Tag Archive | "Bette Lacina"

Carrot Tasting Goes to the Root of the Vegetable

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Ric Kallaher photograhy

Ric Kallaher photograhy

By Kathryn G. Menu

Colin Ambrose

Colin Ambrose

It all started with a bland carrot.

Standing in his restaurant kitchen garden on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike in September of 2013, restaurateur and chef Colin Ambrose crunched down a newly harvested carrot fresh from the soil. It looked great—bright orange, long and tapered—but the flavor wasn’t there. Mr. Ambrose, who has been at the forefront of the local, fresh food movement on the East End since his days at the helm of the original Estia in Amagansett in the 1990s, hatched a plan then and there to gather together local farmers, gardeners and chefs in a growing experiment aimed at identifying keys to successfully cultivating different carrot varieties.

And the results were delicious.

Earlier this month, on a cool Wednesday before the first frost, a group of chefs, farmers and journalists gathered at Mr. Ambrose’s Estia’s Little Kitchen for a tasting of raw and blanched carrots produced as a part of this experiment, as well as a variety of composed dishes inspired by the multi-hued root vegetable. Mr. Ambrose had the event filmed, and hopes to make this an annual tradition—exploring various root vegetables with the experts that grow them, but also the East End chefs that serve them, specifically those that support local farms or have their own kitchen gardens.


The concept was simple. Mr. Ambrose ordered a control seed, the Scarlet Nantes Carrot, and distributed it to a select group of farmers. These included growers from poet/farmer Scott Chaskey, the director of the Peconic Land Trust’s Quail Hill Farm in Amagansett, Marilee Foster, a farmer and author who runs Foster Farm on Sagg Main Street in Sagaponack to Jeff Negron, a restaurant kitchen gardener who worked with Mr. Ambrose on his own garden, and who currently works the kitchen gardens at Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton and The Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton. Sag Harbor’s own Dale Haubrich, who owns Under the Willow Organics with Bette Lacina just yards away from the Little Kitchen, was also invited to participate. Each farmer also planted their own choice crop of carrots for the tasting and paired up with a local chef who presented a complete dish with carrots as inspiration.

Bay Burger manager and sous chef Andrew Mahoney presented a bright, light carrot panna cotta. Todd Jacobs, of Fresh Hamptons, also located on the Turnpike, offered zesty carrot fritters with a yogurt dipping sauce. Joe Realmuto and Bryan Futterman of Nick & Toni’s in East Hampton offered Harissa carrots, spicy and blanched perfectly, leaving just a slight crunch. Chris Polidoro, a private chef, offered steamed and lightly fried gyoza, and Topping Rose House pastry chef Cassandra Schupp presented mini carrot cake squares, moist and a nice sweet treat at the end of a row of savory dishes.

Mr. Ambrose, having the most fun with the subject, crafted McGregor’s Fall Garden Pie, filled with braised rabbit, leeks, kale, and of course, carrots, topped with luscious mashed potatoes.

And while the room, filled with friends, quieted as the food was served to satisfying groans of approval, it was when discussing the carrots, and the growing process, that it was most alive.

While Mr. Ambrose is a chef, and a restaurateur with a second Estia—Estia’s American—in Darien, Connecticut, it was on his grandmother’s garden in Whitewater, Wisconsin, that he truly developed a passion for food. Serving fresh, seasonal produce is something Mr. Ambrose has made a priority in his kitchens for over two decades. Five years ago he set out to create a kitchen garden like nothing the Little Kitchen had ever had before, working with Mr. Negron for three years before setting out on his own to tend to vegetables and fruits that make their way onto the restaurant’s breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.

Mr. Negron, who noted that Mr. Ambrose was the chef that gave him his first real chance at developing a formal kitchen garden for a commercial business, said for this exercise he grew Purple Haze carrots for Nick & Toni’s and a White Satin variety as well as a mixed bag of carrot varieties for The Topping Rose House.

