Cooking

Turkey day is almost here!

Centering your holiday meal around a turkey cooked to golden perfection is the ideal way to serve a feast. Without the right preparation and execution, however, your bird could fall short. To ensure your holiday dinner centerpiece lives up to expectations, follow these simple tips, from purchase to plate:

Buy the right bird. Finding a turkey that’s just the right size for your expected party is the start to a successful gathering. One common rule of thumb is to buy 1 pound of turkey per person — so for a 10-person meal, purchase a 10-pound turkey. Don’t forget that nearly everyone loves leftovers, so you may consider buying a few pounds more than necessary.

Be patient. If you opt for a frozen turkey, don’t rush the thawing process. For larger turkeys, it can take days to defrost properly. Timing is everything. Finding the right amount of time for your turkey to spend in the oven is crucial but not always the easiest thing to do. For an 8- to 12-pound bird, aim for 2.5 to 3.5 hours; 12 to 16 pounds for 3.5 to 4 hours; 16 to 20 pounds for 4 to 4.5 hours, and so on. The key is bringing the turkey to a temperature reading of 170 F.

Let it rest. Instead of pulling the turkey out of the oven and immediately carving it, give it a chance to rest for 20 to 30 minutes, which allows the juices to soak into the meat and moisten it up. While the turkey typically receives all the attention at holiday gatherings, rounding out your meal with the perfect sides and desserts is the key to a successful feast.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Marshmallows

sweet_potato_casseroleYIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

5 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes

1/2 cup Kitchen Basics Original Chicken Stock

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar

4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks

2 teaspoons McCormick Ground Cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon McCormick Ground Nutmeg

2 cups miniature marshmallows

DIRECTIONS: Spray inside of 6-quart slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Add sweet potatoes, stock and brown sugar. Cover.Cook 4 hours on high or until potatoes are tender, stirring after each hour. Stir in butter, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Cover. Let stand 5 minutes. Beat potatoes with electric mixer on medium-high speed until smooth. Top with marshmallows. Cover. Cook 10 minutes on high or until marshmallows are slightly melted.

Zucchini Casserole

YIELD: Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

6 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

3 medium zucchini, peeled, cut into 1/4-inch slices

2 medium peeled carrots, shredded

1 can cream of chicken soup (10 3/4 ounces)

1/2 cup sour cream

1 bag (8 ounces) herb seasoned stuffing mix, coarsely crushed

DIRECTIONS: In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the onion, cook until tender. Add zucchini and carrots and cook until tender, about 8 minutes. Remove skillet from heat. Stir in cream of chicken soup and sour cream, mix well. Sprinkle half of stuffing into a 13- by 9-inch greased glass baking dish. Spoon zucchini mixture on top, then remaining stuffing. Bake at 350 F for 25 to 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Roasted Chestnuts

INGREDIENTS: 20 fresh unpeeled chestnuts

DIRECTIONS: Using a small sharp knife or a chestnut knife, carve an “X” in the flat side of each chestnut. Place chestnuts in an even layer, “X”-side down, in a chestnut-roasting pan. Cook chestnuts over low heat until opened, 20 to 25 minutes. Peel immediately, using a towel if chestnuts are too hot to touch.

Next week: Holiday desserts

A previous year’s entry depicts Port Jefferson’s Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

Calling all gingerbread house enthusiasts and architects! Time to start your ovens! Suffolk Lodge No. 60 Ancient, Free & Accepted Masons will be hosting its 6th Annual Gingerbread House Contest during the 21st annual Port Jefferson Charles Dickens Festival on Dec. 3 and 4.

gingy

Every year thousands of people attend this wonderful festival to see the transformation of Port Jefferson Village into a town out of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”

All Gingerbread House Contest submissions will be on display during the festival in the basement of the Port Jefferson Masonic Temple, 312 Main Street on Dec. 3 from noon to 10 p.m. and Dec. 4 from noon to 5 p.m. Entries will be judged for their creativity, execution and originality by a panel of judges that includes celebrated local artists and chefs.

