By Gianna Volpe
Local chef George Hirsch is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his popular public television program, “Living It Up” with a new WLIW series featuring some of the East End’s brightest culinary artisans.
Ninety-percent of the new public television series “George Hirsch Lifestyle” features Hirsch’s instruction on creating a dish, whether that be an appetizer, entrée or dessert, from his Sag Harbor kitchen studio, but Hirsch said his instructional approach is more focused on technique than on recipe.
“If I’m making an apple strawberry rhubarb pie, I’m not going to be teaching you how to make an apple strawberry rhubarb pie, I’m really going to be showing you how to make a pie,” he said. “Ninety-nine and nine-tenths of chefs, for example, don’t prepare pies right. If you look at the bottom of the slice, is it baked on the bottom? Chances are, it’s not. I give very, very simple tips on handling the dough; the actual process and foundation of making the dish.”
Mr. Hirsch, disappointed with the majority of modern culinary programming, said he hoped to spark a reformation with the creation of “George Hirsch Lifestyle.”
“I just felt like I needed to bring cooking shows back to what cooking shows are about – teaching people about food,” Mr. Hirsch said of the new program, which features “field trips” to the kitchens of East End chefs, vintners, bakers and turophiles alongside his classic instructional recipe demonstrations.
“Today you’re more likely to see confrontational, competition-based shows…it takes the emphasis away from trained chefs who have spent years honing their craft.”
Though Mr. Hirsch’s first TV series, “Living it Up,” had East End segments peppered throughout,
Mr. Hirsch’s new public television series is throwing an exclusive spotlight onto those dedicated to honing their craft in Long Island’s agricultural enclave.
“Lately there’s just been an explosion of artisans on the East End,” he said. “Producers, brewers, vintners, cheese-makers, farmers markets; the so-called appetite in people to really get to the core essence of food really has grown.”
To meld instruction with Mr. Hirsch’s excursions along the North and South Forks, he said instructional segments would correspond to his visits to local producers.
“If I’m showing you how to make a pie then I’ll be visiting Halsey Farms with John Halsey,” he said. “How do you get any better than going to a family that’s farmed since the 1600s?”
So far, Mr. Hirsch has already visited Sag Harbor’s own Cavaniola’s Gourmet Cheese Shop and will again highlight Sag Harbor in his next program when he visits the Sag Harbor Baking Company’s ‘M&M girls,’ life-long friends and founders Mimi Yardley and Margaret Brooks. Mr. Hirsch has also visited local soda maker, Theo Foscolo, of Miss Lady Small Batch Root Beer, which recently released a new cream soda.
“We went through the actual process of making a root beer,” Mr. Hirsch said of his time spent with the head of the entrepreneurial soda start-up. “He could be the next Brown’s Soda.”
Another East End mainstay on the culinary scene featured in the show is executive chef of the 1770 House, Michael Rozzi, who Mr. Hirsch called a culinary “jewel” in the region.
“It’s not just the food that is so amazing to me, but the stories and passion behind them,” he said of those who are featured in his new locally-focused series, adding he has found pleasure in exposing the public to the gorgeous and historic area he calls home.
“We live in the most beautiful place in the world, not even the country, and while the Hamptons is known as the eight-to-ten week summer playground, it’s the other 42 weeks of the year that are absolutely magical.”
Mr. Hirsch, who has lived in Sag Harbor for almost 15 years, has an extensive resume as both a chef and educator. The Culinary Institute of America graduate was even picked out of 500 to serve as the private executive chef for the late chairman John “Jack” Bierworth of Grumman Corp., where Mr. Hirsch often served meals to various heads of state and high profile guests.
But despite his culinary pedigree, Mr. irsch, who was raised in a very Italian household, said he tries not to let accolades go to his head.
“I think it’s because of my upbringing – my family roots – that my philosophy is, ‘You’re only as good as your next dish’,” he said. “But the end of the day I don’t take it too seriously. I’m just a cook; I’m just trying to bring a little bit of joy, a little bit of pleasure into peoples’ lives.”
George Hirsch Lifestyle can be seen Sundays at 2:30 p.m. on WLIW/21.