What if the best brunch on the East End doesn’t take place in a restaurant?
The ongoing Artists’ Table, a year-round series of brunches at The Watermill Center, a center for the arts and humanities that was founded by artist and director Robert Wilson in 1992, showcases both the bounty of Long Island and the rich creative fabric of the community. “We’ve worked primarily with East End chefs and restaurateurs,” says Brian O’Mahoney, a communications consultant for the center who recently left a full-time position with them. “It’s really celebrating the East End heritage, with all these rich farms, and the food heritage out on the East End.”
In a community where restaurants are constantly in flux—each season traditionally brings a flurry of newcomers—The Watermill Center has held fast. Attendance has also been consistent at their brunches, which are often attended by locals who participate in the food scene.
The brunch project, O’Mahoney says, has evolved from infancy. In the beginning brunches reflected the cultural provenance of the visiting artist. “I believe the first artist we did at the event was an English artist,” O’Mahoney says. “So the chef—who was the chef at Topping Rose House at the time—did almost like a full English supper at brunch.” The meal, he says, featured pot roast, Yorkshire pudding, and other traditionally English dishes.
But the brunches have become more inclusive, moving away from an artist-centric model and toward a model that highlights both chef and artist in equal measure. “For us, it’s just been a perfect union of: what’s a great way to get people in the door, and show them what we do year-round,” O’Mahoney says. That union, it turns out, means forging a connection between the creative spirit of both artists and chefs, and the series has been able to open new doors to those who have interest in one arena—food, for instance. “It’s just a great way to welcome people in a very warm and welcoming first introduction.”
The Watermill Center also offers its visiting chefs full creative control when it comes to designing the brunch series. With carte blanche, East End legends like Jason Weiner and Colin Ambrose have been given the space and bandwidth to be creative. “The chefs have really opened us up to the farms in a way that I don’t think we would have had an awareness of otherwise,” O’Mahoney says.
In some ways, O’Mahoney says, the connection between artist and chef is a completely natural one. “I think, for us, it’s really about this connection to the area and the landscape,” he says. “A lot of artists, when they come out for a residency at the Watermill Center, they come with a project, a thing they want to work on. So we encourage them to get out into the community, get out into nature and see what’s around.” Chefs, he says, are doing the same, living in markets, in agriculture, at farms. The area, he says, is inspiring to both, making it rich fodder for this event of combined resources.
And for the lucky—and hungry—diners of the East End, it’s an experience that just keeps on giving.