutabagas at home, bring them to the Shop, and people will buy them.  “I curry them or stew them.  People just don’t know what to do with them.” She grows and works with winter vegetables such as the rutabagas, as well as root celery, parsnips, and makes an amazing carrot puree.   The emphasis on an expanded palette of ingredients allows her to give people the opportunity to experience another way of thinking about life – to spend time with family and enjoy the meal together.  “And stews and casseroles can do that.”  She thinks her next cookbook will be on this very subject: winter food. It’s not all tomatoes and goat cheese…

And just like Mother’s home-cooked specialties that hold a special place in our memories, she explains that she has Favorites that her customers would be disappointed if she didn’t make available for them. “The must-haves I will always make, for example, are a pasta salad and a chicken salad -- without mayonnaise. “

“Anna’s way” is what keeps her Hamptons family coming back.  She says she learned over time there is to be no modification when it comes to her culinary offerings. When she first opened, she cooked a split pea with ham soup.   A customer suggested there was too little salt; and the next customer admonished there was too much salt! 
So she learned to do what she wants and what she knows is best.  “I just do it my way. I do exactly what I think I should do,” she said pointedly. 
At this point in her career, her inspiration is her wellspring of experience.  She draws from within, knowing exactly what she thinks is good.

Anna had long conducted cooking classes too but she doesn’t do them anymore; it’s always a lot of work and she now focuses on her business and testing her recipes for the store and her cookbooks that now number four: “Loaves & Fishes,” “Loaves and Fishes Party Cookbook,” “Country Weekend Entertaining” and “Summer on a Platter. “
However her chef and daughter continue to teach food enthusiasts, including teens, how to employ the alchemy of fresh local food and traditional cooking techniques to transform the ingredients into delicious meals.  

One of the remarkable things that make the Hamptons such a sweet spot according to Anna is its proximity to the water and air. The beaches remain very pristine. There are no commercial entities allowed on the beaches in the Saganopick and Southampton area she explains. “People like the ruralness of the area – not only the great beaches but also the local farms and the farm stands and access to the just-picked fruits and vegetables and artisanal cheeses.  “It’s real here,” she adds. 
Anna is real too, and has remained so, amidst a wave of celebrity.

“The Hamptons is exceptionally beautiful,” she further rhapsodizes. 
In early spring, Anna described how’d she’d just picked some ornamental pear tree branches for a bouquet to put in the store. She is equally romantic and enthusiastic about her flowering cherries and chives.  She narrates how her garden herbs of oregano, thyme, and lemon balm are “Eight inches tall already. I have a whole row of that and the sage is coming back.”

There is an enchanting, delicate balance to be found in Anna’s Hamptons:  sophisticated and rural, charming and simple.  

And utterly unforgettable.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Walk the GreenMarket with Mitch & Toni’s Chef Mitchell SuDock, Followed by Meet, Greet, Eat & book signing at Dolphin Books

Saturday, June 21st foodies and fans of Chef Mitchell SuDock and Long Island homegrown food are in for a triple treat. 

Acclaimed chef, Mitchell SuDock is executive chef and co-owner of the award-winning Mitch & Toni’s American Bistro, located in Albertson.  The restaurant was recently voted one of Long Island’s Best New Restaurants.

Chef Mitchell is also a featured chef in this Examiner’s just-released book: “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.”  In its firsts book review, Long Island Newsday wrote: The just-published ‘The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook’ by Leeann Lavin is a full-color love letter to Long Island restaurants and farms. Lavin profiles 27 of LI's top chefs, each of them paired with a local grower who supplies them with food….”

The Farmers’ Market
Beginning at approximately 9 am, Chef Mitchell will walk the local GreenMarket in Port Washington, as he does most every day the market is open.
Chef Mitchell will be selecting fresh, homegrown ingredients to inspire his weekend menu, along with gathering the local produce and herbs for the Penne with Basil Pesto he will cook at the Dolphin Bookshop’s Meet, Greet & Eat Event immediately following the market walk. 
Chef Mitchell will be looking for the freshest Long Island basil, corn, string beans, and tomatoes for his standout Penne dish, as well as for his famous and much-loved Market Vegetable Salad with Buttermilk and Dill Dressing. Both are a sensory experience.