Both Mr. Negron and Mr. Chaskey (“my guidance counselor in all things,” said Mr. Ambrose) noted that the Purple Haze variety of carrot has a hue that mimics the original carrot in vibrant bright purple with red and orange undertones. Carrots were then bred to the traditional orange hue, said Mr. Chaskey. Interestingly enough, he added, now at markets and on farms, requests for multi-colored, and purple carrots are on the rise, returning to the roots of that vegetable, so to speak. “Orange is not how they started, but we are going back to that,” he said.

Soil nutrients and composition, as well as seed variety and soil temperature, all play a role in the development of each carrot and the characteristics it will have in terms of its flavor profile.

“Today is November 12,” noted Mr. Ambrose at his event. “And it is kind of interesting to note that we have not had a hard frost yet. That was not part of the plan, but that is what happens with growing.”

Carrots, said Mr. Chaskey, become sweeter after the first hard frost—a seasonal moment that sets a natural timeline for when farmers want to harvest their carrot crop. An unseasonably warm fall, and the absence of a hard frost before Mr. Ambrose’s carrot tasting, led to more mild carrot varieties.

“I know one thing in planting,” said Mr. Ambrose, “If I plan on one thing, another is going to happen.”

“It’s kind of the year before that matters,” said Ms. Foster, talking about prepping soil for planting. “Is your pH where you want it?”

Ms. Foster plants her carrots in a raised bed, tilling the soil with a rototiller to allow for depth, but also greater germination. Keeping the soil damp throughout the growing process, she added, is key.

Once the seeds are set, said Mr. Chaskey, keeping an eye on weed growth is critical.

“Well, we don’t have weeds,” said Mr. Chaskey. “They are not allowed.”

“That is what you have to worry about because carrots take a long time to germinate—sometimes in the spring up to three weeks, so there are going to be some weed seeds that germinate before them, so the most important thing you can do is get ahead of the weeds.”

Thinning out the carrot crop, for size and shape, said Mr. Chaskey, is another choice each farmer must make.

“Then you just stand back, watch them grow, and then harvest.”

Mr. Chaskey said after this experiment he intends to plant the Bolero variety of carrot at Quail Hill next year–a hybrid carrot, although the farm traditionally does try and plant open pollinators as much as possible.

“It grew twice the size and it tastes better and has great storability,” said Mr. Chaskey of the Bolero.

As a chef, Mr. Jacobs, who works with Mr. Haubrich and Ms. Lacina for much of Fresh’s produce, said each season brings different challenges.

“One season, carrots might be great,” he said. “Another they might not be great. No two years are ever alike. We plant and we hope.”

“We all had different approaches, but the same goal, which was to put sustainably raised food on the table,” said Mr. Ambrose in an interview after the carrot tasting.

Next up? Beets, said Mr. Ambrose, who wants to spend the next 18 months working on a series of tastings revolving around root vegetables, ending likely with garlic.

“I would like to put together a series of informational videos for potential farmers and home cooks with enough collective knowledge to be able to set a bed, make choices in terms of seeds, learn about the growing cycle.”

“We need to start thinking more about the food we are producing and putting on the table,” said Mr. Ambrose. “Vegetables need to be given greater priority, and grains as well.”

While examining the big picture of sustainable food production, Mr. Ambrose said it just made sense to start at the root.



Sustaining an Organic Life in Sag Harbor

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web_Betty & Dale's Farm_9163_1

After growing up on his family’s farm in Ames, Iowa, where Dale Haubrich began his career as an organic farmer in 1978, the world had a dramatically different food culture, with only one state — California — certifying organic produce.

“I took crops to the grocery store in Ames, Iowa and was told it couldn’t be labeled organic because people would think there was something wrong with the other stuff,” said Haubrich. “Now, they knowthere is something wrong with the other stuff.”

For over 30 years since, Haubrich has dedicated his life, professionally and personally, to the organic foods movement, and is viewed on the East End of Long Island as a pioneer in the practice, which is more of a philosophy for Haubrich and Bette Lacina, his partner in business and life.

Haubrich and Lacina have spent the better part of two decades cultivating literal tons of organic produce on their Sag Harbor farm now known as Bette and Dale’s, formerly Under the Willow, just beyond Bay Burger restaurant on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike.

