Eric Voorhis

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Chef David Burke Brings Inspired Culinary Creativity to Garden City Hotel

Celebrity Chef David Buke launched Red Salt Room and King Bar at Garden City Hotel

In 1989, Chef David Burke, then-executive chef of New York City’s River Café, was shocked to read that USA Today placed a menu item he created on a top 10 list of worst dishes in America.

“I was so devastated,” Burke recalls. “Everyone was reading this thing. I kept going back to the sous chef and the manager of the restaurant – ‘was it really that bad?’ But everyone liked it.”

The dish in question was a noodle cake with calamari and oysters, according to Burke, “a risky dish, but it was delicious.”

Two days later, esteemed New York Magazine critic Gael Greene spent a few hundred words praising the same exact dish.

“It was one critic’s opinion verses another,” says Burke. “You can’t always please everyone. I certainly try.”

Decades later, Burke aims to please critics and patrons alike after rebooting the entire food and beverage program at The Garden City Hotel. He brought two new restaurants to the premises, King Bar by David Burke and the Red Salt Room. The hotel brought in Burke to revamp the hotel restaurants and work with an existing team that includes Executive Chef Ari Nieminen, whom he previously worked with at The River Café.

“It’s nice to be working with some familiar faces,” says Burke. “We already have that relationship. We know where we’re both coming from.”

Over his 35-year career, Burke has helmed some of the city’s top-rated restaurants, including the Park Avenue Café, before becoming vice president of culinary development for the Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group in 1996. Fifteen years ago, he branched out on his own and opened several new spaces including davidburke & danatella, David Burke Townhouse, and David Burke at Bloomingdale’s. These days he’s more focused on newer NYC restaurants Woodpecker and Tavern 62 along with BLT Prime in Washington, D.C. Asked how many restaurants currently have his name attached and Burke maintains a lighthearted, “Who knows.”

Along with dozens of prizes and accolades such as appearances on Bravo’s Top Chef Masters and induction into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America, Burke received a prestigious title from Time Out New York in 2003: Best Culinary Prankster. He’s known for his creativity, introducing odd flavor combinations, pairing strange ingredients and using new techniques. But it’s all based in solid fundamentals, according to Burke.

“As crazy or great something is, you have to have a reason for it,” he says. “And there has to be some fundamental foundation or groundwork from a regional perspective, seasonal perspective, or digestive perspective. You can’t just pull things out of midair.”

The Garden City Hotel restaurants feature many of Burke’s signature dishes, such as clothesline candied bacon with black pepper and pickles ($19); pastrami smoked salmon carpaccio with arugula and honey mustard ($16); fresh Maine Lobster either poached in butter or served “angry style” with garlic, lemon, chilies, and basil; and a variety or cuts of beef aged using Burke’s patented dry aging process using Himalayan pink salt.

All of which are surely coming to patrons’ top 10 lists of favorite dishes soon.

King Bar by David Burke and the Red Salt Room are located at the Garden City Hotel, 45 7th St., Garden City. They can be reached at gardencityhotel.com or 877-549-0400.

Tula Kitchen: Feeding The Soul

Jackie Sharlup with her business partner, Lina Rinaudo, at the popular Bay Shore healthy locale.

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
chic.”

“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.

 

The Sound Bite Heralds Cajun-fusion Joint’s Debut

Chef Julian Phillips is cooking up mouthwatering blackened chicken.

A newsman-turned-chef and his jazz singer wife are cooking up a plan to make blackened chicken as popular as Buffalo wings with the Port Washington couple’s new Manhattan restaurant, The Sound Bite.

The name is a play on the term for a short quote in TV news and the fact that the restaurant also regularly hosts live music. Chef Julian Phillips, a former Emmy award-winning journalist, picked the décor and menu with news puns aplenty, but the headline is his unique blend of Cajun, Southern and Italian cuisine.

“I’ve been working on this idea for a quite a while,” he says, while prepping for the lunch crowd on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. “I started to experiment with the fusion of Southern and Italian and blackening techniques, and voila – here we are.”

