Acclaimed pastry chef Jessica Craig has joined the Almond Restaurant and L&W Market team in Bridgehampton.
The Long Island native was most recently the Executive Pastry Chef at the well-known L’Artusi Restaurant in the West Village, and prior to that ran the dessert program for the Honest Man Restaurant Group, which includes Nick & Toni’s and Townline BBQ.
Chef Craig was recently a guest on Food Network’s Chopped and a contestant on Viceland’s Bong Appétit. “I’ve pursued being a pastry chef my whole adult life. I can’t imagine doing anything else,” says Craig.
She now brings her wealth of experience and knowledge to the Almond family. A few items to look for on the newly created menu are the ricotta cheesecake, made in house with milk from Mecox Dairy at Almond, or the simple classic chocolate chip cookies or seasonal galette pies at L&W. We caught up with Craig to learn more.
What brought you back to the East End? How did you land at Almond and L&W?
When I was realizing the detriment of COVID-19 to the restaurant industry in New York City I wanted to explore my options in employment. So much was and still are uncertain. Especially with being a pastry chef, dessert isn’t a necessity and unfortunately that is an area where most restaurants will make the most cuts financially.
Also, after having had surgery last March as COVID-19 was beginning to take a strong hold it made me reevaluate the direction of my career and my core values. Having worked for Nick & Toni’s and Honestman Group from 2008 to 2013, there were certain values concerning cooking, community, seasonality and locality that I had been missing ever since I had left to work in NYC. I missed knowing the farmers on a first name basis, communicating about the weather and harvests, finding out how the upcoming season is shaping up, just cooking simple, delicious dishes where seasonal ingredients gets to shine.
I saw an ad that Almond was looking for a pastry chef. I had eaten at their Bridgehampton location many years ago and remember enjoying my meal. I took a shot and text [Almond’s Executive Chef and owner] Jason Weiner, curious to see what exactly he was looking for. Initially he was surprised to come across someone with my skillset. He didn’t think he would have found someone with my level of experience but thought maybe I could possibly take care of the pastry program at both their Bridgehampton and New York City locations. It was honestly a match made in heaven as I love what Almond stands for as they use hyper local ingredients on their menu with amazing relationships with the farmers in the local area. It also allows for me to still have a place in the NYC scene once they sort out and open that location again. I’ve always wanted to figure out how to be involved with both NYC and the Hamptons. So once this opportunity presented itself I stayed actively in contact with Jason until we finally worked out a deal. It was an opportunity I wanted very much and am very happy it turned out to be a great fit for both of us.
You’ve recently been a contestant on Viceland’s Bong Appétit and a guest on Food Network’s Chopped. What were those experiences like?
Both experiences were vastly different from each other. Bong Appétit was a more relaxed and fun competition. Of course when weed is involved, right? There hasn’t been many shows like it and it was their first competition season. Being one of the first of something is really what attracted me to it. Also, a free flight and hotel stay for a few days didn’t hurt either.
While cannabis was clearly what the show was about, I was more focused on making delicious food that also happened to make you high. The pantry had so much in it. I had very little experience cooking with cannabis and tinctures being from New York where technically recreational use is still illegal. They had an expert on set to guide you through your infusions and give you any information that you needed. That proved to be very helpful. I was pleasantly surprised at the win, but the food I cooked was 100 % how I like to feed people. Delicious, seasonal, comforting with a little bit of a twist.
Chopped however was completely different. I never thought I’d end up on the episode because I was supposed to be a standby (back up just in case anyone couldn’t compete for any reason). Someone dropped out the day before the episode was scheduled to record so they ended up using me. I was completely unprepared and stressed out about it. Chopped is watched on a national level and that weighed on me. They have very strict rules about how the day is conducted because such a large sum of money is on the line and they want to make sure everyone has an equal chance of winning.
Having signed a contract I’m not sure how many details I can give away but I found it all very stressful and not fun. I’m proud to have made it to the last round but I walked away beating myself up for a long time for the silly mistakes I made under pressure. I ended up never watching the episode but I’m still very proud of myself.
Tell us a little about the dessert menu at Almond and L&W:
The menu at Almond is interesting. The Pot de Creme and Date Cake are both staple items that will never come off the dessert menu. I have creative reign over the rest of the menu to change as much or as little as I want. I’m still getting to know the guests as Almond hasn’t really had a pastry chef in the past so in a lot of ways I’m challenging what has been “normal” for the menu.
Right now we have a cookie plate consisting of lemon drop cookies, lemon verbena scented cookies with a blueberry jam filling and a s’more cookie. I’ve added a ricotta cheesecake with local melon granita and a sesame tuile garnish. Another addition is a Sundae composed with a brown butter pound cake, almond brittle ice cream and butterscotch sauce. I’m throwing things out there that I think are delicious that I hope our guests will think are delicious too. All of these items are subject to change in the near future as peaches and blackberries are in full swing at the moment.
My approach to L&W is very similar. I am staying true to what guests seem to like but am trying to come up with new items that I hope will become new staples.