“The willow died,” explained Lacina.

Standing under a shed amid recycled cardboard produce boxes, just beyond the bright yellow farmstand teeming with tomatoes, squash, onions, peaches, zucchini, eggs and even corn — a notoriously difficult crop to grown organically — Lacina explained that she and Haubrich have strived to create a sustainable farm, not just an organic one.

“I never knew how hard sustainability can be,” said Lacina, while picking through and washing a second cut of the couple’s wildly popular arugula, which due to the heat this summer has a particularly spicy flavor. “Dale grew up this way. It is in his nature.”

“Dale is from the school of not wasting anything,” continued Lacina. “When you grow up on a farm, depending on everything you have, you save everything.”

After growing up on a family farm, Haubrich served in the army for four years and then studied microbiology in college, learning about plants and the diseases that affect them.

“I understand how they are infected in the first place,” he said. “Crop diversity is great, and important, in organic farming.”

After working with the United States Department of Agriculture, Haubrich became disillusioned, realizing his dream was to have a small, family farm. He studied horticulture, and while watching as farmers embraced new chemicals, felt the quick fix was not sustainable and settled into organics.

Following a woman from Queens to New York, Haubrich found himself an organic farmer in Southampton when he crossed paths with Lacina.

Lacina met Haubrich 18 years ago when she reached out to him, having sparked a personal interest in learning how to cultivate food and flowers without using chemicals.

“We met, and afterwards we became friends,” she said, delicately placing squash blossoms in a carton lined with newspaper. “Then he said, work with me. First we were business partners, and then we had a relationship.”

Haubrich and Lacina plant thousands of seedlings each spring, with over 80 varieties of vegetables and fruits between the seedlings and perennials grown on one-and-a-half acres between their Sag Harbor spread and another plot at East Hampton’s EECO Farm.

The couple also started raising chickens six years ago as a protein source for their diet, to create natural fertilizer for their farm and to eat discarded vegetables as not to waste a morsel of their crop.

“Dale’s specialty is making something out of a small piece of land,” said Lacina. “It’s all about rebuilding soil. We’re not damaging it, we are making it better.”

The couple also boasts a 2.5 acre farm south of Tucson, Arizona with Haubrich also working on creating a 40-acre pasture to raise grass fed, organic cattle in the future. They spend December 1 through April 1 in Arizona before returning to Sag Harbor for the remainder of the year.

Technically, Bette and Dale’s is not an organic farm by United States Department of Agriculture standards.

“We were certified organic for eight years, but then we bowed out in the face of industry-favored government standards,” said Lacina. “Instead, we take the Farmers Pledge.”

The Farmers Pledge, of the Northeast Organic Farming Association goes beyond what is required by federal guidelines, addressing labor issues, community values and marketing practices.”

“Our rules are stricter,” said Lacina. “There are no chemicals, no fertilizers. Everything is grown in compost.”

“This year was one of the best fruit seasons we have had,” said Lacina. “We didn’t have to deal with the mold or the fungus that comes with the rain.”

Peaches, she added, have also been particularly wonderful, and all of the crops due to early spring rains followed by intense heat have come into season two weeks early.

However, chimed in Haubrich, the drought has resulted in more difficulty cultivating crops like salad greens, which, along with the fruits, have needed a lot of extra watering this season.

“For some things the drought is good, for others it’s not — Leafy greens, for example,” said Lacina. “But the tomatoes and peppers — warm weather crops — are thriving.”

Bette and Dale’s farm is the only one that Haubrich and Lacina know of that grows organic corn, many organic farmers opting not to grow the crop at all or allowing minimal spraying to avoid the inevitable horn ear worm that will find its way into each ear of corn.

As Haubrich explained, the worm is not a dirty worm, “the only thing it has ever eaten is corn,” and the worm only eats a small portion of kernels at the top of the ear, leaving 90 percent of the vegetable untouched.

While they sell the corn in husk at their farmstand, Haubrich said they shuck the husk of the corn and cut off the top for sale at the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market, where the couple can be found each Saturday morning, to make it more palatable for the uninitiated.

