Cooking, Fishing and Farming in the Hamptons is Perfect Now
Sungold Cherry Tomatoes
I live in East Hampton, NY. All year long. I have done this for twenty-two years. I recently, as of this past Sunday, retired from my chef gig. I have had two employers in all of those years.
For most of a year East Hampton is home to about 21,000 people. It has a long history of erudite families using the area as a place of summer fun and sun. The beaches are awesome and the shopping is on par with Madison Avenue and Via Spiga. These qualities draw many of the most important media, movie, advertising, Wall Street and socializing crowds out here for the summer season. My old boss, Jerry Della Femina, was always fond of saying that people don’t come to the Hamptons to get away from it all, they come out to be a part of the scene. After twenty-two summers I can back him up on that claim.
Over the course of my time out here I can confirm that I have cooked for a few bold-faced names and by that I mean the names from every sector of popular culture. Celebrities from Hollywood. Wall Street movers and shakers. Media titans and internet start-up entrepeneurs. Real housewives and celebrity chefs. Washed up stars and future stars and tennis players and baseball players and NBA players. I won’t even start with my two favorite groups of stars—the writers and the artists. Their presence has already been well documented here. Everyone comes to the Hamptons for the summer. It is “what you do” if you’re a celebrity.
But there is more to life in the Hamptons than serving celebrities. A lot more. And a lot of it has to do with the soil and the sea and the light. When I first came here in 1992 I quickly realized the importance of the sea for many of the locals and for the folks who come out to enjoy some leisure time. Fish rules the menus of most of the restaurants since we have Montauk only a few miles away. Spend a day out there watching all of the fishing boats coming in with squid, striped bass, black sea bass, flounder, fluke, swordfish and tuna — you will quickly grasp the importance of the sea.
A variety of cherry tomatoes
Wolffer Estate Winery
The wineries, which are mostly located on the north fork of eastern Long Island, have been around for quite a while. But in the last few years as the vines have aged and matured and the winemaking technique has evolved the local wines have found a national and international audience. We can proudly say that Long Island is home to some great juice!
Then there are the farms. When I first came out here most of the farmers grew potatoes and since then many of those fields have given way to McMansions. The price of land in the Hamptons, like the price of everything else out here, is very steep. Luckily for us a number of young farmers have transformed former potato fields into much more diverse operations. We can now buy locally raised produce for the restaurants. The potatoes are more likely to be fingerling potatoes and the other crops include kale, a huge variety of winter squash,leeks, eggplant, radishes,rapini, a number of types of heirloom tomatoes, beans, cabbage, radicchio, peppers, beets, spinach, lettuce and arugula.
Quail Hill Farm, Amagansett
When it comes to the ingredients we use in our local restaurants the end of May to the middle of November are the best time to cook and eat locally. In how many places in the United States do great produce, great fish and great wine coalesce to provide almost everything for the table? Those places are few and far between at best. At least it happens here.
I also published a version of this on medium.com