Before the carrot there is the carrot seed. Before the seed there is an idea. Colin Ambrose, owner of popular Sag Harbor restaurant Estia’s Little Kitchen, had an idea last fall to foster a richer dialogue between local farmers and chefs. He sent out a letter asking who’d be interested in participating in a delicious experiment.
Billed as “our first in a series of root tastings,” the idea was for local farmers to all plant the same carrot seeds in their soil, at the same time (mid-August), and to compare the results. Farmers were also invited to grow a carrot variety of their own choosing concurrently. The “control group” of carrots would also be compared to this set. Farmers were to then share both crops with local chefs for a special tasting event at Estia’s.
The results, though differing somewhat in terms of size and yield, were amazing! At the recent tasting, Estia’s was crowded beyond capacity with farmers, chefs and media all excited to eat, drink and compare notes.
Ambrose welcomed everyone into his circa 1950s eatery (formerly Tony’s Coffee Shop) and offered them libations from Macari Vineyards and the Southampton Publick House.
The first tastes of each group of carrots were offered both raw and steamed. Tasters were able to compare the same carrots—Scarlet Nantes—grown in seven different soils to other carrots and to the steamed version thereof. Noting the subtle differences in intensity, character and color was all part of the fun and mystery. Then came “the big guns.” Estia’s kitchen sent out carrot dishes prepared by local chefs including Christopher Polidoro (Matt Lauer’s private chef), Joseph Realmuto of Nick & Toni’s, Jason Weiner of Almond, Todd Jacobs of Fresh Hamptons and Robert Durkin of Robert’s. The beautiful selection was arrayed along the Estia’s Little Kitchen counter.
All of the chefs’ creations were fabulously flavorful and without a doubt nutritious. While every dish was expertly prepared and seasoned, Ambrose’s contribution, a deliciously tender Rabbit Shepherd’s Pie, was perhaps the only one laced with irony, as it contained not only carrots but also a fellow lover of carrots. The meal ended with two standout desserts, Andrew Mahoney’s (Bay Burger) Carrot Panna Cotta and Cassandra Schupp’s (Topping Rose House) Carrot Cake.
Participants and press were invited to fill a plate and, during the standing-room-only meal, Ambrose invited lively discussion and insights from the farmers and chefs. As Ambrose wisely said, when it comes to nature, “If I plan on something happening, it’s going to happen in a different way.” Quail Hill’s resident seed expert, Scott Chasky, author of Seedtime: On the History, Husbandry, Politics and Promise of Seeds, shared a helpful directive regarding weeds in the garden: “We don’t ALLOW weeds.”
Everyone at the event was clearly moved, elevated by the proceedings that chilly day. As Sag Harbor Farmers Market founder Kate Plumb sagely pointed out, “Food is medicine.” Leftovers from the meal were donated to Sag Harbor Food Pantry, completing the
cycle of generosity.
Talk turned to how the Turnpike has become quite the “great green way” of locavorism in that Estia’s, Bay Burger, Fresh Hamptons and the Topping Rose House all purchase organic produce from Dale & Bette’s Farm, which is located immediately to the south of Bay Burger. Of these, Estia’s, Fresh Hamptons and Topping Rose also maintain their own kitchen gardens, all of which were designed by Jeff Negron’s company The Growing Seed. Negron was a protégé of Dale Haubrich of Dale & Bette’s years ago. And so the seed grows.
In January Ambrose will head to Los Angeles to edit all of the footage recorded during the tasting into a neat, informative video, which he will freely share on the internet. After that, “the carrot cast and crew” will set their sights on beets.