EAST QUOGUE — On a busy Saturday night in May, Christian Mir presides over a kitchen staff of nine at Stone Creek Inn in East Quogue. In preparation for service, the sous-chef, Daniel Kennedy, pipes scallop mousse into zucchini flowers. They will later be sautéed and set atop beech mushrooms, tomatoes and lemon beurre blanc.
A line cook purees spring peas for the soup, an asparagus, English pea and basil velouté that will be served hot with black truffle gnocchetti.
Another worker attacks a mound of candy cane, red and yellow beets for the fresh goat cheese and organic beet salad that includes caramelized hazelnuts, lemon confit and aged balsamic vinaigrette.
This is when Mir, a native of Villemur, France, walks in carrying a nine-pound red beet, fresh off the truck from Satur Farms in Cutchogue. Mir is grinning, and the staff shrugs it off, only getting in on the act to convert kilos to pounds when the vegetable went on a scale; they’re too busy–potatoes need to be peeled, the fresh black tagliatelle, made with squid ink, has to pass through the pasta machine, fish must be filleted, homemade pancetta diced into lardon, and bananas caramelized. The 160-seat restaurant was expected to be very busy, and no one wants to be unprepared for a Saturday night.
For Mir, who owns his residence upstairs from the restaurant with his wife, Elaine DiGiacomo, it’s another Saturday in the life of the 14-year-old business, but it’s still like meal number one. Each plate receives the same care as ever, and the time spent sourcing the ingredients is, to him, as important as the prep going on around him; his role is the part of the shepherd, guiding pristine local vegetables, when he can get them, fresh local fish and herbs from his garden from their raw stage into dishes that customers return for year after year.
His hometown of Villmur is just north of Toulouse and halfway between Bordeaux and the Mediterranean. The culinary school he attended until he was 18 taught classic French cuisine, which he can still make-coq au vin, sweetbreads, myriad delivery devices for butter-in his sleep, but the relative closeness of the sea influenced the way he grew up to cook.
“I traveled after school and worked in French restaurants,” he says. “But I was always attracted to Mediterranean cuisine; it was close by. I enjoy olive oil and fresh herbs. All that you need are great ingredients; that’s 75 percent. The cooking process is very, very important obviously, but as long as you get the best, you get a great result.”
DiGiacomo works in the front of the house, but that has not always been the case. The two met while cooking at the Tavern on the Green in 1992. Mir was a sous-chef and DiGiacomo was working in the Italian station, which was drawing on her Sicilian roots and the time she spent in Italy furthering her culinary education. The two fell in love and decided they wanted their own place. Nothing in the city presented itself. DiGiacomo and her family had been vacationing in Westhampton for most of her life, so they checked out the scene, which in those days was screaming for an upscale restaurant. Or so the couple now believes, since they have been busy from the day they opened in 1996, on May 23, on DiGiacomo’s birthday right before Memorial Day weekend. Although he can recall some nights midweek in the off-season when he has served at the most 10 people, Mir remembers that opening weekend and the following six months as a nonstop, seven-day-a-week blur, when the two of them would put on a jacket and aprons to get the food out. But that had to stop.
“There can only be one chef in a kitchen,” says Mir.
Not that DiGiacomo’s Italian influence isn’t felt. There’s wild mushroom agnolotti (with roasted beets and pistachios) and the grilled rib eye is served Italian style, plainly, covered only with drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and a lemon half to be squeezed over the meat by the diner. (It comes with sautéed broccoli rabe and black truffle mashed potatoes.)
Once dinner starts, Mir is in front of the hot station, and never raises his voice. He has a microphone to put in the initial orders and then works with two runners, one ferrying hot food and one bringing out the salads and desserts into the dining room. Passing through the window are deep-fried soft-shell crabs.
“I think they come out lighter when they’re fried than when they’re sautéed,” says Mir. “I serve them with spring vegetables, whatever I can find that week.”
Lately he’s been finding his vegetables at Early Girl Farm in Moriches. It’s run by the former chef at the Ross School, Patty Gentry, who, says Mir, takes great pride in her produce and gets really excited about it.
Also on the menu is butter-poached local lobster, red snapper and tuna. Mir will wait to put the most popular fish, striped bass, on the menu when it comes into season. He won’t buy farmed fish. A dessert in a martini glass goes by. It’s ricotta mousse with sautéed strawberries, aged balsamic vinegar and black peppercorns. “It’s a great combination,” he says.
This season, Mir and DiGiacomo will leave their two-floor apartment above the restaurant and, with their seven-year-old son, move into a house they’re building in Westhampton Beach. And come the end of the season take a long vacation when the restaurant closes for two months-France, Uruguay, Buenos Aires. And then come March open again.
“Like everyone, I had a 10-year plan,” says Mir. “But not anymore.
It’s the contact with the clientele that keeps you going.” Praising his sous-chef and line cooks, Mir says he can now spend more time in the dining room seeing people who have been coming in since day one and watching their children get older. “They like to have the same thing,” he says. “This year I changed the salmon, but people ask if I can do it the way I used to, simply with baby carrots, mashed potatoes, beurre blanc and white shrimp.”
Will he do it?
“Definitely,” he says. “I’ll always accommodate my clients.”