Tag Archive | "Nick & Toni’s"

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.



Nick & Toni’s Father’s Day Dinner

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Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton will be celebrating Father’s Day on Sunday, June 15, with a steak dinner special.

The dinner special is a “steak for two” dinner for $90. Guests can enjoy a 32-ounce Painted Hills rib eye with grilled local asparagus and wood oven roasted North Fork mushrooms paired with a complimentary glass of wine. The wine, Cave de Saumur, Saumur-Champigny, will also be offered at a special price of $12 a glass.

To make a reservation, call (631) 324-3550.

Dinner is Served for Sandy Victims

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Honest Man Restaurant Group Executive Chef Joe Realmuto butchers 60 turkeys as a part of a food-based relief effort organized by his company through East End Cares. 

By Kathryn G. Menu; Photography by Michael Heller

On Tuesday afternoon, Townline BBQ was thick with the smell of smoked meat.

Not unusual for the Sagaponack-based mecca to barbequed chicken, pork and beef.

But this time it was 60 turkeys smoked by the Townline BBQ pitmaster which Chef Joe Realmuto was breaking down. All of the smoked birds were headed not to the dining rooms of Nick & Toni’s, Rowdy Hall, La Fondita or even Townline BBQ itself, but instead west to the Rockaways to help feed the victims of Hurricane Sandy.

By the end of today, Thursday, December 13, what has been coined Operation Dinner Out/Dinner is Served by an administrator of the Facebook group East End Cares (EEC), will have provided a total of 500 turkeys to warming stations, churches and fire departments. The turkeys were donated by Fairway Market and stored and cooked in kitchens across the South Fork.

And that is only the beginning.

The group expects another shipment of 500 turkeys some time in the next two weeks — the continuation of a food relief program started by two youth-based athletic organizations which has evolved to include the efforts of some of the South Fork’s most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs.

According to Daniel Gualtieri, one of many administrators of EEC — a coordinating group of South Fork residents helping to lead those interested in providing some kind of support or relief to Hurricane Sandy victims — the movement was really founded by Montauk Youth and East Hampton Youth Lacrosse.

The groups began working together on a sandwich and lunch drive, and as EEC formed, the group quickly surpassed its first goal of raising 500 lunches.

“That first effort we doubled what we hoped to raise,” said Gualtieri.

A thousand lunches were shipped on a donated Hampton Jitney. From there, said Gualtieri, the movement in terms of food relief just snowballed.

A little over a week after Hurricane Sandy made landfall on October 29, a powerful nor’easter blew through the region. It was that storm that would connect the EEC movement with the Honest Man Restaurant Group team, including Realmuto, Mark Smith and Christy Cober.

“We do the community soup kitchen at Most Holy Trinity [Church] and in the beginning of November when the nor’easter hit we were told they were closing because of the weather,” said Realmuto. “Here we had 50 gallons of soup. I looked at Mark and he said, ‘Let’s do a road trip and go to the Rockaways.’”

Smith jumped on Facebook, found the EEC page and the two drove off into rain and sleet to drop off soup throughout the Rockaways, many recipients having lost everything just a little more than a week before.

Realmuto and Smith remained involved with the food service relief efforts through EEC, which completed a total of three sandwich and lunch drives. On the third lunch drive two weeks ago, the St. Frances De Sales Parish in Belle Harbor informed the team an incredible offer had come through — 500 turkeys from Fairway Market.

But no one at the parish knew how to take on the monumental task of storing, defrosting and cooking the turkeys before they could be delivered into the hands of volunteers and distributed to those in need.

Cober, Realmuto and Smith asked for a minute, and then inquired about the quality of the product. After finding out the turkeys were fresh, they agreed to take on the task.

It actually ended up being 1,000 turkeys from Fairway, the first 300 promised to the Breezy Point Fire Department for families living in temporary housing.

For Cober, Realmuto and Smith, ensuring the safety of the food storage and preparation was critical. Quickly, the team found help from colleagues, including Charlotte Sasso of Stuart’s Seafood in Amagansett who helped store the turkeys in freezer space. Brian Gosman also chipped in a refrigeration truck, as did Ian Calder Piedmonte of Balsam Farms in Amagansett.

Gurney’s Inn, Dreesen’s Catering and Rudy DeSanti, Jr., Peter Ambrose’s Hampton Seafood Company, Bryan Futerman of Foody’s, Stony Brook University, as well as the staff of Honest Man restaurant group, Kieran Brew of the Amagansett Fire Department and Montauk Youth President Maureen Rutkowski also helped in the effort.

According to Realmuto, batches of 25, 50, 60 and even 200 birds were cooked off at a time, quickly brought west and delivered to drop points and warming stations by John Franco.

While the last of the first 500 were delivered today, Gualtieri said he expects another drop of 500 more turkeys some time in the next two weeks.

“The EEC’s role in all of this, and in everything we are doing, is to try and connect the dots and make sure things are getting to the right places and to the people who need it most,” said Gualtieri. “We are filling the gap and just trying to connect people.”

As Franco delivered the turkeys on Tuesday and Wednesday, he reported back to EEC that there has been a Red Cross cutback, making the turkeys that much more of a gift for warming stations throughout the Rockaways.

“Some were being served immediately, off the delivery truck,” reported Gualtieri via EEC’s Facebook page. “At one stop they went directly into a Boars-Head refrigeration truck parked at the Rockaway Fire Department. They are planning on serving it hot for tomorrow night’s dinner.”

For Realmuto, taking on the turkeys was a challenge, for sure, but as he prepared to butcher one of the last batches — the 60 smoked at Townline BBQ on Tuesday, the chef said despite the pressure involved helping to organize a project of this magnitude the need was simply undeniable.

“It’s a great team effort and we have a lot of people on the ground helping us out,” he said. “My wife asked me if I was going to do this again, and I said that I feel its selfish for me to sit in my nice, warm house and have a nice, warm meal when I know there are people out there who have lost everything and she agreed. We’re the lucky ones.”