If your father is a chef and restaurant owner, don’t expect his summer job suggestions to include being a lifeguard or working in a clothing shop on Newtown Lane in East Hampton.
The three daughters of Colin Ambrose, owner of Estia’s Little Kitchen on the Sag Harbor Turnpike in Sag Harbor, were given another choicetheir own food company.
The girls—Lyman, 16, Mansell, 14, and Whittier, 10—and their wares are now regulars at the East Hampton Farmers Market. Their pasta products also show up at Reddings Market in Shelter Island, and at Claws on Wheels and Lucy’s Way in East Hampton.
“The girls wanted to work at the restaurant,” says Colin, “but I thought it might be good to set them up with their own business. That way they could have autonomy and something to come back to summer after summer.”
So they wrote a business plan, devised a brand and chose a name—A. Sisters Food Co. Every Tuesday at the restaurant when it’s closed, the girls and their father spend the morning using local eggs to create pastas in a number of flavors including lemon pepper, mushroom and spinach. They take advantage of what Colin calls the Ferrari of pasta machines, his Toresani, which mixes, kneads, rolls out and cuts the pasta. It takes them about four hours to make 70 pounds of pasta, and so far they have been selling out. Also popular has been the Lymanade, a locavore riff on the lemonade stand Lyman ran as a child, sold by the glass or bottle, with early summer ingredients like strawberry now giving way to cucumber and watermelon. “The watermelon is great,” says Lyman. “So refreshing and delicious.”
On Friday afternoon when the market is over, the sisters get a commission and pay their taxes, and the profits are put away to buy a pickup truck for Lyman to use next summer, when she will be old enough to drive and make deliveries for their expanding business.
Band of Winemakers
A small wine business has a lot of advantages— attention to detail and personal satisfaction among them. But in a world that’s awash in wine, how does one get the message out? Not to mention take care of the shipping, delivery, invoicing and other responsibilities that can easily eat up all the time needed to create a product that will stand out?
Peter DeMeo, the former sales manager for Pellegrini Vineyards, had watched countless boutique winemakers struggle to confront this reality. He wondered if they couldn’t just band together.
On June 1 a new venture called Premium Wines, with DeMeo as sales manager, had six salespeople hit the streets showing wine from 12 producers: Brooklyn Oenology, Clovis Point, Herricks Lane, Mattabella Vineyards, Pumphouse, Suhru, Sparkling Pointe, Sherwood House, Schneider, Bouké, Croteaux Vineyards and Jamesport
Vineyards. The group works through a clearinghouse called USA Wine Imports, which provides trucking, picks up orders, does delivery, invoices, collections and pays excise taxes.
“We are getting a phenomenal response,” says DeMeo, adding that restaurants and retailers invariably ask why no one had thought of it before. “They have so many people knocking on their doors trying to sell them wine that a single source for a region is an appealing option for them.”
So far Premium Wines has coverage on Long Island, in New York City and in the Hudson Valley, Westchester, Syracuse and Rochester, with statewide penetration in the works. The portfolio will also grow with Finger Lakes and Virginia producers expected to sign on soon.
For those who produce the wine, the best part is the one-on-one consideration. “It’s a great thing to have a focused sales force dedicated to us,” says Alie Shaper, winemaker at Brooklyn Oenology. “We have the attention we might not get from a larger distributor. All the attention is for ourselves.”
Seedling Progress Report
Chefs Joe Realmuto and Bryan Futerman have cooked their year-old dream of a $100,000 greenhouse for the Springs School into reality by brewing cauldron upon cauldron of mouthwatering soups aided by a dozen other top East End chefs. On March 1, during a momentary lull in one of the season’s harshest winter storms, almost 300 people trooped through calf-high snow to crowd into the Springs Firehouse and sampled bowls filled with seafood bisque, posole, lentil and tortilla soups—10 soups in all. The energy that went into filling the cauldrons caught hold across Springs and the East End with the intensity of the soups’ flavors.
There were more soups at the opening of Guild Hall, barbecues and a major $150-a-head fund-raiser, a Taste of Land and Sea, under a Sperry tent on East Hampton’s Indoor Tennis grounds on August 7. Thirteen restaurants plus local wineries provided finger food and wines for this month’s gathering to benefit both the GreenHouse Seedling Project and Project Most, the after-school project and umbrella organization over the Seedling Project. The energy mushroomed into actual work on the greenhouse.
