By Kathryn G. Menu
Some might imagine dinner at home with Steve Haweeli, the founder of Hamptons Restaurant Week, to be a three-course affair, mirroring the detail and occasional decadence found in his client’s kitchens. But the WordHampton Public Relations President stays true to his New England roots, preferring simple, fresh and often classic cuisine he learned in his family’s Berlin, New Hampshire home.
On Monday afternoon, Haweeli prepared some of his standard at-home staples — ham salad from a recipe his father, Norman, was fond of, a split pea soup he crafted over the weekend and pickles using his Lebanese grandmother’s technique and sensibility that food is not to be wasted.
“My dad was the cook,” said Haweeli. “He wasn’t that experimental, but he had a good touch in terms of using spices. He had a pretty decent repertoire. He had that 1950s, early 1960s American sensibility of meatloaf or American goulash — noodles mixed with ground beef, onions and seasoning. He made a great pea soup and among other things there was the ham salad.”
Haweeli’s late father liked to combine chunks of spiral ham, a little mayonnaise, sweet gherkins, red onion, cloves and black pepper to create the New England staple.
“Nicole actually demands this of me,” said Haweeli of WordHampton’s Executive Vice President Nicole Starr Castillo. The dish can be enjoyed on a sandwich, crackers or even on its own, he added. “I also make pickles. Again, it’s a family recipe.”
Haweeli has cultivated his own recipe for success at his East Hampton-based public relations firm with Hamptons Restaurant Week, which kicks off its eighth season Sunday, March 21, and runs through March 28.
Food enthusiasts across the East End can enjoy unique, three-course prix fixe menus at a host of participating restaurants on the North and South Forks for either $19.95 or $24.95. From Montauk’s East by Northeast to Southold’s esteemed North Fork Table and Inn, residents can experience a variety of dining experiences over the course of the week, with some establishments also offering wine discounts, and hotels offering deals on accommodations as part of the promotional event.
Haweeli began Hamptons Restaurant Week in 2002 at the urging of Jerry Della Femina, owner of East Hampton’s Della Femina restaurant. After exploring the concept, Haweeli realized it would be a success, albeit with some hard work.
“It works because we understand restaurants, we understand how to get publicity,” he said.
While Haweeli often enjoys several meals out during restaurant week, it is at home where he says he finds great comfort in food — food often derived from an almost unconscious connection to the cuisine of his childhood.
Both Haweeli’s parents grew up in Berlin, in New Hampshire’s “North Country” which he joked his uncle “called God’s country because no one else wanted it.” Haweeli also grew up with his grandmother, who immigrated from what was then Syria (now Lebanon) in 1905.
“She had a very large garden,” he remembered. “Like anyone else from abroad or from the time of the Depression, she did not let anything go to waste, so cucumbers became pickles, tomatoes were pickled.”
Family tradition inspired Haweeli to get a plot at the East End Community Organic Farm (EECO Farm) in East Hampton, where the vegetables in his pickle jars are cultivated. In addition to family traditions, Haweeli admitted his diet at home is also largely driven by an often hectic schedule.
“With the exception of a Sunday afternoon soup, everything has to be made in a half hour,” he said.
In his own kitchen, Haweeli focuses on fresh, local if possible, produce, canning homemade basil pesto, which he tops on his favorite Mystic frozen pizzas as well as fresh pasta, and storing fresh tomato sauce to see him through the winter.
“I actually eat a lot of salads,” he said. “I have a thing for cheddar cheese, so I will put some of that in there, I might put some grapes in. I try to use good ingredients. Right now, I am using Tunisian olive oil I picked up on a trip this year.”
On the job, Haweeli said he tries to order dishes not often created in his own kitchen, like duck, although traditional pastas have a place in his heart.
“A lot of chefs — chefs who are chef chefs, really don’t like to serve pastas, but I like it,” he said. “I find it nourishing. It just makes me feel good.”
“I used to work at Nick & Toni’s many years ago as a bar manager,” adds Haweeli, “and the chef at the time, Paul Del Favero, was a classically trained French chef and one of the things he did a fantastic job with was cassoulet. He made it like a Frenchman.”
Top: Steve Haweeli whips together a batch of ham salad based on his father’s recipe. (K. Menu photo)
Hamptons Restaurant Week
Sag Harbor Eateries:
Il Capuccino Ristorante (30 Madison Street, 725-2747)
Oasis (3253 Noyac Road, 725-7110)
Phao Thai Kitchen (29 Main Street, 725-0101)
Tutto Il Giorno (6 Bay Street, 725-7009)
For a full list of participating restaurants, visit www.hamptonsrestaurantweek.com.