Florence Fabricant is a storied food writer, having begun her career writing for the East Hampton Star before moving on to a highly successful, ongoing run at the The New York Times. Her Hamptons connections go all the way back to her childhood, exploring the beach with friends and family.
Fabricant’s Hamptons heritage is what has helped drive her love of food and success, and she has been a true East Ender since she was a young girl. “I’ve been coming to this area since I was 12 years old,” Fabricant says, noting that the beach is what kept her coming back. “One of my close school friends had a house on Gin Lane in Southampton, so I would visit her there and then my parents, in high school, rented in Westhampton and then when I got married my husband had been going to Fire Island and I wasn’t interested in Fire Island, felt it was too limited, so we started coming out to Westhampton and really started exploring the area. We realized we didn’t like Westhampton that much, and visited friends in Water Mill and friends in East Hampton and wound up in Wainscott and rented for a few years then built a house which we occupied for 10–12 years and then sold because we outgrew it. We’ve been where we are now ever since, which has been since 1977.”
Fabricant’s food writing career began, surprisingly, out of frustration. After her kids were old enough to go to school full-time, Fabricant wanted to go back to work, but rather than return to her previous work in marketing and advertising research, found a different calling. “I started at the East Hampton Star mainly out of frustration, because I knew whose house had a card table set out front where you could buy great tomatoes and I knew enough to go to the Green Thumb—and in those days it took 10 minutes, not an hour. I knew that Mrs. [Sharon] Bistrian sold her corn near the firehouse. To go into the A&P and see people buying these pale, hard tomatoes in their plastic package in the middle of summer or balls of iceberg lettuce infuriated me!” she says. “And I grew up in a family where my mother was a good cook. My parents were foodies back in those days. They went to all the new restaurants, so food has always been something I did and was interested in. I lived in Europe and that was part of it, too, and I decided that somebody’s got to wake these people up, so I wrote a column about in the Star.”
From the Star, Fabricant began writing pieces for The New York Times. “I started doing pieces for their Long Island section and it gradually became more regular and then, after a few years, I started doing pieces for living and travel and so on and it became kind of set in stone,” she says. “I’ve always been sort of on the newsbeat when it came to food. I started doing the restaurant column because one of the top editors, Warren Hoge, said that I have a nose for news and would I do a restaurant column.”
In writing for The New York Times and being a lifelong Hamptonite, Fabricant has seen the East End food scene evolve and grow. “You turn the clock back, and I mean way back, there was always a restaurant scene here,” Fabricant says. “In the days when French restaurants in Manhattan would close for a month or two in summer, which was what their practice was in Europe—and why not do it here?—you had top French chefs coming out here and cooking. There was always a food angle here. Over the years, just as the area has attracted writers and artists, it’s attracted the food world, as well.”
“In terms of restaurants, it’s a very tough business. Particularly out here, I don’t care if you’re talking about Southampton or Sag Harbor, wherever—you’re talking about four months and mainly on weekends. The difficulty of getting help, housing help…at one time it was really tough to get ingredients. It’s not as difficult now because there’s such demand,” Fabricant says. “I think restaurateurs increasingly have seen their audience moves out here and so they follow. I mean, look at all the popups. You never had that before…And when I hear people say that such-and-such restaurant is too expensive for out here, you say to them, ‘Do you realize how much more it costs to do a restaurant out here? A lot of restaurants house their help!’ and you get those that realize, like the whole Nick & Toni’s group, that multiplying their presence helps the bottom line. And they’ve done it extremely effectively.”
Fabricant also notes that celebrity chef culture has been successful out here. “You have a lot of Katie Lees moving out here for the summer in the same way you would have a movie star,” she says. “It’s a great place. I think their friends and acquaintances and contacts and publicists are out here, so why not?” But Fabricant also points out that the local professional are just as significant. “I think it’s nice that you’ve got celebrity chefs, but at the same time there is a lot of homegrown talent.”
In the future, Fabricant hopes to see more diversity in the East End restaurant industry. “I think what they’ve done with Coche Comedor [in Amagansett] is commendable,” she says. “They seem to have caught on. I think that in the future, fingers crossed, more of that diversity will continue.” And, Fabricant implores, “Buy local!”
Florence Fabricant will be honored at Dan’s Chefs of the Hamptons on Saturday, June 29 at Topping Rose House. Tickets are highly limited and a portion of proceeds support Guild Hall. Visit DansTasteOfSummer.com.