Phillips is perhaps best known for a stint as co-host of the Fox & Friends Weekend morning news show from 2002 to 2006. More recently, he served as host of Arise Review, a weekly political talk show on the Arise News Network. But these days, Phillips has traded the newsroom for the kitchen, where his new focus is making mouths water.

“Of course I miss it,” he says of his former career. “If you’re a journalist, it’s hard not to be in the mix. But right now, I’m just enjoying blackening up wings, plain and simple.”

Along with his successful news career, Phillips has roughly three decades of culinary experience, working as a private chef on occasion, catering events, and, of course, cooking for family and friends. He’s also the house chef for Hopscotch Air, a private airline that offers flights up and down the East Coast. Despite his busy schedule, Phillips says he always makes time to cook at home.

“Everybody’s got to eat, right?” he says.

Phillips has a talented partner in the new endeavor: his wife and accomplished jazz singer Barbara King. He says it’s been a longtime dream for them to open a restaurant together that celebrates their two passions: media and jazz. Along with a soulful menu, The Sound Bite offers live jazz and blues performances three nights a week, with King herself getting up on occasion.

“We’re one of the only spots in Hell’s Kitchen that has live music,” says Phillips over the clatter of a busy kitchen. Things were beginning to pick up as guests began to arrive at the 1,600-square-foot restaurant.

“Well, hello. How are you?” Phillips says abruptly when he spots a regular. “Now, how do you manage to look so good in all this rain? Not a drop on you.”

Although he’s enjoying the steep learning curve, Phillips says opening a restaurant in New York City is no easy task.

“It’s been a somewhat daunting and eye-opening experience,” he adds.

The Sound Bite’s signature wings are coated with a blend of blackening spices and then seared in a hot cast-iron skillet before finishing off in the oven. They’re served with an assortment of “Southern-meets-Italian” sauces including a puttanesca, Cajun remoulade, and garlic pesto. Another staple on the menu is chef Phillips’ Southern smoked mac and cheese that can be topped with andouille sausage, blackened chicken, shrimp, lobster or alligator sausage.

The cocktail list, designed by nutritional biochemist and author Alex Ott, continues to play on the news theme with drinks such as The Live Shot, The Crash & Burn, The Headliner, and The Kicker.

Eventually, Philips says he’d like to open up another location on Long
Island.

“That’s my dream,” he adds. “I’d love to have a nice waterfront restaurant on the Island.”

The Sound Bite is located at 737 9th Ave. in Manhattan. They can be reached at 917-409-5868 or thesoundbiterestaurant.com

Turnaround Chef Johndavid Hensley Spins Pub Into Blue Oyster Seafood & Oyster Bar

Johndavid Hensley of Russian Tea Room fame shucks his new restaurant’s namesake shellfish. (Long Island Press photos)

The newest addition to Long Island’s restaurant scene is Blue Oyster Seafood & Oyster Bar, a white-tablecloth restaurant that debuted last month where sports bar Bottoms Up once stood in downtown Islip.

Executive Chef Johndavid Hensley, a veteran in the restaurant industry, touts classic dishes with contemporary flair and a focus on featuring local and regional ingredients.

“My oysters and clams are pretty much dug right here in our backyard,” says Hensley, sitting in a booth as members of the dining staff began setting tables for the dinner rush on a recent Monday.

Fitting the restaurant’s motif, blue light floods the dimly lit dining room accented by bright white tablecloths and nautical decals. Techno music thumping in the background completes the nightclub feel. Hensley takes a positive, hands-on approach in managing the kitchen.

“I never really tell anybody here what to do,” he says. “I tell them why and how to do it, so they themselves can make discoveries. I want to inspire and empower.”

Hensley, who grew up in the Hamptons, got his start in the restaurant business at an early age.

“My family, we’re restaurant people,” he says. “So I grew up with it in my blood. I just fell in love with the job and the environment.”

