When Jackie Sharlup was 4 years old, her parents took her to the Long Island Game Farm in Manorville, where she saw, for the first time, live pigs, goats and chickens.
She’s been a vegetarian ever since.
“I never ate meat again,” recalls the chef and owner of Tula Kitchen in Bay Shore. “I remember my mom pointed out a chicken and I said, ‘Like – dinner chicken?’ And that was it.”
Sharlup’s childhood informed her career as a chef in a number of ways. Around the time she was settling into her late-toddler vegetarianism, her father was diagnosed with cancer, which led the entire family to a clean and healthy, plant-based diet.
“[My mom] was always taking us into Chinatown to get my dad weird teas — all sorts of stuff,” says Sharlup.
“She always cooked for him, and got him to a very good place. I knew at a very young age that you could heal people with food.”
As a teenager, Sharlup started working in delis and pizzerias, as so many young Long Islanders do, and continued to cook and work as a personal chef after high school while earning a bachelor’s degree in art and design. In 2006, she graduated from the Natural Gourmet Cookery School in Manhattan and started to think more seriously about opening Tula Kitchen, a dream she’d been fostering for years. The restaurant officially opened its doors that same year.
“It was a pretty crazy time,” she says. “I probably didn’t see the light of day for the first six years. Owning a restaurant is no joke. You have to give it your heart and soul, or else you just can’t do it. It becomes your everything.”
Although Sharlup has been a lifelong vegetarian, she doesn’t like to force it on others. She knew from the start of Tula Kitchen that she’d offer some more mainstream options – chicken, turkey, fish and seafood – but decided to leave red meat off the menu.
“And nothing is fried,” she says. There are, of course, plenty of vegetarian options, including some products you don’t often see on menus in the area, such as seared seitan, a high-protein meat substitute made from wheat gluten.
“We try to cook as healthy and natural and balanced as we can,” says Sharlup, noting that nearly everything they use is organic, right down to the sesame oil. “We try to make everything in this restaurant. Maybe two percent is purchased. Everything else we make; all of our dressings, sauces — everything.”
Tula Kitchen offers breakfast and lunch Tuesday through Friday and dinner every night but Monday. The breakfast menu feature flap jacks with real maple syrup and fruit. ($11.95). The extensive lunch menu includes starters like stuffed acorn squash with quinoa, kale, caramelized onion and a lemon dressing ($14); and sesame crusted seared tuna with a wasabi drizzle and Asian slaw ($14).
Options for “din-din” include balsamic glazed salmon over cauliflower and white bean smash with red grapes, roasted beets and white balsamic dressing ($28); a tuna lentil burger served with hummus and roasted sweet potato salad ($15); and veggie moussaka, a classic Greek dish of layered spinach, feta, breaded eggplant and potatoes ($19).
Tula Kitchen has a split personality: two separate spaces – “west and east” – that have completely different décors. The western room, the home of the original restaurant, is dim and quiet, filled with dark wood and accented by yellow seat cushions and red floor to-ceiling curtains.
Next door, a new space that opened two years ago is flooded with light, stylish crystal chandeliers and a long dramatic bar, what the restaurant’s website describes as “French
“There are a lot of jokes about how it’s the two sides or my personality,” says Sharlup, cracking a smile. “Good versus evil; dark versus light; whatever works for you.”
Tula Kitchen is located at 41 East Main St. in Bay Shore. They can be reached at 631-539-7183 or tulakitchen.com.