Many though, are initiated, and Bette and Dale sell not only to East End residents, but also to a number of local restaurants, including Estia’s Little Kitchen and Espressos, and Bay Burger, as well as the Allegria Hotel in Long Beach, where former American Hotel chef Todd Jacobs serves as executive chef.

“We originally started delivering to him at the American Hotel in 1992,” remembered Haubrich. “He is committed to organic ingredients.”

“A lot of people do the talk, but don’t walk the walk,” he continued. “It’s just more convenient. Our ideal chef is one who we tell what we have and they plan a menu around what is available.”

Although attitudes have changed regarding the food we eat, particularly in the last decade, and with the organic movement still growing, Lacina is hopeful people are becoming more educated about sustainability, and would like to see more East End residents take a more proactive role.

“We live in an area where land is so valuable and yet a lot of people have five-acre lawns,” she said. “If that was converted to organic farming, we wouldn’t have much need for hunger on the East End.”

For those just dipping their toes into the realm of organic farming, she suggests crafting edible landscapes, which can be beautiful, yet useful, and do not contribute to groundwater pollution like many of the emerald green lawns of the Hamptons do.

For Lacina and Haubrich, the ideal East End would be one full of small, organic family farms with the farmers themselves turning out at the local farmers’ markets to sell their bounty.

“I think sustainable is sustainable,” said Haubrich. “People are more educated and I think there is hope. At least there is a good possibility.”

Local Goodies At The Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market

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August may have a number of downfalls on the East End – traffic, crowds, the impossibility of procuring a coveted parking space at any of our beautiful beaches – but it also brings with it a bounty of local produce, much of which can be found at the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market.

The Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market is held every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The market presents a unique opportunity to stock up on local fruits, vegetables, baked goods, cheese, honey, fish and shellfish at one Bay Street, Sag Harbor location.

By 10 a.m. the market is teeming with people, standing in line for some of Bette Lacina and Dale Haubrich’s organic vegetables, perusing the produce from Quail Hill, gaining insight from David Falkowski on the best preparations for his awe-inspiring mushrooms, or sampling the cheese from Art Ludlow’s Mecox Dairy stand.

When we arrived this past Saturday, just after 10 a.m., we had already missed out on Bette and Dale’s infamous mixed greens as well as their arugula, which quickly sells out each week. While we had visions of the nutty arugula complimenting one of our now daily local tomato salads, we were more than pleased with the yellow zucchini, red beets and heirloom tomatoes we happily tucked into our canvas bag. 

With plans to roast a chicken from Iacono Farm in East Hampton on Sunday, we knew a stop at David Falkowski’s Open Minded Organics stand was a must. Falkowski’s mushrooms are truly special, cultivated in Bridgehampton and picked the morning of the farmers’ market. While grocery stores, and especially luxury grocery chains like Citarella, now carry a variety of mushrooms, it is near impossible to ensure the freshness that Falkowski can deliver. In addition to procuring a brown paper sack filled to the brim with blue and yellow oyster mushrooms and the shitake variety, we also stuck around to listen to Falkowski ruminate on his favorite ways to prepare both his fresh mushrooms and the organic dry mushrooms he sells at his stand. 

While market goers focused on gathering their weekly produce certainly have a mecca in the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market, but it is not just the numerous vegetable and fruit stands and Falkowski mushrooms that make it special. The market has a number of local, speciality goods including shellfish and seafood from The Seafood Shop, baked goods from the Blue Duck Bakery and jellies and condiments from A Taste of the North Fork. Art Ludlow, of Mecox Farm Dairy, also offers a number of artisnal cheeses and a number of honey varieties from The Bees Needs are also on hand, for tasting and purchasing. 

It is the time of year where one can truly revel in the best of local fruits and vegetables, and in our household, not eating a tomato or a piece of corn every day is almost considered a crime. So for those who have yet to delve into this incredible bounty, we suggest stopping by the Sag Harbor Farmers’ Market – a market that is still local, still fresh and has a lot of variety in its people and products.