“At least $50,000 in labor was donated—at least,” says Realmuto, executive chef of Honest Management, which operates five restaurants including Nick and Toni’s. That includes the engineer’s drawings (needed for a hearing at the state school department because the greenhouse will stand on public school property), the plumbing, electrical work, concrete foundations and raising of the 18-by-40-foot greenhouse, delivered in mid-July. “It’s been an outpouring of community,” says Futerman, who owns Foody’s in Water Mill.
In place for the return of students this fall, the greenhouse will mix academic lessons with fingers in the dirt, introduce students to flavor and move children beyond packaged, frozen convenience products to the health and pleasure of growing fresh food. Tasting it, says Realmuto, they’ll find, “Wow, this radish. It’s spicy, it’s crunchy and it’s really, really delicious.”
The French Farm
The pedigree of the tarte Tatin is the tip-off. “The apples are cooked in a copper pan carefully rotated over very low heat for three to four hours,” says Marie McEnery, co-owner of Multi Aquaculture Systems, AKA the Fish Farm. “That slow caramelization of butter and sugar brings out the essence of the fruit,” Many American tarte Tatins are hurried affairs—60 minutes in the oven per Julia Child; heated-up versions from supplier commissaries at some restaurants. This slow-paced tarte Tatin—which also comes in pear and apricot versions, all $25—shares counter space with other patient pastry, including delicious, individual molten chocolate soufflés, $7, to pop in the oven for eight minutes; Key lime tarts $5 and pies $26, multiflavored macarons and the French Fraisier, a concoction of strawberries, pastry cream and framboise-drenched genoise for $35 to $45.
They all emanate from the shop and restaurant kitchen incongruously tucked in small wooden buildings opposite a dozen massive salt-water seafood holding tanks. Amagansett’s Fish Farm is widly loved for al fresco dining on a bluff overlooking Napeague Bay. It turned toward France when Parisian Nadine Nielsen began cooking four years ago. Today, its shelves are stocked with an expanding treasure trove of artisanal French bounty including Provençal pottery. It is now importing items under its own label, the French Farm, including mango and fig chutneys and preserved lemons. Besides fresh seafood and organic vegetables are delights nearly impossible to find locally: from a half-dozen salts—including pink from the Himalaya, another flavored with truffle bits—to Bernard Michaud 1,000-flower honey and high mountain Moroccan saffron. “Just add a few drops of pistachio oil and a bit of fleur de sel to striped bass or halibut. It’s unbelievable,” sighs Nadine.
The Fish Farm at Multiaquaculture Systems 429 Cranberry Hole Road, Amagansett. 631.267.3341
The revolution will not be motorized. At least according to Jeff Negron, who has been peddling (and pedaling) a home veggie gardening service since spring. Today, this 34-year-old all-organic assistant to the director of Bridge Gardens, the spectacular 5-acre Bridgehampton property recently gifted to the Peconic Land Trust, counts 11 clients, including nine within biking distance of his Sag Harbor home.
One dewy morning, armed with an antique British hand spade and a backpack full of Quail Hill compost and bundles of seedlings (okra, bok choy, cucumbers and a rainbow of other comestibles), he mounts his Specialized Team 1 Rockhopper (circa 1999) and takes off up Route 114 past the Sag Harbor School (where he volunteers at the garden) before hanging a quick left onto a side street and then a quick right, jumping the curb, powering up a small hill and popping out in an oasis of apple trees and tomato cages.
He prefers dense planting and mulch to weeding. He adds compost on top rather than digging deep. For deer deterrence, he swears by motion-activated sprinklers. I watched him assuage obsessivecompulsive adults (“Oh, goodie, you found chives and cilantro.”), and at the next stop he walked two young girls through harvesting (“That should last you guys, right?”) and replanting lettuce. One client garden in North Haven is yielding such a surplus that Negron may launch a small CSA next year, even after the property owner eats for free. One of his popular offerings is a 2-by-4-foot “salad table” that he “learned from Martha.”
Inspired by the soft economy and the White House’s new edible lawn, millions of Americans planted their first gardens this year. So this pedal-pushing prophet of produce is preparing winter classes geared toward “blue-collar” year-rounders and do-it-yourselfers. He’s the indigenous incarnation of MyFarmSF.com and decentralized backyard gardening collectives that have sprouted from Berkeley to Brooklyn. Mindful of his carbon footprint, he hopes to recruit a fleet of fellow bikers to service gardens in other villages. And, soon enough, Negron says, landscapers will add “vegetable gardens” to the side of their trucks. They will have to subcontract with folks like him, since their teams of workers and trailers of equipment aren’t designed to tend small plots. “This is the movement,” he says: “using the backyard to connect to community.”
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