According to the market, “The Port Washington Organic Farmers' Market is the only completely organic market in New York State. The market is open on Saturday mornings from 8 to 12 at the Town Dock off Main Street.
They feature fresh organic produce from Long Island, goat cheese, honey, organic bread and baked goods, flowers, our famous "market muffins" and scones, and fantastic organic coffee (with organic milk and organic sugar!).
The market is a sustainable living project of Grassroots Environmental Education, a non-profit organization based in Port Washington. Our market was recently featured in the Region section of the New York Times.
Book signing at Dolphin Books
Just around the corner from the Farmers’ Market is The Dolphin Bookshop. where the Meet, Greet & Eat Book signing will take place. 
Serving the community for more than 65 years, The Dolphin Bookshop web site notes: “Come meet the author Chef Mitchell SuDock of the new book "Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook" as he signs his book and prepares a featured recipe. (Penne with Basil Pesto and Market Vegetable Salad)
Chef Mitchell and the author, this Examiner, will talk about the making of the book and the importance of showcasing homegrown ingredients to create recipes that are seasonally delicious and authentic to produce the region’s distinctive cuisine; best prepared by Chef Mitchell.
Chef provided three of his Farm-Forward recipes for the book:
  • ·      Pistachio-Crusted Halibut
  • ·      Grilled Octopus
  • ·      Spiced Roasted Venison Loin

Excerpt from Chef Mitchell’s Food Story Profile featured in The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook:

Mitchell says being exposed to fresh-from-the-farm ingredients early in his restaurant career helped him establish his own cooking philosophy so that in 2004, when he opened Bistro M in what was formerly a Long Island candy store, he knew food from local producers would be the basis for his menus.
 When Mitchell was growing up on Long Island, his family had a modest ornamental vegetable garden in their yard, along with wild mint and a spot for growing basil. Today, at his successful Nick & Toni’s American Bistro restaurant, Mitchell grows the same plants for garnishes. His brother and sister-in-law bring him fresh fruits and vegetables from their garden’s end-of-summer surplus, as does one of Mitchell’s neighbors. And Nick & Toni’s American Bistro manager has a neighbor who simply leaves foodstuffs on their doorstep. The bounty of Long Island is such that it turns the locals into botanical Robin Hoods.
Mitchell is happy to once again be close to the Long Island farms he knew growing up, including the Rottkamp Farm, located a few miles from his restaurant. The Rottkamps are part of a Long Island farming dynasty that goes back generations. Today, these two Rottkamp farmers are brothers, married to two French sisters, Anne Marie and Michelle, who help manage the 150-acre farm along with their husbands. Mitchell rediscovered the Rottkamp Farm when setting out to establish his farm resources for Bistro M.
“I grew up on a Long Island street where my family’s backyard bordered the Rottkamp Farm and Rottkamp Lane,” Mitchell says. “My friends and I would sneak onto the farm and have vegetable fights before the farmers would chase us off.”
Food purveyors continually offer to get him anything at any time of year, but Mitchell says cooking with out-of-season or out-of-state food is not what he wants to do. “Why would I want to get peaches from Ohio or Ojai? . . . We already lost one generation to Betty Crocker,” he says with restrained judgment. While it seems like restaurants would buy from local farmers as a matter of course, Mitchell points out that many restaurants don’t. For example, there was a restaurant across the street from him who didn’t work with fresh ingredients. When he asked them why, he was told, “It’s too much of a bother and hassle.”
“I just don’t understand that philosophy, especially when the farm is less than a half mile away,” he says.
Mitchell sometimes thinks of himself as a teacher for the restaurant’s staff and customers, and he finds that customers are always eager to learn more about what they are eating. Mitchell leaves the kitchen most nights to greet his guests, urging them to try this or that. Sometimes customers are ambivalent about eating something they haven’t had before, preferring the familiar or safe, so he sends out things for them to try. The food’s quality and extraordinary taste have earned him not only followers, but also glowing, three-star reviews from the New York Times, Newsday, and Zagat.
Mitchell is so keen to expose more people to good food that he has produced a series of successful tasting events. He creates new Mitch & Toni’s Bistro menus every week with daily additions in each of the categories, based on market conditions. Out of respect for their work and contributions to the restaurant’s success, he includes the names of local farmers and fishermen on the Mitch & Toni’s Bistro menu.
The biggest changes he sees coming in the world of Long Island food are “how [regular] things get redefined,” which suggests that Mitchell SuDock is already looking at things in a new way, using the limitless, local possibilities waiting to be rediscovered.

