“Making food is a vessel for conversations and to enjoy yourself” muses the 29-year-old chef while shucking oysters in the garden of the Maidstone. He’s recently taken-on the role of executive chef at the chic American Scandinavian boutique hotel. We’re talking about his deep-rooted respect for the farmers who grow the produce he cooks with. “Their passion, their love creates a crop, and you can see it from day one to the day that it comes to your restaurant – knowing where something comes from is very important, and knowing how its grown”.
A vegetarian since the age of 13, Ian’s mum would cook meals for their family without ever tasting any of the meats. He remembers being blown away that she was able to season and cook meat perfectly without ever tasting it, and it was then that he discovered the importance of cooking with love. For Ian, cooking from the heart, and by extension using ingredients grown with the same dedication, are central to his cuisine.
After taking us around town to his favorite fishing spot, the family-run company where he sources his seafood, and even the pond he plays ice hockey on in winter, we sat down to taste a number of his vibrant dishes, and learn more about his life’s adventures.
How does a young cook from East Hampton wind up living in the city of lights?
When I was 22 years old, a finance guy in the Hamptons I knew talked of opening a New York City pizza joint in Paris. I jumped at the chance, and within two weeks of expressing interest, my bags were packed and I was on a plane to France to go and scout locations. The banker wasn’t hands on the project at all, so as a young cook just getting my feet wet, I dove in head-first to opening a restaurant a to z: from sourcing used pizza ovens in New Jersey to put into shipping containers and onto a boat, to refining the recipes, teaching local staff about New York Pizza, all of it.
So what brought you back to your hometown of East Hampton?
Part of it was that I really missed the excitement of a real restaurant kitchen – the ticket machine going off non-stop, the searing hot pans, the flaming grill, the camaraderie of a team working together - all of that is very addictive and is what draws a lot of people to the kitchen, it’s like being on a rollercoaster. As great an adventure as my time in Paris was, the pizza shop lacked that mayhem.
“Making food is a vessel for conversations and to enjoy yourself”
Why back to Long Island and not just another kitchen in Paris or somewhere else?
From the farmers to the fishermen down to the salt companies we use, we know exactly where every ingredient we use in the kitchen comes from, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s unique to the east end of Long Island - not a lot of places can do that. Almost everything we serve comes from within 50mi of here. I’ve lived all around the world, and there’s nowhere like this - with this level of diversity of seafood and produce.
What do you do to get inspired and grow as a cook?
I love to go around a city whether it’s New York or anywhere else I may go, and to walk around an area stopping into as many little places as I can find – trying one small specialty dish at every stop. It’s a culinary scavenger hunt that is unique every time. It’s a really fun way to gather a bunch of new ideas and concepts to incorporate into my own cuisine.
What meal from your past would you go back in time to eat again?
It would have to be the Spaghetti Bolognese I had in an alleyway in Florence when I was visiting Italy with my Jewish youth group when I was 15 years old. Everyone wanted to go eat at these tourist-trap restaurants, but I saw a group of businessmen walking down the alleyway and sitting down to eat at this tiny trattoria and I said ‘I want to eat there’ – and so we did. I ate the Spaghetti Bolognese from that mom and pop hole in the wall every day for the five days we were there. I wonder if I’d be able to find it again, but I’m sure it’s still there – their Bolognese is the stuff of legend.