Finding the ideal business partner is no simple task, and businesses can be utterly undone by the trial-and-error nature of the process. But when you’ve found that partner and you’re willing to meet them halfway, success is likely to follow. Cynthia Sestito and Trudy Craney, owners of The Cookery in East Hampton, believe they’ve met their perfect match.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, both Sestito and Craney came from away to seek shelter on the East End. Both successful in their respective fields, Sestito is a restaurateur, private chef, TV personality and founder of the CYNFULFOOD catering organization, and Craney is an acclaimed soprano vocalist and voice teacher who poured herself into her baking during the pandemic. When Sestit0 tasted her “killer” ricotta cheesecake, a recipe 20 years in the making, she could tell it was a treat worth sharing.
At her husband Allan’s suggestion, Craney set out to debut her baking at the Hamptons farmers markets, and Sestito brought along a smorgasbord of other goodies to round out their offerings. Soon, The Cookery brand had developed a loyal following at the East Hampton, Sag Harbor and Southampton farmers markets, and as demand grew, the need for their own kitchen and community space became apparent.
In August 2022, Sestito and Craney announced the soft opening of their East Hampton bakery. There’s still work to do to get everything fully operational, but food is being served four days a week and catering is already available for small and large events.
“We needed a home for the bakery,” Sestito says. “We just decided to open because we wanted to get open. … I don’t see us in full 100% operation — which means online products, catering, products that we’re producing and our full line of food — until the spring and summer of next year.”
An especially sincere aspect of their desire for a home was to welcome the community that had supported them during the shutdown and to further develop their relationships with patrons and fellow farmers market vendors alike.
“We want community here. It’s very important to us,” Craney says. “The advantage of a farmers market is not only do you get to know your fellow vendors — and these are amazing entrepreneurs, just amazing people — but we’ve gotten to know incredible people who are our customers and who we value as friends, as well.”
“We have a lot of plans of where we want to get very much involved and have people come in and feel comfortable, do tastings and have wonderful little events,” Sestito adds, pointing out The Cookery’s charming backyard barn space. “We all know how it gets here during the winter; it’s a little empty and it becomes very boring …”
The Cookery’s menu is very seasonal to encourage frequent visits and excited tastebuds. The fall offerings have included pumpkin cardamom cake with chocolate ganache, sweet potato ginger soup, roasted apple and almond honey cake.
Sweet and savory menu staples include Filipino chicken, smoked salmon, vegan feta-roasted veggies, lemon chiffon cake with mascarpone cheese, anise almond biscotti, Mediterranean cookies, asparagus bechamel puff pastry tarts, gluten-free deep-dish quiches and diverse salads and sandwiches.
“The great thing is that Trudy and I, because we’ve both lived all over the world, agree that we like unusual spices, unusual pairings,” Sestito shares. “We like to make food a little more interesting than just the standard fare, not that we don’t do some things like cupcakes.”
“In terms of taste, I don’t think there’s anybody around her that comes close to us. We figure if you’re going to have butter and sugar, it had better be delicious,” Craney says. “We very much try to have things that people can afford when they come in. If they can’t pay for that one thing, there’s something that they can have that’s delicious, that they didn’t make and that they can walk out of the bakery and enjoy.”
On the point of cost, Sestito notes that the cost of ingredients has increased drastically since her last restaurant ventures, even since The Cookery’s pre-bakery days, so she and Craney are doing their best to maintain prices close to their farmers market debut.
“Things have just exponentially grown in price, which has been one of the biggest challenges for us because we did not want to be expensive,” Sestito says. “We want to give you the best, we want it organic and fresh — we wanted all those things, but Trudy and I did not want to be outrageously expensive. I think we both very much respect working people and people that have to make a living and survive.”
Taking a look back at 50-plus years of honing her voice technique and teaching others to do the same, Craney is inspired by how well her skills have transferred to this culinary collaboration with Sestito and The Cookery staff. “Transferring my skills, seeing the parallels in terms of growth, being challenged by the amount that I’ve had to learn … and getting to know Cynthia in terms of her abilities and forming a partnership that’s cohesive, respectful and really functional (has been a rewarding experience,” she says.
Sestito mirrors this sentiment from her perspective as a restaurateur. “Partnerships are very difficult in the food industry, and there’s not a long life for most of them. This time around in my life, the rewarding thing is learning how to have a relationship with a partner that works,” she says. “I respect Trudy immensely, and I want her to enjoy this business, which is interesting for me to want somebody to enjoy the business. And I want to make sure that I enjoy the business … for this one, I want to really soak it in.”
The Cookery is open at 85 Springs Fireplace Road, East Hampton Thursday–Saturday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m., but those who would like to call 631-604-6317 or email [email protected] to inquire about ordering a dish, gift basket or catering, may do so seven days a week. For more info and to sign up for the newsletter, visit thecookerycynandtrudy.com.