First prize in the adult category will be $500, runner-up receives $200. In the under-18 category, first prize is a $125 Amazon gift card, and runner-up is a $75 Amazon gift card. All Gingerbread House Contest entry registrations must be submitted by Sunday, Nov. 23. For complete details, printable and online registration forms and rules, please visit www.gingerli.org. For further information, call 631-339-0940.

Want to spend more time with loved ones this Thanksgiving? Ditch the perfectly timed oven schedule and put your slow cooker to work. It’ll deliver the familiar flavors of your favorite holiday stuffing, sauces and desserts in a new, more convenient way.

Cranberry Sauce

cranberry-sauceYIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

1 package (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries

2/3 cup sugar

1 seedless orange, peeled and sectioned

2 McCormick Bay Leaves

1 McCormick Cinnamon Stick

DIRECTIONS: Place all ingredients in 4-quart slow cooker. Cover. Cook 3 hours on high, stirring every hour. Uncover. Stir well. Cook, uncovered, 30 to 45 minutes longer on high or until slightly thickened.

Oatmeal Apple Cobbler

1467913710-apple-cobbler-delishYIELD: Serves 10

INGREDIENTS:

Apple Filling:

5 medium Gala apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose baking mix, such as Bisquick

1 teaspoon McCormick Ground Cinnamon Oatmeal

Cobbler Topping:

1 cup all-purpose baking mix, such as Bisquick

1/2 cup quick-cooking oats

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon McCormick Ground Cinnamon

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into pieces

DIRECTIONS: Spray inside of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. For the Apple Filling, toss apple slices, brown sugar, baking mix and cinnamon in large bowl. Place in slow cooker. For the Cobbler Topping, mix all ingredients, except butter, in medium bowl. Cut in butter with fork until crumbly. Sprinkle over Apple Filling. Cover. Cook 3 hours on high. Serve with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Sausage Stuffing

images-1
YIELD: Serves 12

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

2 cups chopped celery

1 cup chopped onion

1/2 pound mild (sweet) Italian sausage, casing removed

1 cup Kitchen Basics Original Chicken Stock

2 teaspoons McCormick Rubbed Sage

1 teaspoon McCormick Crushed Rosemary

10 cups cubed French bread (1-inch pieces)

DIRECTIONS: Melt butter in large skillet on medium heat. Add celery and onion; cook and stir until softened, about 5 minutes. Add sausage; cook and stir until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Spray inside of slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Add stock and herbs; stir to blend. Stir in bread cubes and sausage-vegetable mixture. Cover. Cook 45 minutes on high. Uncover and stir. Cook, uncovered, 30 minutes longer. Source: McCormick

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets

When the pace of family life gets busy, it seems easier than ever to forgo healthy eating plans, and the hectic autumn season is a big culprit. However, you don’t need to compromise flavor for nutrition when turning to convenient options that fit your busy lifestyle. Round out your meal with a simple side dish recipe focused on vegetables, such as Chili Lime Butternut Squash, Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables accented with sweet, tangy pickled beets or Caul-Slaw.

Chili Lime Butternut Squash

Chili Lime Butternut Squash
Chili Lime Butternut Squash

YIELD: Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups butternut squash, large dice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon lime zest

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

olive oil spray

DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 400 F. In bowl, toss all ingredients except olive oil spray together. Spray foil-lined sheet tray with olive oil spray and spread vegetables over tray. Roast in oven 20 minutes.

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets

Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets
Thyme-Scented Roasted Vegetables and Beets

YIELD: Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

1 jar (16 ounces) Aunt Nellie’s Whole Pickled Beets, drained, halved

1/2 pound baby carrots

1 medium onion, cut through core into 1/2-inch wedges

8 ounces shallots, peeled, halved if large

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, minced

DIRECTIONS: Heat oven to 400 F. Line 15-by-10-inch jelly roll pan with aluminum foil. Add beets, carrots, onion and shallots. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with thyme, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Roast, uncovered, 15 minutes. Add garlic to vegetables; toss well. Return to oven and continue roasting 15 minutes, or until vegetables are tender and lightly browned.

Note: 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme may be substituted for dried thyme leaves.

