It’s possible that the modest Long Island via Manhattan chef Gerry Hayden would cringe at the comparison to Blue Hill’s Dan Barber. However, due to both individuals’ devotion to local produce, community, and education, the link is inevitable. What the more widely known Barber is doing in Westchester at Blue Hill at Stone Barns is reminiscent of the ethos at Southold, Long Island’s North Fork Table & Inn — though the prix fixe at North Fork costs a fraction of the price. At $68, a steal, it’s a worthy destination. We caught up with Chef Hayden as he was gearing up to be honored at this summer’s Dan’s Taste of Two Forks, the East End’s most prestigious event.
You’re this year’s honoree at Saturday’s Hampton soiree Dan’s Taste of Two Forks. Congratulations.
Yes, I’m very honored. The thing is, it’s a dream of mine, but Claudia will be there as well. We’ve put everything we’ve had into this. And to be looked at as a place that’s one of the best on the two forks…I think it’s an honor to be honored and recognized. Especially being from Long Island…it says a lot.
Tell us about the North Fork Table & Inn.
This restaurant is a dream of mine, with my wife Claudia Fleming. We came to realize that we wanted to leave New York City and go to an area where we could do our craft and do it well. Initially we thought that we were just going to move out to the Island and buy a house as well as live in the city and do consulting work. After many years at Gramercy [Tavern] and many years at Aureole I had my own restaurant and I found that it was really getting very difficult to run a restaurant in the city. I did not have a good relationship with my partner. So we decided to come to the North Fork.
Why specifically the North Fork?
I’d grown up in Setauket [a town on the North Shore of Long Island], and I’d come out here every summer, to Jamesport… We had summered a couple years in Bridgehampton, but we didn’t want to have a restaurant over there. I’d worked in East Hampton at a place called East Hampton Point when it first opened up in 1993. I liked the area, but I didn’t like the seasonality of it, and I thought that the North Fork had a much longer season.
At that point we also knew that the laws for wine were going to change and that vineyards would be able to sell their wine on the Internet. So now more national exposure would come to the North Fork… We were a little bit crazy. It was a huge leap of faith.
And now you’re a top Long Island restaurant…
We weren’t out to set any goals. We never said to one another that we were going to be the best restaurant on Long Island. We let the customers talk to us and our cooking evolved from there. But everyone was waiting and ready for a restaurant that was going to showcase the local wines and a passion that they hadn’t been showcased in. The local produce in a way that it hadn’t been showcased in. The local fish.
You’re taking a local business, family-run and family-owned, and stimulating the local economy while educating the neighborhood.
Local people come and work for us and they walk away with an education. They learn a lot while they’re here and they enjoy it. There’s a lot of information given to the employees. And there’s a lot expected of them. I was getting a little cynical on the way the work force was going, and I have to say, these kids came to my mind because they really do want to learn. They want responsibility. They do a really great job. The local community enjoys what we’re doing here.
Do you find that you get more people coming from the city and staying overnight at the inn, more locals, or more people from around Long Island who come for an evening?
New York and around Long Island. Locals come for special occasions and for the lunch truck which is our to-go venue… They get a really good lunch — well-prepared food, and it’s still in the vein of what we do. We use 100% grass-fed beef. All of the greens and things we use on the truck are from local farms.
When did you open the lunch truck?
September of 2010…Claudia and I were sitting around — we used to be closed in January — during our one-week vacation in St. Lucia and we were talking. Claudia always brings out 10 to 15 food magazines and the food truck scene was just starting. It was really flourishing in Los Angeles, and they were starting to hit New York more. Claudia said, “We really should do something like this.”
North Fork Table & Inn: 57225 Main Road, Southold, NY 11971; 631-765-0177