Images from the book's photo session with Chef Mitchell:

Me/Author with Chef Mitchell after long, seasonally hot photo session!

Mitch & Toni’s American Bistro: 516-741-7940

Recipe for Success: YouTube Campaign Kicks Off “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook Launch”
Publisher launches first-ever YouTube Ad Campaign for The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.
With the production of its first-ever YouTube advertising campaign, Quayside Publishing is betting on the power of Google’s YouTube channel to reach the vast food and drink enthusiast audience for “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook.”
The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook YouTube Advertising Video:
Acknowledging the continued, passionate interest in food, cooking, and producing artisanal ingredients, as well as a burgeoning interest in cultivating a Hamptons lifestyle, an compelling and fascinating YouTube video episode ad offers a unique opportunity to showcase the natural beauty, distinctive, inspired cuisine, food stories and recipes as told in the rare collection of chef and grower profiles celebrated in the Long Island Cookbook.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How To Interview The Best Homegrown Chefs for the Cookbook

The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook is the publisher’s most successful pre-order to date and with the book’s retail launch just a month ago, I took stock of the process and life journey to reflect upon the experiences that got the book to this exciting extraordinary publication milestone.
This post is about the first Long Island interviews with the Chefs and the growers who most inspire them.  I bonded with them from the start.  This is how I could write about these artists with respect and love.  I am thrilled that “Newsday” described the book thus: 

“The just-published “The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook” by Leeann Lavin is a full-color love letter to Long Island restaurants and farms. Lavin profiles 27 of LI's top chefs, each of them paired with a local grower who supplies them with food. The chefs all contributed three recipes….”

Book Reflections:

Dragonflies were dancing in the air, the sun was rising languidly - like it was heavy with a hangover or too full - and I was on the first ferry out of the Garden State’s Atlantic Highlands marina. 
From my smartphone, I pecked out an email to the executive chef at Nick & Toni’s restaurant, Chef Joe Realmuto, and his farmers, Balsam Farms’ Alex Balsam and Ian Calder-Piedmont, along with The Peconic Land Trust’s Scott Chaskey – the farmer who first worked the garden at the restaurant.
“Good morning, lads.  I’m on the first leg of my adventure.” I reconfirmed our interview appointment for the book later that week.

It was July 2009, the last week employees of the Botanic Garden could take the required furlough, er, week without pay (it was the start of much budget-cutting maneuvers). 
I planned to put my week off to good use and scheduled a few days on the East End to conduct the interviews needed for the book. 
I began the adventure with the ferry to town (Manhattan) to catch the Hamptons jitney to journey to the East End. 
It was a splendid start and filled with anticipation.

Upon advice from local friends, I booked my stay at The American Hotel in Sag Harbor. 
The staff and patrons were just like old friends – from day one. 
That’s also when I saw Billy Joel stop in for lunch.  He was right there – on the porch.
The hotel is all wood and creaky in the right spots: a magazine ad for Ralph Lauren came to mind. Except this is real.  

My editors had asked me to add in some chefs from the Hamptons for what was then the first book in the series, the Master Chefs and their Gardens of New York – as in City.
So this East End adventure was to interview the chefs who passed the screening and scrutiny from my extensive research, indicating they were true homegrown culinary artists. 
Chef Anna Pump agreed to a phone interview, as did chefs Gerry Hayden and Claudia Fleming from The North Fork Table & Inn.

