It takes a community of chefs to honor a leader like North Fork Table & Inn (NFTI) owner Claudia Fleming, the doyenne of North Fork dining. NFTI proprietor, cookbook author and winner of the James Beard Foundation award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2000, Fleming is one of the best-known and most respected pastry chefs in America. In 2006, Fleming and her late husband Gerry Hayden opened the NFTI in Southold, in the heart of Long Island’s wine country. The restaurant’s seasonal menu features locally grown produce, as well as locally produced wine and cheeses. NFTI quickly gained a reputation as Long Island’s best restaurant.
Fleming will be fêted at the Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork on Saturday, July 7 hosted by The Halyard at Sound View in Greenport. Fourteen top chefs will gather to celebrate Fleming’s contributions to North Fork cuisine by creating a once-in-a-lifetime repast for epicureans. Of course Rachel Cronemeyer Flatley, Executive Pastry Chef of Honest Restaurants and Catering, which include the South Fork’s Nick & Toni’s, Rowdy Hall, La Fondita and Townline BBQ, will be there. Flatley says, “I’m excited to work alongside some of the best chefs in the area, honoring one of the greatest pastry chefs of all time. I started working on the North Fork back in 2009, and instantly fell in love. The NFTI really put the North Fork on the culinary map, and since then it just continues to get better and better.” Flatley continues, “The amount of talent and passion that the local chefs have is truly inspiring, and it’s an amazing feeling to be a part of a community that has such a deep love and respect for food. Although ‘farm-to-table’ is common these days, it truly is a way of living on the North Fork. Working at the NFTI was my first restaurant experience, and truly ignited in me, not only a passion for food, but a respect for it as well. Claudia was such an amazing mentor and I owe my success to her.”
Where are you from originally?
I was born and raised on Long Island, in Massapequa. I love using flavors I grew up with and elevating them for my desserts. You’ll often see variations of s’mores, milkshakes and Key lime pie. My dad used to make malted milkshakes in the summer, so Ovaltine is one of my favorite ingredients to use in desserts.
What’s your earliest food memory?
Baking carrot cake with my grandmother. She used to make it for every one of our birthdays—and there were six of us! As she got older, she commissioned my sister and me to start making them. We still make it for at least one birthday a year now.
How does living on the East End inform your cooking and culinary creativity?
One of the best things about living and working on the East End is the local produce! We have such great farmers out here doing cool stuff. It’s such a tight-knit community of people who are passionate about food, but who also like to have fun with it. I love having conversations with farmers about what different produce they’re growing and how to use it, or asking if they would grow something special for me. There’s something romantic about knowing the people who grow your food and trying to highlight their hard work, in the best way, on the plate.
Which Long Island wines are you drinking these days?
Bridge Lane Rosé, Mattabella Vineyards Sparkling Rosé, Sparkling Pointe Brut, McCall Wines Pinot Noir and Macari Vineyards Bergen Road are some of my favorites.
What’s your favorite dish to prepare?
Berries and custard. I absolutely adore custards—they are so luscious and delicious. Pairing a perfectly creamy custard with some fresh local berries is so simple, yet so divine.
Why should chefs eat at their own restaurants?
To see it from the diners’ viewpoint. I try and be totally objective and take in my surroundings, the whole experience, to see what can be improved or tweaked. It also gives you a greater respect for the restaurant—sometimes you get so burned out and caught up in the day-to-day stuff that it’s good to sit back and see the culmination of all of that hard work.
What does the term “taste of summer” bring to mind for you?
Sitting on the beach at sunset drinking rosé and munching on some seasonal goodies, with cheese, of course.
What’s the most important thing to teach the next generation of chefs?
Hard work pays off. It’s really important to follow through, and don’t just give up when things don’t seem to be working out. [At NFTI], each day you’d go in, put your head down and make the best food you possibly could. Everyone who worked there was so talented and truly loved what they did. The level of passion, professionalism and dedication that Claudia and Gerry showed inspired everyone who worked in that restaurant.
What should our readers know about dining, and drinking, on the East End this summer?
I enjoy a meal much more when I take the time to think about all of the work that goes on behind the scenes—it kind of gives you a different perspective and respect for your food and drinks. I think what makes a successful restaurant is when the diners and the staff have a mutual respect for each other.
Dan’s Chefs of the North Fork hosted by The Halyard at Sound View Greenport is Saturday, July 7 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $150, while they last, and are on sale now at DansTaste.com. Patrons must be 21 or older to attend.