When Chef Todd Jacobs of Bridgehampton’s earthy new eatery says “Fresh,” he means it. So don’t trip over the herb and vegetable garden on your way in.
“I grew up as a meat and potatoes guy in New York,” he says, sitting on the reclaimed wood bench facing the garden. “I don’t want to say my mother was a terrible cook, but I took a trip to Chinatown in my teens and ate all these new and wonderful vegetables. I also tried some weird stuff, like locust larvae—they really experiment with food in Chinatown.
“I came home and said ‘Ma, why don’t we have more vegetables like this?’ She said ‘I’ve got three kids, I don’t have time for that. You want to eat that? You make it.’ So that’s why I started cooking.” He enrolled in Manhattan’s French Culinary Center—now called the International Culinary Center—and got serious about food.
His first job was at the Plaza Athénée Le Regence. He eventually made his way to Sag Harbor’s American Hotel for six years, then opened his own place—the Tierra Mar in Westhampton Beach in 1994. He owned the well-received Atlantica in Long Beach, and then got the itch to come back to the East End.
“I used to drive out to all the farms here in my black two-door Mustang in the ’80s,” he says. “Loading everything in that cramped back seat and trunk, my motto was ‘Know Your Farmer.’ My menus are driven by what’s local; I highlight my daily menu on what’s coming in the back door fresh. I still deal with many of the same suppliers like the farm I get my turkeys, ducks and chickens from in Kings Park.”
He looked from Water Mill to Montauk for a new location, finally settling on the site of the former Southfork Kitchen. The interior is largely unchanged, with rustic wood walls, large open windows, warm lighting, and amusing chalkboard walls complete with colored chalk in the restrooms.
The main new addition is the paintings of Buddhas and the Dalai Lama by Chris Bennett, an artist who had been a waiter for Jacobs for many years.The garden has been cleaned up from the winter and Jacobs expresses delight in what has been popping up in the various raised beds. “We have some beautiful lemon verbena, peppers, dill, and rosemary. The tomatoes just went in a few weeks ago. And look at these strawberries! They are so delicate, they only last a day. I can only imagine what they are putting on the ones in the supermarket to make them last a week. We try and pick as much as we can daily.”
Starting up a new restaurant has Jacobs working 14-hour days, seven days a week. “I want customers to know we are always open,” he says.
If this isn’t enough to keep him busy, he and his wife have six children—two each from previous marriages and two together—ranging in ages from one to 22. “Yeah we get the Brady Bunch comparison a lot,” he laughs. “I figure the big family life will either keep me young or kill me.”
The family’s life on the ocean finds them surfing together and sending the kids to surf camp this summer. Early mornings—before entering the steamy kitchen at Fresh—Jacobs takes Ashanti Yoga in Sag Harbor and also Hot Yoga classes. “It kicks my butt but I love it,” he says of the intense temperature workout. “I was doing it daily for awhile, now it’s down to a few days a week. It really helps my breathing and concentration during the day.”
Jacobs says reaction to Fresh has been “tremendous,” and longtime followers of his restaurants “don’t even look at the menu,” he says. “They know I’ll have a great salad and fish on it.”
The emphasis at Fresh is on vegan, raw, fresh greens and a menu of “mocktails” that combine fruit juices with herbs and sparkling water. The liquor license is coming through any day, and patrons are welcome to bring a bottle with them for now. “The main thing I want is for the food to be as nutritionally dense as possible—that means no processed foods, no white flours, and mostly gluten free. I want people to feel good when they leave here as nothing is too heavy.”
Fresh Hamptons, 203 Sag Harbor Turnpike, Bridgehampton, 631-537-4700 freshhamptons.com