He worked his way up the ranks at Hampton Bays’ now-defunct Indian Cove Restaurant and Marina, where he eventually served as executive chef for more than 15 years. In its heyday, the East End fixture ranked high among LI restaurants, receiving four stars from The New York Times three years in a row. Craving the bright lights and big city, he moved to Manhattan in the late ’90s, and bounced around before securing a position as executive chef of the Russian Tea Room, where he worked from 1998 to 2000.

“I got a chance to rub elbows with a lot of political dignitaries,” he recalls. “It helped polish my skills with the service aspect of [the industry]. I fell in love, not just with the food, but also the customers and what they represent.”

In the following years, Hensley returned to the Island, and worked at The Montauk Yacht Club, Greek Bites Grill in Southampton and Claudio’s Restaurant in Greenport. While discussing his long career in the restaurant industry, a much younger chef approached the booth at Blue Oyster Bar and asked Hensley for a second opinion on a meatball.

“It’s fluffy enough, right? Not so dense?” Hensley says, inspecting the chef’s creation. He later explained it was an “Arthur Avenue meatball,” a Blue Oyster appetizer served with whipped ricotta cheese and named for the Little Italy section of the Bronx. After a brief consultation with the other chef, Hensley says, “All right, run with it.”

Throughout the course of his career, Hensley says, skilled chefs often took him under their wing, a practice he’s now adopted. He believes strongly in “paying it forward.”

“The kids here, when I give them a recipe, I want them to feel it and touch it,” he says. “I like others to discover what made me smile when I was younger.”

Blue Oyster Seafood & Oyster Bar serves up a variety of regional and local seafood along with classic dishes and steaks. Appetizers include baked clams with lemon and thyme ($12) and herb-crusted Tuscan wings served with a curry cream dip. Entrée selections include Montauk swordfish with a honey-sweet potato mash and cranberry chutney ($28); traditional paella with shrimp, clams, mussels and chorizo ($32); and French lobster ravioli. That’s in addition to a full raw bar that features a variety of local oysters served daily.

Blue Oyster Seafood & Oyster Bar is located at 524-526 Main St. in Islip. They can be reached at 631-446-4233 or blueoysterlongisland.com

Chef Ed Davis Marks 20 Years at Waterzooi, Long Island’s Only Belgian Bistro

Chef Ed Davis gets fired up in the kitchen at Waterzooi. (Photo by Mark Sylvester)

After the 1996 debut of Croxley’s Ale House in Franklin Square whet Long Island’s thirst for craft beer, Ed Davis and his business partners had a concept for a traditional Belgian bistro.

But they kept asking themselves: Is the Island ready? At the time, most people said, “No,” recalls Davis, executive chef and co-owner of Waterzooi Belgian Bistro & Oyster Bar in Garden City, which opened two years later.

“Right off the bat people came in looking for Bud and Bud Light, and we had to tell them that we only carried Belgian beer,” Davis says. “The feedback we got was basically, ‘Good luck, guys. We’ll give you a couple months.’”

Twenty years later, LI’s only authentic Belgian bistro is still going strong.

“Thinking back on it, though, it was pretty crazy,” Davis adds. “But we were young when we did it. We went all chips in.”

Utensils clatter throughout the brightly lit dining room as the lunch crowd ebbs and flows on a recent Wednesday afternoon. Like clockwork, steaming pots filled to the brim with mussels regularly appear from the kitchen, served up with crisp French-fried potatoes — moules frites, as the dish is known in Belgium, where it’s a national obsession.

Waterzooi has cooked up a similar obsession on Long Island and surrounding areas. The
restaurant goes through roughly seven thousand pounds of mussels a week.

“There are certain mussel pots that’ll bring people driving here from Connecticut, Westchester,” says Davis. “All over.”

Davis and his business partners, Joe Mendolia and Chris Werleand, first made a trip to Belgium in ‘96, taking a whirlwind food-and-beer tour through Brussels, Bruges, Ghent,and Antwerp and experiencing everything Belgian cuisine had to offer.

“We really got into it,” says Davis. “We were blown away with the moules frites, the different types of waffles. The beers were absolutely insane.”

