This year marks the 10th anniversary of the first Great Chefs Dinner, a fund-raiser for Jeff’s Kitchen at Hayground School in Bridgehampton. Jeff’s Kitchen was established in the wake of Jeff Salaway’s death in a tragic car accident in 2001. Salaway, an owner of Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton, with his wife, helped found the school. The kitchen now includes greenhouses, and making lunches is part of the school’s curriculum.
Writer Alex Goetzfried sat down with Toni Ross to talk about her husband, the kitchen and the dinner, which this year will be held on August 3. Call 631.537.7068, ext. 113, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about tickets, which are $1,000 each.
EEE: How did the first Great Chefs Dinner happen 10 years ago?
TR: Since [the school’s] inception my husband envisioned a culinary program that incorporated all kinds of things, cultural exchange, cooking, math, geopolitical issues, a way of communities coming together. And so he died in 2001 and the community, along with Jeff’s sister, Lizz Salaway, decided to do this fund-raiser bringing together all of Jeff’s chef friends to cook a meal.
EEE: What cause is the dinner raising money for?
TR: The dinner raises money both to support the culinary and garden program as well as to raise money for scholarships. Early on, Slow Food East End underwrote an initial greenhouse for us, which was also part of my husband’s vision that the kids would be growing their own things and eventually selling their own foods and eating all together lunch every day with things they had grown in the garden. Now we have just built a second greenhouse, a larger greenhouse, and we are really supplying everything for ourselves. And then we add in some things from other local growers, but the kids make their own meal four days a week and serve it to each other. It’s incredible. The food is fantastically good.
EEE: Why was your husband so passionate about children learning about food and making food part of the educational process?
TR: He was passionate about food, period. He was passionate about what it does when people come together at a table. And he wanted our kids and kids in the community where he lived to have a better academic and educational experience than he had had as a child, and he felt that cooking, being in the kitchen, sitting down together was an opportunity—and particularly for this school where we have such a diversity of kids—it was an opportunity to share with each other and kind of let your guard down, and you could share stories about your family’s own cooking and how it differs from someone else’s. You could get into all kinds of conversations about the geopolitical implications of food. Why do some countries have this and others have that, and who’s holding the salt? Where does the fish come from? He really saw it as a learning tool for many disciplines in a hands-on, fully experiential program.