“Corn, tomatoes, bass, clams, oysters, berries!” Mention the phrase “lol” to Nick & Toni’s Executive Chef Joe Realmuto and his excitement becomes instantly palpable, as the produce and seafood and gastronomic abundance of the East End continues to wow him even after more than two decades at the East Hampton institution. That enthusiasm is equally irrepressible when it comes to sharing that bounty during Dan’s Taste of Summer—the weekend comprising the two most anticipated culinary events of the season, Dan’s GrillHampton and Dan’s Taste of Two Forks.
What does the phrase “taste of summer” mean to you? Well, the phase itself excites me, as the first thing that pops into mind is the great products like heirloom tomatoes, corn, lettuces and, of course, the great seafood. We are surrounded by some of the best farms—like Balsam, Quail Hill, Amber Waves Farm—who have the most unbelievable vegetables, besides being able to grow our own right behind Nick & Toni’s. Also, the freshness of the fish that hits the back door is the best quality one could ask for, and now we have Dock to Dish, which has opened the doors to availability and freshness. What more could a chef ask for? And Taste of Two Forks gives us the opportunity to showcase some of these great ingredients.
What are you most looking forward to as you return to Dan’s Taste of Two Forks again this year? I look forward to reconnecting with all my chef friends. The thing I like the most is the friendships we make at these events, and also being able to expose ourselves to a large number of people by tasting our dishes.
Describe your best/favorite culinary experience since last year’s Taste of Two Forks. During the winter I travel back and forth to Nick & Toni’s Cafe to work out our restaurant on the Upper West Side, so I make a point to dine out in NYC when I go in. This helps to keep me stimulated during the long winters in the Hamptons. One of my favorite meals was Maialino, where I was able to feast on 5 courses—all PIG, including a half crispy pig head, which was really delicious. And that is to just name one of the many. One of my favorite culinary experiences is also in the summer when I can shop at all the great farm stands and get local fish and wine and hang at the house with friends and family and just cook good honest food with the ones I like to be around the most!!
What have been the biggest and best changes you’ve witnessed in the culinary culture of the East End in the past 5 years? Wow, many!! I started out here 21 years ago, when Nick & Toni’s was one of the few restaurants out here, and now there are many—and some great ones at that. In season I do not need to go to NYC for culinary stimulation—we have it right here. Also, I have seen the changes in local farms and fishing industry as well. When I first started out here, there were tons of farmers and fisherman coming to the back door. And that dissipated over the years, and over the last 8 years it has made a strong comeback. Local farms are popping up all over the place, farmers markets like the one in Nick & Toni’s parking lot on Friday mornings, and programs like Dock to Dish have reconnected chefs with fisherman and farms rather then just relying on the market for products.
Where do you find inspiration, inside and outside the kitchen? Most of my inspiration comes from products themselves. When I come across something that is in season, fresh and raised or grown with someone that loves what they do, it puts a smile on my face and forces me to dig deep to see what I can do with it to keep its natural flavor. Like when you look at an oyster—to me, all I want to do with it is open it and enjoy the natural flavors it has to offer. I also like to dine out in restaurants where chefs keep it simple and let the ingredients speak for themselves!
Your favorite food and drink is… My favorite meal is a great hotdog and a cold six pack of beer! Everyone thinks a chef has this romantic idea of this magical meal—and yes, we do in our head—but most of us just like simple food! We are surrounded by great food, ingredients, wine, and blessed to eat in some really nice restaurants, but at the end of the day I want simple food!
If you were packing for an East End picnic, what are 3 things we’d find in your basket? Bottle of rosé, a piece of Art Ludlow cheese from Mecox Farm—they are all great, but the Farmhouse Cheddar is my favorite—and some nice crusty bread!
What drink are you looking forward to enjoying on a hot summer night? Six pack of Montauk Driftwood Ale from the boys at Montauk Brewing Company!!
Finish this sentence: An empty plate is… a happy customer!!
Dan’s GrillHampton is Friday, July 11 and Dan’s Taste of Two Forks is Saturday, July 12, both at Sayre Park in Bridgehampton. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit DansTasteofSummer.com.