Developing the concept for Waterzooi (the name translates to a traditional Belgian stew) and getting materials for the restaurant was no easy task. These days, a quick Google search for traditional Belgian mussel pots for sale yields plenty of results. But things weren’t so easy “pre-internet,” according to Davis.

“I remember contacting a Belgian company for the pots,” he says. “I basically had to go over there to the restaurant supply district and buy pallets of them and send them back.”

Developing authentic recipes proved to be just as challenging.

“We did multiple trips, got into multiple kitchens and really went over there to do everything,” says Davis. “There weren’t many books on Belgian cuisine. It was a real process.”

Along with Waterzooi, Davis is the executive chef of neighboring Novita Wine Bar & Trattoria and oversees the kitchens of all five Croxley’s Ale House locations throughout LI and New York City. To manage it all, his day starts early, around 6 a.m., before he heads to the kitchen as patrons start funneling in for lunch. Managing his staff and working in the kitchen is still a daily passion for Davis.

“I still love the rush,” he says. “There’s nothing like it. When the dining room gets slammed, tickets are pumping out, the kitchen is running on all cylinders. It’s all about teamwork.”

Waterzooi Belgian Bistro offers a variety of seasonal specials that change weekly, along with an ever-changing roster of fresh oysters. Moules pot varieties, which are all served with frites and a house-made mayo, include the “Homard” with a brandy-cream sauce, scallions and fresh chunks of lobster ($39); and the “Thai,” served with a red curry broth, lemongrass, ginger and cilantro ($31). And it’s all washed down with 130 different Belgian beers.

“The slogan we like to use is to drink outside of the box,” says Davis.

Waterzooi is located at 850 Franklin Avenue in Garden City. They can be reached at waterzooi.com or 516-877-2177.

Waterzooi serves up thousands of mussels weekly. (Photo by Mark Sylvester)

 

Chopped Champ Dishes New Hush American Bistro in Huntington

Chef Marc Anthony Bynum tastes an ingredient, as seen on Food Network's Chopped special, Chopped: Impossible, Part 1.

Marc Anthony Bynum has over a quarter century of experience in the kitchen, but treats every dish as if he’s competing for his next win on Food Network’s competitive cooking show Chopped.

The chef-owner is the mastermind behind Hush American Bistro, a soul-food-inspired restaurant that started in his hometown of Farmingdale three years ago and moved to new digs in Huntington this summer.

“Think of it this way,” he says, leaning forward. “If you have a restaurant that sells 600 dinners, and every table is getting three courses, that’s what, 1,800 plates that go out. That’s 1,800 times your reputation is on the line.”

Bynum has come a long way from his first restaurant job at the since-shuttered Margo and Frank’s Mermaid restaurant on the Nautical Mile. His resume includes stints at the Melville Marriott, where Executive Chef Dan Doherty mentored him before Bynum moved on to other fine dining establishments such as Tellers in Islip, Prime in Huntington, the closed Four Food Studio and Venue 56, among others.

“I’ve been fortunate to work at a lot of high-end restaurants on Long Island,” Bynum says. “They’ve all been creative — places where I can play.”

That playfulness comes through in the motto of Hush: “The food speaks.”

Just before the dinner rush on a recent Thursday afternoon, the chef sat at a small table near the front door of Hush and discussed the challenges of running a restaurant. Despite a thriving consulting business that takes him around the country, Bynum spends most nights in the kitchen. It’s all about quality control, he says.

The wall behind him is paneled with repurposed wood and dotted with white candles not yet lit for dinner. Edison lights dangle from the ceiling throughout the romantically lit restaurant. Even at 4 p.m., Hush buzzes with activity. The wait staff
mingles by the bar, trying a new wine that had just come in while prep cooks race around the kitchen.

Chef Bynum is well known as a creative force in the Long Island restaurant scene. But the notoriety he gained from Chopped was a game changer.

“It allowed me to go from local to national overnight,” he says. “That’s when I started to do more consulting, I started to travel more. I put up a website from the winnings. It was huge.”

Bynum has gotten a lot of offers to work in New York City, but remains fiercely loyal to his roots.

