Cookbook author and Food Network star Katie Lee has lived in the Hamptons for 11 years now, but when she gets excited talking about a topic, a charming hint of Southern accent slips out here and there. So it’s no surprise to hear hints of her West Virginia roots pop up as she discusses Dan’s Taste of Summer Weekend and co-hosting the fourth annual Dan’s Taste of Two Forks this July 12 with Geoffrey Zakarian (her television cohost from The Kitchen), reveals the amorous applications of meatloaf, shares food-filled family memories and revels in the local bounty at her fingertips…and on her plate.
“I call the East End home, and Eastern Long Island is one of the great culinary areas, one of the best food cultures, in the country, with so much to offer,” Lee says. “I think when people in other places hear ‘Hamptons,’ I think they think of this glitzy, glamorous place, but I really think it should be known for its food and wine. We have some of the best farms out there, we have great vineyards, we have fishermen, we have chicken farms, we have cheese makers—this is like a food mecca. And it’s so fantastic that Dan’s is celebrating all that with this event every year.”
Not only can Lee get some tasty insights into the premier food-and-wine weekend from Zakarian, who hosted the inaugural Dan’s GrillHampton last year, but from 2013 Taste of Two Forks host Bobby Flay as well.
“Oh yeah. Bobby is a good friend of mine,” Lee gushes. “Bobby and his wife, Stephanie, have a house in Amagansett, and they’ll come to my house for dinner or I’ll go to their house for dinner, and we’ll cook together. Stephanie is great at making cocktails—she makes a killer cocktail. They’re both really interesting people, too, really great to hang out with. That’s one of the great things about the Hamptons—it’s like everybody you get to meet and talk to is interesting.”
Here Lee serves up some more:
Living La Vida Locovore
“Farm-to-table, that way of eating, is so easily accomplished on the East End, since there are so many foods you can eat right from our area. It’s one of the places where that whole movement originated, and we’re really lucky and fortunate that we get to eat like that. Sometimes I’ll be cooking and I’ll step back and think how incredible it is that all the food came from right here.”
“If you remember Jeff & Eddy’s, in Sag Harbor, they were half restaurant, half fish market, and when I first moved to the Hamptons, I saw that the restaurant wasn’t open yet but I went in and found out they were also going to have a fish market. I was coming from West Virginia, which is a landlocked state, and I didn’t know much about seafood, and I thought this was the perfect job for me to learn.
“I worked there Memorial Day to Labor Day, and it was one of my favorite jobs. People would be like, Oh, don’t your hands smell? And I’d say no, quality fresh seafood shouldn’t smell! I learned how to pick fresh fish, and how to cook with it more and more. In the summer I love to get some striped bass and grill that up, with some corn on the cob and tomatoes—our ingredients are so good, we really don’t need to do anything to them.”
Take This Job and Love It
“I never thought of food as a career until I was about to graduate college. I was a journalism major and I always loved food and cooking. I worked at a restaurant all through college, but I didn’t want to be a chef in a restaurant. And I got to thinking, maybe I could write about food. And I ended up starting a blog with a friend, and that’s how it started for me. I started writing for magazines, and from that and my blog I started getting offers—I got a book offer, I got offered some TV spots. I didn’t really plan on that, so I feel so fortunate, since I get to do what I love.”
“My grandma was my babysitter, and all I ever wanted to do was cook with her, because she was the greatest cook. When I was like 3 or 4 years old, she would pull a stool over, and it wasn’t that I was really cooking, it was play. But we would make biscuits, and biscuit dough was my Play-Doh, and I just loved being in the kitchen with grandma. That’s how I grew up.
“I’ll always remember breakfast at my grandma’s house. She’d always make really big breakfasts, and all the adults would sit around and drink coffee and talk all morning, and we’d have biscuits and gravy and eggs and hash browns and grits and all this food, and it would be like a couple hours just hanging out. I’d always be trying to listen to what the grown-ups were talking about—it was like their catch-up for the week.”
Loaf Is a Many Splendered Thing
“Well, I call meatloaf “manloaf,” because if you make it for a man, he’ll fall in love with you. I just love it. I think meatloaf is awesome. Mine is as simple as it comes, old-fashioned, with ketchup, which carmelizes in the oven and is just delicious.”
Three’s a Charm
“My third cookbook will come out in summer 2015, and it’s all summer foods and it’s all inspired by the Hamptons. I’ve been working on it just over a year now. I’ve wanted to write about what inspired me and what I’m cooking now. My first cookbook was inspired by my upbringing the most, the second one was my cooking evolving as I lived in New York, and now this is where I am, and I’ve spent more and more time in the Hamptons over the years and just completely fallen in love with the area, and that’s what inspires me to cook.”
Hosts with the Most
“Geoffrey and I are both really excited to come out to do the event together. We just love each other and are thrilled to be doing this. I’m so lucky to get to work with him. My cohosts are so much fun, and I’m always learning from them—there’s five of us, and everybody has a different background and a different style of cooking, so I’m constantly learning.”
Family Ties II
“My grandpa and I loved watching the Food Network together. And he would call me every evening and say, Oh, did you see what Emeril made tonight? My grandfather passed away when I was about 20, and a few years later I got to meet Emeril, and he invited me to his show and I sat at the counter and I got to taste his food, and it was very emotional—he was such a part of our lives. And just yesterday, we were filming and we did peach cobbler on the show, and peach cobbler is my grandmother’s recipe, and it was my grandfather’s favorite thing, so I was making my grandfather’s favorite dish on his favorite network, and I was saying I wish he was here to see that—and I like to think that somehow, he is. He was my best buddy.”
Catch a Wave
“I love to surf. I love the waves on the East End. There’s nothing better than your home break. Don’t get me wrong, I love going places where you don’t need a wet suit, but I also love when the water here hits you—it invigorates you, it makes you feel alive.”
These Are a Few (More) of My Favorite (Hamptons) Things
“All our beaches are so nice. Flying Point is the closest to me, but I go all over the place—I like to go to the beach every day. Last year I went horseback riding at that old cattle ranch in Montauk, Deep Hollow Ranch. I’d never done that, that was one of the most special things I’ve ever done on the East End. To discover something new was spectacular. ”
Dan’s Taste of Summer begins Friday, July 11 with the Dan’s GrillHampton—a tasting event and cooking competition pitting eight NYC chefs against eight Manhattan chefs—and continues with Dan’s Taste of Two Forks on Saturday, July 12. For more info and tickets, visit DansTasteofSummer.com.