“Hi-five!” exclaims the 48-year-old North Fork caterer and cooking teacher, Steven Biscari-Amaral. We slap our raised palms together—that oft-seen self-congratulatory gesture—after finding that we’ve both, happily, left New York City’s hustle and bustle for the North Fork’s more unhurried pace. Not that Biscari-Amaral is taking it easy. Far from it. Watching the Peconic resident as he fields a barrage of phone calls, answers e-mails, and tackles a query from one of his assistants about an upcoming event, is simply head-spinning.
Far from Manhattan, where his culinary consulting business was once based, the ebullient chef now presides over the year-and-a-half-old Event Store on Sound Avenue in Mattituck—a one-stop shop for anyone planning a wedding, bar mitzvah, anniversary or indeed any kind of celebration. And it’s easy to see why Biscari-Amaral—a James Beard Foundation Pacific Northwest Chef of the Year—loves his new North Fork life. The company’s office/showroom/art gallery, which also houses the round-faced chef’s Black Tie Caterers, is bursting with vibrant colors, from the seasonal table setting that graces the window, to the vibrant abstract artwork on the walls, and the sculpture dotting the room. Creating art works is part of the Johnson & Wales University culinary graduate’s life, too—an activity he’s forced to cram into his few spare moments.
But it is Biscari-Amaral’s role as a cooking teacher that rounds out his culinary vision. Whether he’s conducting a demonstration for two dozen or so students or an intimate hands-on class for 10, Biscari-Amaral is at home with virtually any cuisine.
After growing up on a farm on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Biscari-Amaral, at age 14, talked his way into a job as a prep cook at a nearby Chinese restaurant. Years later, during a stay on the Hawaiian island of Maui, he inaugurated a series of cooking classes at the local community college. “It was a time when all of the resorts were expanding and they couldn’t get enough staff,” he recalls. “So we started a cooking course that would give the students associates degrees.”
Even though the high-energy chef and caterer has taught and cooked from France to Israel—his repertoire includes everything from Moroccan- to Italian-themed dishes—it’s Asian-influenced cuisine that truly ignites his passion. For Chinese New Year 2007 last February, Wölffer Estate Vineyards in Sagaponack hosted Biscari-Amaral’s unique feng shui dim sum class for a group of weekenders and locals. Relying on local ingredients, the students fashioned pot stickers, wontons and dumplings.
Says Biscari-Amaral, “I’ve always had art as part of the package and dim sum reflects that balance of yin and yang.”
The intricate art of constructing sushi is yet another Asian cooking technique that Biscari-Amaral tries to impart to his students. At Loaves and Fishes, the Bridgehampton cooking supply store, the chef demonstrates “how to cook rice, cut vegetables and make a California roll with confidence.” But there’s more to fashioning a great meal than technique. There’s also that critical element known as timing.
“It’s difficult to instill a sense of timing so that everything comes out when it should,” he says. “So what we do is focus on all the recipes at the same time—our cooking classes are always a meal not just a dish.”
Perhaps because of his growing up on a farm, it’s not surprising that Biscari-Amaral encourages his students to purchase what’s seasonal and local.
“The great thing is all the ingredients really are available on our doorstep,” he says, as he recommends—for a real North Fork-style potsticker—a combination of roasted leek, goat cheese and potato.
Advising his students to go hands-on and local is one thing. But this chef also practices what he preaches.
“I always go shopping for produce myself. And, he adds, “I never order over the phone.”
ROAST LONG ISLAND DUCK WITH DRIED ORGANIC FRUIT COMPOTE
8 oz. organic dried fruit (golden raisins, currants, apricot, cranberries, cherries, figs, etc.)
3 oz. ver jus (available from Wölffer Estate Winery)
3 fresh sage leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 oz. fresh minced ginger
1 t. dry mustard
1. This is prepared the day before cooking the duck. Warm ver jus to 140° in a small sauce pot, remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients, season with salt and pepper. Let sit for 1 hour, cover and refrigerate.
1 4 to 5 lb. whole Long Island duck cleaned and oven ready
1 sprig each fresh rosemary, thyme, and savory
1 t. olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400°, rub duck with olive oil first then with the fresh herbs on skin. Place herbs inside body cavity, season with salt and pepper. Truss the duck and put bird on a roasting rack in an appropriate size roasting pan. Place in the oven and roast until desired doneness.
2. Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes. Serve duck with the compote, pair with Long Island pinot noir or cabernet franc.