“I will not forsake my island for the city,” he says. “Long Island can be a challenge because you want to stick to your artistic integrity, but then you have some palates here that may not be as sophisticated as the food you want to produce. But I like to push that boundary, I put out the food I want to cook and I find that people come around to it.”

Starters at Hush Bistro include the WTF salad ($15), a creative mix of watermelon, tuna, ginger sesame vinaigrette and foie gras “snow,” and cornbread and biscuits ($9) served with maple brown butter and wild berry preserves. Small plates and entrees include ravioli ($16) served with ricotta, spinach, egg yolk, short ribs and sweet potato; Southern fried chicken ($14) with sweet potato puree and pickled cabbage; and duck leg confit ($18) with fennel puree, broccoli rabe, fennel pollen glaze and pickled radish.

There’s one thing not found on the menu at Hush Bistro: geoduck, a large and unsightly saltwater clam native to the West Coast.

“I’ve had to go up against it twice on Chopped,” Bynum recalls. “I guess geoduck’s just not a fan of me. Every time I go up against it, I just lose it.”

Hush American Bistro is located at 46-G Gerard St. in Huntington. They can be reached at 631-824-6350 or reststarinc.com/hush-bistro

For Bridgehampton’s Ludlow Family, Cheese is a Whey of Life

Pete and John Ludlow prepare fresh cheese at Mecox Bay Dairy (Press photo/ Eric Voorhis)

Peter Ludlow reached into a small, straw-lined enclosure and leaned toward a three-week-old Jersey cow wearing a yellow nametag. It said “Kreme.” The young calf sniffed Ludlow’s hand, looking up with large brown eyes, and then retreated with an awkward stumble.

“They’ll get super tame with plenty of hand treatment,” said Ludlow. “You can see how curious they are – a lot of personality. They all get names.”

Kreme is part of the growing herd at Mecox Bay Dairy, an artisan cheesemaking operation in Bridgehampton that produces six styles of cheese that are sold at farm markets throughout the summer and to East End restaurants and cheese shops. Pete’s father, Art Ludlow, launched the business in 2003 after deciding it might be more profitable than his other venture at the time: potato farming. Now, Art’s two sons, Pete and John – 30 and 28 – have started working for the business full-time with hopes of scaling up the operation.

“It’s a family-run business, through and through,” said Pete as he and his brother made cheese on a recent Friday morning. “But we manage to get along alright. For the most part.”

With the recent addition of Kreme, Mecox has more than 30 cows, 28 of which are milked on a daily basis. They’re all pedigree Jersey cows, a smaller, tawny-colored breed with a friendly disposition and cartoonish eyelashes that’s known for producing milk with a high fat content ideal for making cheese. Producing large batches of raw-milk cheese is a fairly simple process, Pete explained: It’s all about consistency. He stood over a massive metal vat filled nearly to the brim with raw milk.

“Right now it’s all just heating up,” said Pete, as he placed a large thermometer into the edge of the vat. The room where they make cheese is sterile and humid, with white-washed walls and shiny chrome equipment. It’s about the size of a double-wide trailer, and with both brothers clad in white smocks and boots, plastic gloves and hairnets, it’s hard not to think of the TV show Dexter.

An early stage of the process is adding cultures that begin to ferment the lactose in the milk, according to Pete. This fermentation helps dictate the moisture content of the cheese, and has a big role in determining the taste, texture and subtleties of the finished product. After the enzymes do their thing, and the cheese heats up to roughly 90 degrees, another enzyme called rennet is added to the mix. The enzyme, which helps to coagulate the milk into what will eventually form cheese curds, is derived from the lining of the fourth stomach of a calf.

“The story goes that the first guy who made cheese did it accidentally when he was transporting milk in a cow stomach that was acting as a vessel,” said Pete. “It mixed all around and there it was: cheese.”

Once the cheese reaches the sought pH level, it’s cut with a cheese knife to help the curds separate from the liquid whey. The curds become nearly solid before they’re packed into molds, flipped and salted.

“And then we basically put it on a shelf for a couple years and forget about it,” Pete laughed.

