Dan’s Taste of Summer Countdown: Harbor Bistro Chef Damien O’Donnell

Chef Damien O'Donnell Harbor Bistro
Chef Damien O'Donnell Photo courtesy Harbor Bistro

Long Island oysters popping, Wölffer wine pouring and a little Led Zeppelin playing are on the table as Chef Damien O’Donnell of Harbor Bistro in East Hampton gears up for Dan’s Taste of Two Forks as the 2014 Dan’s Taste of Summer Weekend begins.

This year the weekend comprising Taste of Two Forks and GrillHampton has been dubbed Dan’s Taste of Summer. What does the phrase “taste of summer” mean to you?
Taste of summer means putting fresh local tilefish on the grill, a simple heirloom tomato salad and pouring a refreshing glass of Wölffer rose. Popping some briny Long Island oysters with a crisp sauvignon blanc wouldn’t hurt, either.

What are you most looking forward to at Dan’s Taste of Two Forks?
I’m extremely excited to be a part of this, since it will be my first visit to Taste of Two Forks. I’m most looking forward to seeing and tasting the offerings of some of the most talented chefs on the East End.

Describe your best/favorite culinary experience in the past year?
Another one of my Culinary Institute of America students who did his externship with me last season at Harbor Bistro has graduated from the prestigious cooking school. Every summer we take in at least one student from the school to educate them and put them to the test as part of their schooling and externship program. Well, I’m happy to say that he’s our sixth student in the last four years to come through our training program and graduate the school. Half of them have come back and worked for us post-graduation.

What have been the biggest and best changes you’ve witnessed in the culinary culture of the East End in the past 5 years?
Farm-to-table has existed for many years but at a much smaller scale than in recent years. It has taken on a whole new form and has become much more mainstream, which is awesome. The quality and standards of food and chefs seem to constantly be on the rise. In addition, creativity and plate presentation has evolved in recent years, and what some of these chefs have been doing in recent years is inspiring and I truly admire.

When you hear the phrase “local,” what comes to mind?
In addition to the food we put on out plates, local to me reflects the fisherman/clammers/scallopers who are the roots of East Hampton and the long-standing family names that we have come to know. I am fortunate to know the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the original Bonackers who are the backbone of this community.

Where do you find inspiration, inside and outside the kitchen?
My biggest inspiration is my family. My wife and three beautiful daughters are my driving force every day and they inspire me to be the best I can be in all that I do. In the kitchen, I’m inspired by my peers. In many ways, we are all in the same place in the culinary world. There’s a camaraderie and mutual understanding amongst restaurant people. I see cooks, servers, dishwashers giving 110% and working two jobs to make a living—that gives me the inspiration I need on a daily basis to give it my all.

Talk about your favorite food, and how about your favorite food-related song?
So many favorite foods, it’s nearly impossible to pin point one. I love Mexican food, Mediterranean food and love all the flavors of Asia. I know that’s vague, but I narrowed it down as best I can. If I’m going to request a final meal, it very well could be tacos pastor and an ice-cold Driftwood Ale from the boys at Montauk Brewing Company. “Ramble On” from Zeppelin matches my favorite food thought, ideas evolve with time and we keep moving in search of something better. But just like the song, classic dishes can be iconic and always satisfy through the ever-changing culinary scene.

If you were packing for an East End picnic, what are 3 things we’d find in your basket?
Some cheese, perhaps a Morbier, baguette and a bottle of Casa do Valle Vinho Verde. Some things just need to remain simple.

What drink are you looking forward to enjoying on a hot summer night?
Montauk Summer Ale

Finish this sentence: An empty plate is… Either a happy and satisfied guest or the canvas to create my culinary passion

For up-to-the-minute information on tickets for Dan’s Taste of Summer, visit DansTasteofSummer.com.

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