Eric Voorhis

4 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

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?”