Next to the cheesemaking room, a large metal door leads to climate-controlled aging room. Dozens of wheels of cheese fill the space ranging from light brown to deep mahogany in color depending on how long they’ve been aged, some for more than five years. 

Wheels of cheese in the aging room at Mecox Bay Dairy in Bridgehampton.

There is some controversy in the cheese world about using raw milk, as Mecox does. Much of the debate centers on a 1947 law that prohibits the sale of raw milk cheese that hasn’t been aged for more than 60 days.

“The regulations make sense for certain cheeses,” Nora Weiser, executive director of the American Cheese Society, said at a conference last month. “We’re trying to show that you can make cheese safely using dozens of methods.

In a survey of artisan and specialty cheesemakers conducted last year, the ACS identified 900 producers. Of those, 75 percent make less than 50,000 pounds of cheese a year, according to the survey – Mecox hopes to reach 30,000 pounds in the future – and only 38 percent make their cheese with raw milk.

“Would they use raw milk if regulations were more permitting?” questioned Weiser. “That’s what we are working on by educating regulators on the high quality of raw milk cheese.”
And you can taste the difference, pro-raw milk folks say.

“You just can’t get the same quality with pasteurized milk,” said Pete. “The flavor and complexity just doesn’t compare.”

After attending the Cornell Agriculture School, Art Ludlow and his wife Stacy set up their home on the Bridgehampton farm where Art and his brother, Harry, were born. The siblings share the property to this day, with Harry planting and harvesting vegetables and selling his crops under the original name of the property, Fairview Farm.

Art grew and sold potatoes for years, but decided to switch gears around 1999 with an assist from a family cow named Nora.

“We had the family cow back in the ’90s and I started to experiment a little with cheese,” Art said. “It was just a hobby, but I thought it would be good to bring something a little different to the local market.”

Art committed, and attended cheesemaking workshops over the next few years. In April 2003, he produced two cheeses on a bigger scale: a pungent, wash-rind tome and a creamy mix between a Brie and a Camembert. Both have since become staples.

Art said he’s glad his sons have taken an interest in the family cheese shop, if not a little surprised since they’re both musicians. Pete graduated from Vassar College with a music degree in 2010 and plays organ in church every Sunday, while John gigs regularly as a jazz saxophonist. These days, Pete is also focused on making the farm self-sustaining by planting, growing, harvesting and processing all the feed for the animals on the farm. John, who just recently started working for the dairy full time, handles more logistical tasks like filling orders and packaging cheese.

“It’s good because I’m ready to do a little less,” said Art. “Hasn’t happened quite yet, but I’m hoping.” 

Mecox Bay Dairy uses milk from Jersey cows. Photo by egrego2

Long Island Hot Sauce Makers Have Fire in The Belly

For 125 years or so, Americans were happy enough with the chili sauce made by Edmund McIlhenny, a Maryland banker who moved to Louisiana in 1840 and started growing peppers from seeds someone had lugged home from Central America.

He called it Tabasco, after the Mexican state.

While McIlhenny’s concoction still commands 18 percent of the market, it’s now just one of thousands of fiery American sauces, a collective $1 billion industry with growth of 150 percent since 2000, more than mustard, ketchup and barbecue sauce combined.

You’ve heard of Zombie Apocalypse, perhaps? Or maybe Ass Reaper? Blair’s Megadeth Sauce with Liquid Rage? They represent the latest trends in hot sauce manufacturing – fresh, all-natural ingredients, unique flavor profiles, local produce and a ton of heat, many produced in small batches like the craft beer or bourbon.

A dozen or so brands are proud to do it on Long Island.

“People are into pushing the limits of heat right now, and trying different flavor combinations, whether it’s fire-roasted pepper blends with ginger and Vermont maple syrup or ghost and scorpion peppers with Cabernet wine and blueberries,” said Heather Suter, who owns the North Fork hot sauce and cigar shop Greenport Fire with her husband Dale. “It’s all about creativity.”

They call him Mr. Peppers

Among the local sauces is a small-batch company run by 71-year-old Giovanni Muscat of Plainview. The retired chef, who often peddles his sauce at local farmer’s markets around the Island, goes by the nickname “Mr. Peppers.”