The Hamptons Bicycle Travel Tour

To this day I don’t regret doing the region via a bicycle.  
It's been said, "The best thing about a biking holiday is how you experience a place differently and get a feel for its way of life." I couldn't agree more.

I rented a bike across the street from the American Hotel and rode from Sag Harbor to my East Hampton and North Fork interviews.

Altogether, it was some 40-plus miles on the bike.  It sounds a bit more romantic than it was – the highway between the villages being just an open road. 

Biking around Sag Harbor and across Shelter Island to the North Fork was lovely.
It was pure enchantment to glide onto the ferryboats to and from Shelter Island to get to the opposite tines of the Two Forks – and to watch the land slip away on one side and emerge on the other. 
In between: a nice time to dream.  With seagulls circling overhead in the clear blue sky.  Passing pleasure and fishing boats. Looking forward to the chefs and farmers I was to talk to; it was a grand interlude.

I got turned ‘round a bit on my trip to interview Chef Michael Rozzi in the East Hampton restaurant Della Femina.  (now the East Hampton Grill).
The bike shop said go to the end of 27 and take a left.  I must’ve turned too soon at what seemed like the end and well, I “ended” up circling around wooded hills, of all things, (overall, it’s rather flat there) dotted by some pretty big homes.  This being mid-week, there really were no cars on the road, which was nice. But not so good when it came to asking somebody for directions. 

Finally, my pride set aside, I stopped and called chef Michael to let him know of the situation as I was now going to be late for the interview.
Well, it was nothing short of a fairy tale miracle. 
Chef and his wife were “right around the corner” or what passes for a corner in that wooded area. 
In no more time than it takes to say East Hampton – they found me and my Little Red Riding Hood dilemma, whisking the bike and me to the restaurant.

Chef Michael Rozzi
There is an innate ease about Chef Michael, and he was a good interview. He is a natural storyteller. We talked at length about the early days of the Hamptons: Baymen, farm stands and fishermen, his culinary school education, restaurant training and garden ingredient inspirations. 
Chef Michael drove me back to Sag Harbor, too.  After all, I had to change and get ready for dinner. He invited me to be a guest of the restaurant! I enjoyed fresh, Long Island oysters – my favorite, bass, local Long Island wine, homemade catsup – using the bruised tomatoes from Balsam Farms, homemade Long Island potato chips and fresh berry homemade ice cream.  Good think I wasn’t riding my back to the hotel after this delicious meal!  

The Next Day
However, bike riding back to East Hampton for the Chef Joe Realmuto and farmer interviews at Nick & Toni’s the following day, I had no real experience to gauge the travel time -- having been “lost” and then driven back.
When I arrived at the fabled restaurant a tad late, the very tall Chef Joe – made all the more imposing because he was standing on the stone wall of the restaurant’s garden - gazed down upon me and asked, “You rode your bike here?  From Sag Harbor?”
I felt a tad awkward.
“Yes.” I had to confess, while dismounting.   “Is that weird?” I countered, hoping to get to the root of the issue.
“Well, kinda,” he replied, looking a bit askance. Or was it curious approval?

And that was my introduction…
I enjoyed a very interesting interview in the beautiful, art-filled Nick & Toni’s restaurant with Chef Joe and the three farmers. 
They all appeared cautious, yet I could sense there existed incredible authenticity among these working professionals and that is readily apparent from their stories.  There was genuineness in describing their work, seemingly confounded that anyone would write a book about their daily challenges. To them it was just a matter of “this is what we do.”

Scott Chaskey, poet, farmer and author, had written a very successful and seminal book:  This Common Ground: Seasons on an Organic Farm and he was spot-on in his responses to my questions about growing and eating local food.  Bear in mind that in 2009, locavore and eating local food had not yet blossomed onto the main stage yet. 
Chaskey was already an organic farming expert and not surprisingly, that is why Jeff Salaway, the husband partner with his wife Toni Ross, selected Chaskey to advise on making the kitchen garden at the restaurant.
And if I knew last fall that Scott was so friendly with Christie Brinkley, I would’ve tapped him for an introduction to ask Ms. Brinkley for a book comment or “blurb.”  
(Hate that moniker: book blurb… sounds crass but that is the publishing terminology.)

