James Beard Award-winning pastry chef, restauranteur, entrepreneur, legendary maker of jams—all of these titles apply to Sarabeth Levine. In recent years she’s added blogger, photographer, cookbook author and mixologist to the very rich mix. What drives this dynamic woman to work so hard to deliver the best possible products and services to her customers every week? The same thing that drives her private life on weekends in her Water Mill home: a great love of and passion for food.
The entire staff of Dan’s Papers has been in love with Levine since she visited our offices in the spring. I invited her to judge an employee baking contest and she agreed immediately. She and her husband Bill showed up early for the judging, provided fabulous prizes to the winners and Sarabeth did more than judge. She took the time to talk with the contestants about their entries and gave out a lot of great baking advice. She clearly enjoyed every moment of it.
Lucky for all of us East End foodies, Levine has agreed to attend the premiere Hamptons food event, Dan’s Taste of Two Forks on July 16 in Bridgehampton. AND she’s bringing a bevy of her famous cookies! Of course Levine is most famous for her line of Sarabeth’s Legendary Fruit Spreads, which are produced in Harlem and sold through IGAs and William-Sonoma stores nationwide.
Recently Levine added frozen soups to her retail offerings. With her husband Bill Levine, Sarabeth operates eight popular restaurants—with a ninth due to open in Tribeca next month—she has many possible products to market. But Sarabeth is a perfectionist in the best sense—everything must be exactly right so that it delivers the most pleasure possible.
I spent last Friday afternoon farmstand- hopping with Sarabeth around Sag Harbor and East Hampton. We just about filled her powder blue Volkswagen Beetle to the gills with East End produce—but only the best. We waited until we found the best “eating strawberries,” for instance. Together we made our first trip to Iacono Farms for eggs and chicken breasts. You might see some shots of adorable ducks and chickens on Sarabeth’s blog, goddessofbakedom.com. Her website, sarabeth.com, is also remarkably beautiful and inviting.
Levine has long been a food celeb in New York. Her James Beard Award garnered international attention but with the release of her encyclopedic and gorgeously photographed cookbook Sarabeth’s Bakery, From My Hands to Yours last year, her celebrity skyrocketed. Now she has a breakfast cookbook that she’s very excited about, due out in 2013.
Where does a food legend begin? With a batch of marmalade. As Levine writes in Sarabeth’s Bakery, “Grandmère was my aunt Ruth’s mother-in-law…Grandmère was as French as a croissant and prided herself on her cooking but her true métier was her orange-apricot marmalade, which she made in secrecy in her basement kitchen. She never wrote down her recipe. We all thought she had spirited the recipe away from France, clutched to her bosom. Years ago, my brother Mel came to New York and we decided to visit Aunt Ruth. She set her table for tea and we told her how much we missed the marmalade. To our surprise and delight, she reached for a pencil and paper and said, ‘Here is a list of what we need; go shopping and we will make some.’ Recently, I uncovered the real story behind the origin of her marmalade. During the Depression, a neighbor in the Bronx had shared the secret recipe with her.” The neighbor cautioned never to sell this special marmalade unless the maker was truly in need.
At that time, over 30 years ago, Sarabeth felt the need to make a change in her life. Together with her beloved brother Mel, Sarabeth made the first batch of her signature golden marmalade. The rest, as they say, is sweet history.
The first batches for sale were made in her small New York apartment. Soon after she had to cover her floor with aluminum foil to protect it from all the drops of hot marmalade—because it was a hit across the city.
Levine’s latest restaurant is her most beautiful to date—with a long white marble counter and displays that showcase her collection of antique milk glass. I can’t wait to eat and drink there! Levine isn’t waiting—she’s been making prototypes of specialty cocktails that include some of her famous jams. Yum.
Levine may still have her native New York accent and move at the pace of the last commuter to make it on the subway car—but she’s also a Hamptonite. When we met for our shopping trip last week, Levine handed me a bag of herbs from her garden. And she’s learned where to hunt for bargain antiques—North Fork yard sales. Levine met her husband 31 years ago in the Hamptons and, as she says, “I just love it out here.”
Experience all the best food and wine the East End has to offer—and meet Sarabeth Levine—at Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, the Hamptons premiere food event on July 16 in Bridgehampton—hosted by Marcus Samuelsson. Go to danstasteoftwoforks.com for tickets and a complete list of participants.