Born in Tunis, Muscat immigrated to the United States when he was in his teens. The son of a chef and grandson of a meat cutter, he brought with him an early knowledge of food.

“My mother had me right there on the butcher block,” he said.

Muscat has a variety of products for sale including both red and green habanero sauces, a mild jalapeno sauce and, perhaps the star of the show, a homemade harissa sauce based on one of his grandfather’s recipes.

“Take a whiff of that,” he said, holding up the jar. The aroma of garlic, olive oil, chili peppers and spices spilled out. “This is my best seller.”

Muscat makes his sauce from scratch whenever the demand calls for it. He rents from the Kitchen Co-op in Amityville, a 1,400-foot commercial kitchen that offers space to local food entrepreneurs, mostly craft bakers. Last year, he produced about 200 bottles of sauce, which he sold at farmer’s markets and a few retail locations across the Island.
In addition to preserving his family’s culinary traditions, it’s a fine retirement gig.

“I don’t play golf,” he said, “that’s not for me.”

On the road, again

By comparison, High River Hot Sauce founder Steve Seabury sells his products in more than 1,000 retail locations and has scooped up first-place prizes at the Easton Chile Pepper Festival, the New Orleans Chile Pepper Extravaganza and the World Championship Golden Chile Awards.

He started out making small batches in his Garden City Park apartment in 2011, mostly for the bands he toured with.

“I always loved food and cooking, and this was just a fun thing to share,” he said. “We were on the road eating Taco Bell, whatever other garbage, and this made it a little better.”

Now a music industry executive by day, Seabury’s greatest hits include Tears of the Sun, which blends fresh habaneros peppers with peaches, papaya, pineapple and brown sugar, and Grapes of Wrath, a mix of habanero and ghost peppers blended with grape juice, cabernet wine, blueberries, strawberries, red cabbage and ginger.

“I still develop all of the recipes in our kitchen, with peppers I grow in my garden,” said Seabury, now a Kings Park resident. “It really is a labor of love, a passion of mine that’s paying the bills.”

“It’s almost like High River is my new band,” he said. “I get to create something and tour the country, meet people. It’s a lot of fun.”

The Jazz Loft in Stony Book Hitting All The Right Notes

GOING BLUE: Thomas Manuel, founder of the Jazz Loft, watches as Thom Avella, a student of Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, takes a solo on a recent Wednesday night. (Photo by Eric Voorhis)

Thomas Manuel sat perched on a stool, his silver trumpet cradled in his lap, a full smile on his face, as Thom Avella, a Long Islander now studying at Potsdam’s Crane School of Music, coaxed his alto sax through the Thelonious Monk standard “Evidence.”

It was open jam night on a recent Wednesday at The Jazz Loft, a crowded upstairs venue housed in a onetime tavern cum firehouse turned shuttered museum in Stony Brook village. The jam provides a night for area musicians and wannabes – many of them students, many in their teens – to hang out, catch some live acts, and get on stage to hone their skills, according to Manuel, who founded The Loft last spring.

“I’m humbled and proud of the jam night,” Manuel said. “It’s such a real, genuine event and it’s very special to me.”

Avella, the sax player, bounced on the balls of his feet as he played to a small crowd of students, parents, and fans, his bleach-blond pompadour moving with the music. After each musician took a turn – drums, standup bass, guitar, piano and eventually, Manuel – the tune finally came to an end. Bass player Keenan Zach, who generally runs the jam after performing with TJL’s house trio, grabbed hold of the microphone.

“Alright, folks,” he said. “Let’s get some new faces up here.”

A ‘utopian jazz place’

Manuel started the night downstairs, welcoming guests and selling tickets. There is a paid cleaning woman, but the staff is otherwise all-volunteer.

“So you end up wearing a lot of hats,” he said.

Manuel, a 37-year-old St. James resident, runs the pre-college music division of Stony Brook University’s jazz program and holds positions as a music educator at Long Island University and Suffolk Community College. He’s also an accumulator of jazz memorabilia, music, art and photography, a passion that had stopped just sort of hoarding.