But I digress… 

Below, at the end of this post, is the initial full-length edited profile for Chef Joe and his farmers where you can read in detail about this team’s pioneering leadership and passion for fresh-from-the-garden ingredients long before it became fashionable anywhere – even in the tony Hamptons.
That is why I sought these chefs and their growers. They have been at the vanguard – nay the ramparts - of creating culinary art using only the best local ingredients. 
Farmer's Market Fridays @ Nick & Toni's

Chef Joe Realmuto, Nick & Toni's Photo Shoot for the book
Farmers Ian and Scott (R)

Chef Joe Realmuto in the Nick & Toni's Kitchen Garden video

I returned to Sag Harbor via the bicycle, thank you very much. 

Day 3
And the next day I luxuriated in the bike trip from Sag Harbor, across Shelter Island, to the North Fork’s Satur Farms. The rolling scenery was exquisite. I fell in love with the farmland and sandy beaches on this patch of historic island and retreat. 

The vast farmland area here seemed endless, stretching to the horizon. I arrived in bucolic Cutchogue to be met here again with Chef and now farmer Eberhard Muller, exclaiming about my bike transportation. 
“Jesus Christ! You rode your bike here!” was chef  Eberhard’s incredulous first “hello.” 
Too funny.

In no time at all, I was in the cab of Chef Eberhard’s truck that looked like something straight out of the “Grapes of Wrath.”
We were soon driving at what I thought was a bit of a breakneck speed through the fields of their extensive farm: nearly 200 acres of colorfully planted, pristine rows of vegetables, herbs and spices.  
Over bumps and around workers who he called out to, swerves to get round to give some direction on the picking and loading of the fresh produce on their Satur-branded trucks to distribute directly – that very same day -- to restaurants and food markets in town and the tri-state area.
I had my notepad, video and still camera, and recorder to balance while writing down chef’s answers to the questions. Over the din of the truck’s engine.  

I was earnestly trying to make the best use of chef’s time and get everything I needed and look professional. 
But in hindsight, it was all pretty comical. Balancing is a lost art…

Chef Eberhard possesses an amazing biography and his profile could be a book unto itself.  Along with his wife Paulette, who is the horticultural brains and talent behind their successful Satur Farms operation, I’m sure they can write one in the future. 
The couple turned their love and their love of fresh, homegrown produce into a very successful business, making up the rules, writing the business plan, and creating the infrastructure as they went along.  
Every chef in the New York metro area, along with loyal food store customers, are grateful for their commitment to growing real, fresh, flavorful food, and the pioneering leadership to build an operation that gets it to the rest of us.

Their home on the farm is rather Andrew Wyeth looking and perfect for entertaining their food-focused friends and family  -- and media, who often come calling.

I left Satur Farms impressed and proud.

I rode my bike back to Sag Harbor with relished abandon – and purpose. I had to make it to the bike shop before it closed. I was to leave the quaint fishing village of Sag Harbor the next day and didn’t want to pay another day’s rental.

Like a movie script – the two ferries – one from the North Fork to Shelter Island and then Shelter Island to Sag Harbor – arrived in port just as I pedaled up to the docks where they tie up to welcome passengers – on foot, in-cars, or on bikes.   
I raced over the last bridge and glided into the bike shop just before they locked up.

Satisfied, I knew I was in for a well-deserved treat. 
I met The American Hotel garden designer and caretaker, baker and garden writer, Peter Garnham for martini’s and fresh local oysters at the well-appointed bar. 
We had a grand time. 
I met a lot of wonderful, helpful and friendly people there. Everybody seemed so accomplished too.

