“I grew up in a small town 40 miles south of Boston. In those days, it was predominately a farming community, much like the North Fork was before the wine industry.” As Steven Biscari-Amaral, co-founder and Executive Chef of the North Fork Chocolate Company, reflects on the road that has brought him from that Beantown outpost to a James Beard Award nomination to his artisanal handcrafted chocolate emporium in Aquebogue, it seems he was destined for this locavore’s locale and the inspiration it continually offers.
“My grandfather, who was from the Azores Islands, had a poultry farm and also grew produce for our small farmstand. I can remember hanging out with him as early as five years old while he worked in the chicken barns, in the fields and delivering dressed chickens and eggs to his customers door-to-door. We were actually practicing farm-to-table as a way of life. Living and working on the North Fork brings back so many awesome memories of my childhood and family life. Throughout my culinary journey I’ve used these influences to build relationships with the agricultural community and support the idea of farm-to-table and sourcing the best ingredients possible.”
Driven by an artist’s creativity and passion for evolution and experimentation, Amaral has taken North Fork Chocolate Company beyond just a destination for decadent treats. Whether it’s Yoga Tuesdays, Wet Your Whistle Wednesdays, turning Sundays into family fun days with a Belgian waffle bar and chocolate fountain, hosting Kentucky Derby and Mother’s Day celebrations this year, or even turning the space into an art gallery (yes, the man is a painter as well), the chef is dedicated to sharing the bounty of the East End—including by serving up some of his tasty creations at this year’s Dan’s Rosé Soirée presented by Porsche on May 27, Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork on July 7, and Dan’s Taste of Two Forks presented by Farrell Building Company on July 21.
How does living on the East End inform your cooking and culinary creativity?
Our chocolates are made with local ingredients enrobed in a proprietary blend of pure Belgian chocolate. We incorporate local beer, sea salt, honey, berries, cider, wine and spirits. We feel incorporating local ingredients in our chocolates is vital to supporting the local agricultural community, and using farm-fresh ingredients is expected from our local customers and East End visitors.
How do memories of home continue to influence your work?
On the farm we did everything—wash eggs, pull weeds, pick strawberries, shell beans, dig potatoes, hoe, catch chickens, dress them, etc. When my mom wanted to cook eggs for us she gave us the pot she was going to cook them in and we would go out to the chicken coops and fill it up. At the kitchen table we would talk about what we were having for lunch at breakfast and for dinner at lunch. Our existence revolved around the entire process of food.
What’s your earliest food memory?
My maternal grandparents came to New York from Sicily in 1925, and there’s one universal link with Italians—FOOD. It seemed like everyone in our family was a good cook—we all started cooking as soon as we were tall enough to reach the stove. Grandma would pick us up and put us on the kitchen counter and the first thing we learned was to cook spaghetti and roll meatballs.
What inspired your career the most?
My time spent in Europe, living and working in Spain and France; in the three-star Michelin kitchen of Roger Verge; living in Nice on the Cote D’azur; backpacking through Europe for a year in 1984, after a few years working in Maui. The inspiration from traveling and immersion in the many different cultures and cuisines was very humbling and inspiring at the same time—most of all, the respect for ingredients.
Which Long Island wines are you drinking these days?
Clovis Point Port, Lenz Winery’s Chardonnay, Pellegrini Vineyards’ Merlot, Laurel Lake Vineyards Cab Franc, Castello di Borghese Petit Chateau Bordeaux.
What’s your favorite dish to prepare?
On the East End, the produce and seafood are so primo, I enjoy preparing sushi and sashimi. My restaurant in Maui had a sushi bar, it’s best to make it when the ingredients are so fresh.
What equipment do you treasure?
My Chinese cleaver and wok.
What’s the most important thing to teach the next generation of chefs?
Know where your ingredients are from and how they are raised and grown. Start demanding that the ingredients you work with are minimally processed and free of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers. Handle ingredients with the utmost respect and incorporate organics as much as possible. Simplicity is a sign of good taste. Buy local, keep your purchasing dollars in the local community.
What’s your definition of “succulent?”
Biting into a perfectly cooked North Fork corn-on-the-cob.
What makes a cocktail a “craft cocktail?”
Properly prepared fresh ingredients, a simple presentation, local spirits.
What’s your favorite thing about Dan’s Taste of Summer events?
Getting to taste everyone’s creations in one place, in a festive environment, on the beautiful East End. For me, it’s an opportunity for the agricultural community and chefs to come together and showcase their skills and creativity in a festive setting at the peak of crop season on the East End.
Dan’s Rosé Soirée presented by Porsche is Sunday, May 27 at the Southampton Arts Center. Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork is July 7 at The Halyard at Soundview Greenport. Dan’s Taste of Two Forks is July 21 at Fairview Farm at Mecox. For tickets and more information about all Dan’s Taste of Summer events, visit DansTaste.com.