“I had stuff everywhere. The basement, the attic, the shed. My house was basically a museum,” he admitted, adding that he was able to display some of the items when he played gigs or put on tribute concerts. “But it got to the point where the majority of it wasn’t even being used.”

Eventually, Gloria Rocchio, president of the Ward Melville Heritage Organization, caught wind of Manuel’s extensive collection and reached out.

“She said they had an old museum that needed a little work. And she asked if I might be interested in doing something with my collection,” Manuel explained. “That’s basically how it started.”

Asked to give a proposal to the organization, Manuel enlisted the help of friend and colleague Ray Anderson, a jazz trombonist and director of jazz studies at Stony Brook University. They started brainstorming.

“We had absolutely nothing to lose,” Manuel said. “So we dreamt up what would be the utopian jazz place.”

Knowing they had little backing or funding, they laid out the idea for The Jazz Loft as a non-profit organization with a three-pronged mission: to promote jazz education, preservation and performance.

“We were organized, but we had no idea about stuff like operating costs,” Manuel said. “They don’t teach you that in music school. But toilet paper costs a lot of money when you’re buying a lot of it.”

Rocchio’s group liked what they heard, and offered the space on terms even Manuel & Friends could afford: $1 a year.

With the help of sponsors, The Loft has managed to bring in top jazz acts, put on workshops for students, host those weekly jam sessions and collaborate with such local organizations as the art-focused Atelier at Flowerfield in St. James.

And then there is the collection of memorabilia and art work on display, much of it from Manuel’s 10,000+-piece personal stash.

(But not all: Jean Prysock, whose husband Arthur was a Top 10 jazz and R&B crooner during the 1950s-70s, donated her husband’s memorabilia after meeting Manuel in a Patchogue club. Louis Jordan, one of the most successful black artists of the last century – across all genres – is also represented, thanks to a gift from his widow, Martha.)

The display includes a collection of late 1800s banjos and violins, an early watercolor of Dizzy Gillespie, dozens of old brass instruments and entire walls lined with old photographs of the jazz world’s biggest names, including Armstrong, Ellington and Coltrane. There are record masters from Ella and Bing and Hoagy and the hand-written sheet music of “It Is Written in the Stars,” a little-known composition by “Take the A Train” composer Bill Strayhorn that Manuel acquired and commissioned orchestration for.

Even the three-tier bandstand has a history: It was constructed from remnants of the dance floor of NYC’s famed Roseland Ballroom on 52nd Street, demolished in 2015 to make way for a residential tower.

A changing scene

Most importantly, perhaps, the Loft is helping keep the music alive.

And it needs the help.

“As a musician, I’ve had the privilege to travel a bit,” Manuel said. “Jazz, which is an American-born art form, is sadly so much more appreciated in many, many other places than here in the U.S.”

That’s true, sadly, on Long Island, where jazz clubs in Huntington and Port Jeff have recently gone dark. Treme in Islip is still holding on, with performances Wednesday through Sunday most weeks. East Patchogue’s Denton Inn, where Lake Ronkonkoma native Manuel cut his teeth as a performer more than 20 years, still manages a Wednesday night jam. You can catch it on the right nights at Grasso’s in Cold Spring Harbor.

Still, Manuel says there are still plenty of opportunities for jazz musicians will to be proactive.

“I try to tell my students that they’re not just going to get hired when they get out of school,” he said. “They need to go out and find places to play. If there’s no venue, start a house concert series. Find a restaurant that serves incredible food and say, ‘the only thing that would make this place better is a little trio in the corner. How about we come in and play a free set so you can see what we’re about.’”

Manuel said he owes the success of The Jazz Loft to its volunteers and sponsors, although that’s clearly short-changing himself and the juggling act he does balancing his roles as teacher, father and husband and, now, impresario.

“It basically fits in any open minute. And it’s tough sometimes,” Manuel acknowledged. “But I can’t complain. I literally got to create my dream. I mean, how many people get to do that?”