Edited, First Draft of Chef Joe Realmuto Profile from the first manuscript: (longer version!)
Chef Joe Realmuto

There is perhaps no better example of the nexus of kitchen, garden, and fine art than Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton, Long Island.
Launched more than twenty years ago as the love child of husband-and-wife team Jeff Salaway and Toni Ross, Nick & Toni’s has been a phenomenal success from the start. The two Manhattan restaurateurs were also acclaimed fine artists and avowed environmentalists with an unfailing commitment to local foods and the culinary arts. The dining rooms, terraces, and onsite garden at Nick & Toni’s are graced with fine art, and the menu illustrates their commitment to keeping local food on the plates.
It was a love of food and gardens that originally led Salaway and Ross to move to the Hamptons and grow food with a group of like-minded twenty-somethings in the area’s community of farms. They were influenced by their travels to Europe and the Old World way of thinking that “if you have a restaurant, you have a garden!” Four years after they launched the restaurant, they invited gardening instructor Scott Chaskey from Quail Hill Farm, a stewardship project of the Peconic Land Trust, and his team of farmers and horticulturalists to lend their expertise to the restaurant’s onsite kitchen garden. It took four years to carve out the garden, Chaskey recalls. Today, he and his team use cover crops of winter rye and field peas or bell beans (legumes), dunk all plants into a fish emulsion before planting, and religiously add four tons of compost every year. Delineating the edge of the garden are sculptures by Salaway, who died in a car accident in 2001. His artistic works serve as the perfect transition between the garden’s picturesque fruits and vegetables and the culinary art Chef Joe Realmuto creates in the kitchen. Having worked at Nick & Toni’s for nearly twenty years, Joe has grown up steeped in the owners’ farm-to-table credo and follows it in his menus.
Joe recognizes the ongoing influence he can exert on the local-food movement, given his position and the restaurant’s mission. Consequently, he invests his time and talents in a number of education-based outreach efforts, including one-on-one conversations with customers, staff training, in-school gardening and cooking programs for students and their teachers, and sponsorship of community events.
Joe works closely with Chaskey and his team to plan the a season’s succession of plantings in the restaurant’s garden. Introducing new and different varieties of foods adds interest to the growing season.
“We usually repeat a lot of things from one year to the next, but part of the joy of the garden is discovering these new things and figuring out what to do with them,” Joe says. He describes with relish the year he and his chefs were picking vegetables in the garden and spotted some knobby-looking items.
“They looked like orange zebra-striped heirloom tomatoes,” Joe says. The chefs had no idea what they were. Turns out they were Turkish heirloom eggplants. “Freaky but delicious!” he says.
Chaskey echoes the chef’s sentiment about finding new foods: “Farming is a lot of tractoring and hoeing. Part of our joy is discovering and growing new and exciting plant varieties.”
Joe cultivates not only his relationship with Chaskey and the restaurant garden, but also his one-on-one connections with local farmers, such as Ian Calder-Piedmonte and Alex Balsam, owners of Balsam Farms. A large part of the food Joe uses that isn’t harvested from the restaurant’s own garden comes from Balsam Farms, and the Nick & Toni’s chef helps decide what the farm plants. For example, in March, he’ll sit down with the farmers and their catalogs and select foods he knows he’ll want for the seasonal themes the restaurant has established.
“It’s nice to be able to work directly with Alex and Ian and tell them what we want. We need herbs and vegetables and fruit for our Italian recipes rather than some of the Asian greens they were growing—and they can do that for us,” Joe says.
For Alex and Ian’s part, “We love working with someone who appreciates the subtle differences and more obscure crops we grow,” Alex says. The farm couldn’t survive if it merely grew staples such as tomatoes and corn. Working directly with chefs in the area allows growers to explore and experiment with heirloom and unusual, new varieties. It also allows them bring their produce to a wider clientele. Local chefs like Joe encourage people to understand the provenance of the food they’re eating and why it’s important to know the sources of their food.
The intensive staff training at Nick & Toni’s ensures that the front line is well informed about the in-season, fresh foods on the menu. Daily staff meetings include sampling the day’s menu additions. At the end of the session, everyone—from the busboy to the waiters—is expected to not only recite the menu, but also be able to explain where the foods originated.
