By Amanda Wyatt
Long before Bonnie Grice was one of the most popular names in radio on the East End, she was a young girl working at Dunkin’ Donuts in her hometown of “dreary Erie,” Pennsylvania.
“That was my first culinary experience,” Grice jokes. “I ended up coming home every day smelling like a donut and feeling like a donut.”
Needless to say, the award-winning radio host is much more knowledgeable about fine food and wine these days. Known for “Eclectic Café” on 88.3 Peconic Public Broadcasting (WPPB) and the nationally syndicated “The Song is You,” Grice has interviewed countless chefs, farmers and other eccentric eaters over the course of her career.
And on August 25, Grice will serve as the mistress of ceremonies for Harvest East End, the third annual food and wine based benefit, this year held at the Hampton Classic grounds in Bridgehampton. As a kickoff to the world-famous horseshow, Harvest East End includes opportunities to taste local wines and dishes prepared by East End chefs.
Grice, who has attended Harvest East End for the past two years, “loved it. It has a magical feel to it,” she said. “The idea is to experience the bounty we have here on Long Island and it’s a perfect opportunity to do that.”
Although being a “localvore” — one who eats local food — has recently become trendy, Grice believes that Harvest East End was a pioneer in the movement.
“They were really at the very beginning [of that movement] when they founded this event a couple of years ago — that whole idea of really appreciating what is local,” she says.
Of course, the down-to-earth Grice doesn’t think of herself as a foodie or an oenophile; rather, she’s someone who simply enjoys good food and wine. She has been a food-lover ever since childhood, where she was raised on her “mom’s home-cookin.’”
With modest means, Grice said her mother “would make a lot of great stuff, sometimes out of nothing,”
“We would have a can of beans and some Bisquick, so we’d eat beans and biscuits for dinner sometimes,” she remembered.
Some of her fondest childhood memories include the times when her mother baked homemade bread and her father made “the best homemade French fries in a little fryer.”
And every week, Grice looked forward to visiting a local dairy farm where the family would pick up fresh bottles of milk. On “a good week,” they would buy chocolate milk, or even fresh butter.
“I think even in the midst of not having much of a culinary experience growing up, I still had these high points where we’d experience these fresh foods,” she says. “And I think that established something in me about quality.”
After high school, Grice attended Miami University in Ohio, where she began her career in radio. She later worked in both Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. before settling on the East End about a decade ago.
Today, she lives in Sag Harbor, which is home to some of her favorite restaurants, like Tutto il Giorno and Muse.
Bay Burger is also one of Grice’s “faves,” and the Dockside, she says, simply “feels like Sag Harbor to me.” Plus, she “couldn’t do without” La Superica, where she enjoys frozen margaritas and spinach quesadillas.
In addition to hosting her own radio shows, Grice also presents at local events. Last week, she even emceed a seafood throw-down at the Suffolk County Farmer’s Market in Yaphank.
“They had two chefs going head-to-head, one was [Tom Rutyna] from T.R. Restaurant in Hampton Bays and the other was Bryan Futerman from Foody’s in Water Mill,” she says. “They had two mystery ingredients — locally-harvested porgy and beats.”
“They each had 15 minutes to shop in the farmer’s market for other ingredients, and they had an hour to come back and cook, just like Bobby Flay’s ‘Throwdown’,” said Grice. “Each of the chefs had a different local wine they were cooking with, too.”
Grice, who is also a fan of wine, feels that the vineyards on the North and South Forks have gained well-deserved national attention in recent years.
“I feel like I’ve experienced Long Island wine country as it’s coming into its own heyday,” she said.
She views buying local wine as “almost a responsibility.”
“Just try Long Island wines,” implored Grice. “I think everyone would be pleasantly surprised at the quality here. It’s really incredible.”
Grice particularly likes Bedell Cellars, which features paintings by well-known local artists, like Eric Fischl, on their labels. In her own kitchen, she displays a bottle of Fischl-designed merlot as a keepsake.
Supporting local businesses and organizations is not only a priority for Grice, she says, but it is also the mission of Harvest East End.
“The idea is to pool together and make this a community that we know and love, and to support it as much as we can,” she explains. “That’s what Harvest East End is about.”
In fact, the proceeds from the event will benefit three local organizations – The Group for the East End, East End Hospice and the Peconic Land Trust.
“And I love it,” said Grice. “It’s kind of like ‘from dust to dust,’ the [organizations] Harvest East End is supporting. It catches us from birth to death. And within that time frame, we can all enjoy and celebrate where we live.”
Harvest East End: the Food & Wine Classic will be held at the grounds of the Hampton Classic horseshow in Bridgehampton on Saturday, August 25. For more information, visit harvesteastend.com.
Photography by Michael Heller