Grist for the Mill

It’s mysterious that even as farm stands begin to spill their early bounty—strawberries, zucchini, cherry tomatoes—the synchronous crush of fund-raising benefits often under-impresses in the food department.

Yes, big catered affairs have all sorts of excuses—cooking in a mobile kitchen, timing the courses for hundreds of simultaneous dinners, competing with celeb MC’s for attention—but there’s no good reason for these happenings to haul in West Coast salmon or Maine lobster when there’s North Fork oysters and South Fork porgies to be had, aplenty and relatively inexpensive.

The good news is benefit season is finally resonating more tightly with the growing season. That’s been true for nearly a decade at pioneering events like the Great Chefs dinner to benefit Jeff’s Kitchen at the Hayground School on July 31, which is all about the men and women who cook at it and support it. It’s also true of newcomers like Dan’s Papers Taste of Two Forks on July 16, with an impressive roster of local chefs, and the boutique band MTK Festival on August 13 and 14, whose supporting acts will include mobile food trucks and pop-up Bing bars.

For the last two years, the Group for the East End’s annual benefit has been a long-table-in-a-field format on the North Fork—quite different from South Fork happenings of past years. This year’s benefit, on June 25, features local girl (and Food Network star) Ina Garten.

The reality is that food and drink make for good business. What we eat is an entertaining story, and Americans show no signs of fatigue. As further evidence, the Edible Communities network of publications received “Publication of the Year” honors from the James Beard Foundation.

On land, start-up farms like Sunset Beach in North Haven have been greeted by welcome customer bases, On the waterfront, relatively new single-origin oyster farms like Shellfisher Preserve (now selling Peconic Pearls), Widow’s Hole and Pipes Cove keep popping up.

Winemakers who take a chance on a new varietal, like the acre or so of albariño planted at Palmer Vineyards, can do so knowing that customers—thrilled by the insider prospect of something so limited-release—will take a risk as well. This embrace was wildly apparent at Brooklyn Uncorked, our annual local wine soiree at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in May, in lockstep with the explosion of small-batch picklemakers and regionally minded butchers.

At Lavender by the Bay in East Marion, whose mystical blooms are just around the corner, founder Serge Rozenbaum might measure his success by the 15,000 additional plants he just put into the ground, to meet the insatiable demand for his bouquets, sachets and essential oils. His lavender honey, which some say is the best they have ever tasted, has a waiting list.

The reality is that food and drink make for good business. What we eat is an entertaining story, and Americans show no signs of fatigue.

Brian Halweil