The menu itself tells the story of the food. Printed daily, it includes descriptions of the recipes, a history of the farmer and the farm where the ingredients were grown, the reason Nick & Toni’s has chosen the food as part of the slow-food movement, and the reason the particular food is good for the community and the environment. Even the green hickory that’s used for the barbecue and the oak used in the restaurant’s signature wood-burning oven is from local sources.
When asked if he can taste the terroir of a garden fresh vegetable or fruit, Joe says, “I can taste the sweetness of the just-picked corn versus the day-or-more-old variety. I can taste the freshness.”
Joe came to cooking by way of his cultural heritage. Part of a happy Italian family that celebrated food, Joe and his siblings worked at the Villa Russo, a local Italian catering hall in Queens, where they grew up. His first job there was running food from the kitchen to the buffet table. Later, at age sixteen, he nabbed an opportunity to work in the kitchen. He worked every night after school, prepping for the weekend events, and then on Saturday and Sunday he worked doubles prepping for the catering-hall parties.
“A lot of my social life was built around my work,” he says. Consequently, he hung out with chefs, who, in turn, tempered his outlook about food and his career.
After graduating from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1993, he worked briefly at the River Café in New York City. Called “the Harvard Business School of the culinary world” and “the restaurant that launched a thousand chefs,” the River Café was an ideal place to begin a career. It is also widely acknowledged as the first restaurant to seek out regional growers and artisanal food producers and to build relationships with them (as opposed to “dialing and buying” in bulk from wholesale suppliers). In this environment, Joe was introduced to a nascent and emerging approach to fresher food resources.
When Joe started at Nick & Toni’s in 1993, the prospects for local farmers were bleak. Many were suffering; far-away agribusinesses had gutted their ability to continue farming. They couldn’t afford to ignore the real estate bonanza being offered to them—the land values were too high. For many, there seemed no alternative to selling their farms.
But with the new millennium came the new farm-to-table and slow-food movements. Farms started to make a comeback, albeit in a different footprint. Today’s family farms are smaller—some are only an acre or half an acre—and grow a variety of foods. Selling wholesale to restaurants accounts for almost 80 percent of their volume. And with the support of their partner chefs, growers look to stretch their food-producing seasons with cold frames.
The products from these local sources fit right in with Joe’s “simple is better; simple is more” approach to cooking. His ideal simple-is-better meal: a delicious panzanella salad made with fresh-caught striped bass, just-picked basil, lettuce, and tomatoes, mixed with home-baked, now-stale bread croutons.
“That’s an incredible fresh meal with flavors that just burst!” he says. “To be able to go out to pick arugula from the garden so that it’s got bite and is peppery, and get tomatoes that are sweet, no starch in them—nothing can compare with that. I’ve always appreciated the product more than the technique. The biggest thing for me is freshness. It is the undeniable essence of flavor.”
As part of Nick & Toni’s fresh-from-the-garden paradigm and its support for local farmers and artisanal food makers, Jeff Salaway worked to provide Bridgehampton’s Hayground School with a state-of-the-art kitchen/classroom supported by a science lab, garden, and greenhouse. According Lukas Weinstein, the school’s administrative coordinator, “At Hayground, the three Rs can sometimes stand for recipe, roast, and roux, since one of our most innovative features is Jeff’s Kitchen.”
Says Toni Ross, “Jeff believed that the growing, preparation, and sharing of food is a primal human experience and the foundation of family and community.” To date, local celebrity chefs have donated nearly a million dollars for the completion of Jeff’s Kitchen.
Joe and the restaurant’s staff are also teaching children how to grow and cook their own food as part of Spring Seedlings, an edible-schoolyard project Joe and fellow chef Bryan Futerman of Foody’s restaurant established Springs, Long Island. Their efforts helped erect twenty-by-fifty-foot greenhouses at Springs Public School in East Hampton and hired food educators to work with the school’s teachers.
As Joe and his “family of farmers” think of the future, they look for ways to keep the farm-to-table movement going. The most important task now is helping local farmers fight the temptation to sell their farmland, which is worth so much more for development than it is for agriculture. Fortunately, local homeowners and the tourist industry recognize the importance of keeping Long Island farms alive.
“They [the community] want us to succeed,” says Ian Calder-Piedmonte of Balsam Farms.
And if Joe Realmuto has anything to do with it, they will. Together, chefs like Joe and farms like Balsam are connecting food and people in a meaningful and enduring way.