There’s a new chef in town at The Surf Lodge in Montauk. Seasoned Chef Diego Feliciano is tapping the East End’s rich supply of freshly grown ingredients and fish markets to bring some of the tastiest new menu options this side of the Shinnecock Canal. We recently spoke to Feliciano about his unique approach to the kitchen, his take on life in Montauk, and what’s next at the lodge.
How long have you been The Surf Lodge’s executive chef?
I’ve been [the chef] basically since the start of June. I started here May 30 of this year, and I took the reins basically the day after I got here.
And how did that relationship come to be?
I was in contact with the director of operations of Dante, a restaurant in new York City that has a relationship with Surf Lodge. So he—his name is Mike Reilly—I applied to a position available in Montauk. I’ve never done the Hamptons-Montauk seasonal thing, but he was very happy and into me, I just had to come and do it. It was kind of random, but I’ve been very happy and it’s super exciting. It’s different from the city. Just a different vibe and a different environment. But it’s very comforting, I’ve realized, out here.
What’s unique about the way you design the menu and your style of cooking?
I am a Puerto Rican, born and raised. I have worked in different restaurants and different environments. I’ve worked for hotels, convention centers, independent restaurants, and fine dining restaurants. So I like to combine my culture when I do menus, and I always like to work with seasonality, and use local products as much as I can. The first thing I did when I came here was start to contact the local fishermen to see what the local seafood was going to be, I started looking at the local produce, what’s in season, and that’s how I design my menus.
I go by what’s available, and what’s best right now, and that’s when I start, ‘Okay, maybe I start combining flavors and combining ingredients.’ I always like to throw my Caribbean and Latino influences in a couple of dishes and things that I do, because I think that’s when you as a guest have a good experience, when a menu is personalized, and it’s not generic.
Also I have to study a little bit, because like I told you, I’ve never been out here. I have to study a little bit about what the locals like; I have to have my lobster roll, I have to have, you know, oysters, things like that. But I always like to plate it and just play around with some flavor combinations so it’s a little different.
How else do you incorporate local ingredients and the Hamptons culture into your cooking?
I research a little bit of what the people like here. I started going to different restaurants, researching menus, things like that. A local favorite, for example, is the lobster rolls. I started researching local bakeries and I found a really good one called Newlight Breadworks in East Hampton, and they deliver my bread every day. I found a local fish shop called Gosman’s, and they deliver my lobster every day. So that’s what I do. I basically see what’s available in the area locally, support local businesses as much as I can, and I create my dishes … In this space in the Surf Lodge, is a party vibe. People want to have fun, they don’t like stuffy food, they want fresh. We always present fresh elements of every dish, so it doesn’t feel too heavy. So you can keep parting all night if you want to. I don’t like dishes that you cannot move afterwards, you know?
What’s your favorite thing about the Surf Lodge?
The sunsets here are just incredible. It’s really show-stopping, it’s something that I’ve never seen before. But other than just the location itself is the people that I work with. It’s really very unique, it’s a very international kitchen and very international people that work here from different parts of the world which is very inclusive. I’ve been working with Brazilians, with Argentinians, with African Americans, with white people, Puerto Ricans, Columbians, Europeans. It’s really amazing, because you learn from them everyday.
What else do you hope guests take away from this dining experience?
So I just hope that they get a sense of who I am, and what I’m trying to do. My culinary point of view is to present fresh, healthy food that is enjoyable. I just want [my guests] to finish the meal and feel good about themselves and know that it was worth it to take the drive or the trip here, because they know they’re going to have a fulfilling meal that’s served fresh and with local ingredients and made in-house.
We don’t get anything frozen here. We make everything in-house and I take a lot of pride in that. So that’s what I hope that they get, that they come here and they get a fulfilling meal that makes them feel good about themselves, and hopefully they can create some memories, and they can come back, because they had a really nice experience.
The Surf Lodge is located at 183 Edgemere St. in Montauk. It can be reached at 631-250-8439 or thesurflodge.com