Celeb Chef Kerry Heffernan Stars in Hamptons ‘Seafood Safari’

Chef Kerry Heffernan clams in Sag Harbor through a frozen bay.
Chef Kerry Heffernan clams in Sag Harbor through a frozen bay. Credit: Cully/EEFAS

After a successful Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund a series trailer, production of Seafood Safari will soon be underway in the Hamptons, starring celebrity chef Kerry Heffernan.

The premise of the show has evolved since Seafood Safari was first conceived last year by charter boat captain and spearfisher Ralph Towlen of Hampton Bays. The vision, originally, was to catch fish and other seafood—either by rod-and-reel or while scuba diving—then have Heffernan prepare it at De Gustibus, the cooking school and culinary theater inside Macy’s flagship store in Manhattan. The new concept keeps the whole show on the East End, with Heffernan serving as a conduit to local chefs at Hamptons and North Fork restaurants.

Towlen says it will now be less of a teaching show, and more of a lifestyle show.

“There will be a lot of my cooking, but a lot of me ushering this product from its source to the people who make the Hamptons great,” Heffernan says.

The plan is to run the gamut from high-end restaurants to “accessible, regular clam bars.”

Seafood Safari does not have a network or distributor yet, but a pilot and eight more episodes are being produced on spec. “The beauty of doing it the way that we’re doing it, we get to make the show we want,” Heffernan says. “We can showcase the East End in our favored lens and light, and not through the prism of reality TV.”

A “minisode” has already been produced, following Heffernan as he cuts through a frozen bay and finds clams with a clam rake. With a few other fresh ingredients, he whips up an appetizing dish in his kitchen at his Sag Harbor home.

Heffernan foresees Seafood Safari as a celebration of the East End and its great characters, including its chefs, naturalists and farmers.

He says that as far back as 1998 when he was the founding executive chef of Eleven Madison Park in Manhattan—which tied for Zagat’s best restaurant in New York—he has been striving to support local culture and products, and use seasonal ingredients.

“It’s very much who I am and who I’ve always been …” he says. “It’s interesting that it’s come more into vogue, but it’s something we’ve always practiced.”

Also on Heffernan’s resume is Mondrian, where he worked under Tom Colicchio. Not only did Colicchio cater Heffernan’s wedding to Grace Koo at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, he was the best man.

In addition to being a world-class chef who was a Top Chef Masters runner-up, Heffernan is a sport fisherman who has won several fishing tournaments. Expect to see Heffernan himself on Towlen’s boat.

Heffernan grew up in Connecticut and summered in Cape Cod, so he says that Northeast maritime has always been in his blood. It was 25 years ago when he started visiting the Hamptons, where his interest in the sea’s bounty only grew.

“The first thing you want to do is catch the most fish,” he says. “Then you want to catch the biggest fish. Eventually, for me, you want to catch the fish in a certain situation … the light, the wind, a different angle, a different spot. All that layer of subtlety.”

After chasing bigger and bigger species of fish, Heffernan began looking at the sea on a smaller scale, including growing oysters in Sag Harbor with the Cornell Cooperative Extension Spat Program. Now he is conscious of factors like algae and water temperature and has learned about catching shellfish from oysters and clams to mussels and steamers to scallops and whelks.

While Heffernan will be on the surface of the water during Seafood Safari, Towlen will be underwater, spearing fish and hand-harvesting lobsters. Heffernan says Towlen adds a new level of depth—quite literally.

“We have grand plans,” Towlen says. They plan on making season one and two of Seafood Safari in the Hamptons, then shoot future seasons at destinations around the world, like Cape Cod and the British Virgin Islands. “We have a limitless number of restaurants and places we can take this,” he says.

Towlen’s 26-foot boat goes back into the water at Jackson’s Marina in Hampton Bays on April 1, and production of Seafood Safari season one will start soon thereafter. He has ordered a new, 33-foot boat from Flowers Boatworks in Maine that will be built over the course of seven months. The construction of the boat will be captured by time-lapse cameras and incorporated into season two.

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