John Ross Waxes Poetic on ‘The Poetry of Cooking’

Ross’s Cedar Grilled Lobster Stew
Ross’s Cedar Grilled Lobster Stew, Photo: Courtesy John Ross

East End chef John Ross toured his beloved North Fork this season on a local book tour to promote his third book, The Poetry of Cooking. The Cornell Hotel School graduate was the chef and owner of Ross’ North Fork Restaurant in Southold for 27 years, and served as the Director of the Restaurant Management program at Suffolk Community College for 14 years. He was also the club manager at North Fork Country Club in Southold, and is a food columnist for various publications. Ross says that the recipes in his new book reflect the way he cooks by focusing on seasonally fresh ingredients. “The recipes have been cooked numerous times and they’re some of my favorites—I think they reflect our East End as best as I know.”

How did you select the recipes for your new book, and why did you choose to include poetry?
I tried to attract the reader that doesn’t want to just read recipes. Recipes can be kind of boring. I start with an anecdote and a little thing to draw people in. For this book, the recipes were taken from my stockpile of the last eight years. I also researched my favorite food poetry. There are 21 poems in the book that are all food-related. They’re really excellent, some are serious and some are funny.

You’re known as a pioneer of the farm-to-table movement. What drew you to it?
I was sort of going against the grain. In 1972, the scene in America was very different. The drive towards processed and convenience foods was growing astronomically. The microwave oven was becoming part of everybody’s kitchen. Frozen foods were on the rise like crazy. I decided early on that I wanted to cook from scratch and that I wanted to use fresh foods.

How do you feel about the farm-to-table movement becoming mainstream now?
We’ve come full circle. We now realize that good health and well-being are closely related to diet, and good diet is closely related to fresh food.

There’s an artistic side to cooking, too. That’s where the poetry in the book comes in. It’s my belief that people have to make a commitment to cook from scratch. You make the decision the day before for what you’re going to eat today. You can’t be thinking of your meal 30 minutes before you eat. That’s a habit that many people have gotten into because everything is so damn convenient. My premise is, get away from that. You won’t have to be slaving in the kitchen all day. It takes less than five minutes to soak a bag of beans or to make a marinade or brine. You just have to make that decision.

The East End has more to offer than almost any place in the world. It’s one of the best sources of seafood, vegetables, fruits, and now even some specialty meats. The other thing is that we also have a market that appreciates good food—New York City, Nassau County, Suffolk County—a very educated market that loves good food. It’s one of the best places anywhere to open a restaurant.

What was it like running a restaurant on the East End?
It was an awful lot of work as a chef and owner. I did that for 27 years in my own place. An 80-hour week was a slow week for me—in the middle of the summer it was more like a hundred hour week. I’d go in at 7 a.m. and wouldn’t come home until 11 p.m., six days, holidays, weekends. It was a ton of work. I loved it. I would do it today if I could stand on my feet.

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