Caul-Slaw

Caul-Slaw
Caul-Slaw

YIELD: Serves 8

INGREDIENTS:

5 cups cauliflower, grated

1 cup carrots, peeled and grated

3/4 cup ranch dressing, fat free

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup green onions, sliced

DIRECTIONS: In bowl, mix all ingredients together. Let rest 5 to 10 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Tip: Cut cauliflower into quarters, keeping core attached; this will keep cauliflower from falling apart during grating.

William Connor in his favorite room in the house — the kitchen. Photo from Amy Connor

By Rita J. Egan

Back in April, Northport Middle School student William Connor participated in the show “Chopped Junior,” and when it came to the outcome, he had to keep it a secret until the Food Network broadcasted the episode on Oct. 25. Turns out the local junior chef made it all the way to the dessert round before being eliminated. In the episode, titled “Snapper Snafus,” William and three other contestants were judged by a panel that included Danica Patrick, Jamika Pessoa and Scott Conant. Ted Allen was the host.

On the night of Oct. 25, William said his parents held a big party. He said on hand were his parents, Amy and Gene, siblings, James and Sarah, as well as his grandparents, friends, teachers and the two chefs, Rob Thall and Michael Roberts, who helped him train for the show. His parents also recorded the show. “I’m glad we taped it, though, because sometimes people were cheering so loud that I missed part of what happened,” he said. The 13-year-old admitted he was nervous, because even though William knew what happened, he was curious to see how it was edited and what the result would look like. “It was interesting to see the way they edited it, which was really awesome.  I was extremely proud of going on the show and making it that far and getting to show the skills I have in culinary,” he said.

After the network aired the show, William said he received many compliments from family and friends. “And everyone said they wanted to eat my curry ice cream,” he said. When he was at school the next day, in addition to receiving congratulations, someone gave him a note signed by 20 people, many he knew and a few he didn’t from different grades. He said it read, “Great job. We all watched you on ‘Chopped Junior,’ and you really inspired us.”

Now that the show has aired, William, who admitted he had hoped he would make it at least past the appetizers round, can talk about what went on during taping. “There was one time when Scott Conant said he didn’t know what a cheese ball was, so the next day I had to go back to film some more commentary stuff, and I brought him a cheese ball.  I didn’t get to see his reaction because we were in two different studios that day, but they told me he liked it,” he said. William also said that during the entrée round he had trouble finding basil leaves due to another contestant using all of them. He spotted another type of leaf, smelled it, realized it was mint and decided to use it for his pesto. “The judges loved it. They thought it was very creative of me,” he said. The future professional chef also said he was proud that he received positive feedback about his ice cream. “Ted Allen wanted to taste it, which he never does,” he said.

While William is back to life as normal, with school and Boy Scouts, he has kept in touch with one of his competitors. “I’ve been in touch with Taylor, who got cut first — I think we got the closest.  We’ve been trying to get together but she lives in the city so it can be kind of hard.  She wants to be a chef too, so maybe we’ll be in culinary school together,” he said.

William’s appearance on the show has turned into a great learning experience for the Northport resident. “I think it really actually transformed me into the chef I am at this moment. I mean, it made me realize that I’m not perfect, nobody is perfect, and I still have a lot to learn.”

Staff members from the Sachem Public Library’s Community Services Department pose with Lidia Bastianich after the event: from left, Patrice Prawicka, Debra Vigliotti, Lauren Gilbert, Anne Marie Tognella, Lidia, Lorraine Silvering, Barbara DiPalmo, Karen Brady and Wendy Schlactus. Photo from Annemarie Tognella
The chef speaks to the a large audience at Sachem Public Library on Oct. 30. Photo from Annemarie Tognella
The celebrity chef speaks to the a large audience at Sachem Public Library on Oct. 30. Photo from Anne Marie Tognella
Teen librarian Kyle Quenneville gets his signed copy of Bastianich’s new book. Photo from Annemarie Tognella
Teen librarian Kyle Quenneville gets his signed copy of Bastianich’s new book. Photo from Annemarie Tognella

TUTTI A TAVOLA A MANGIARE!

Approximately 375 fans of celebrity chef, author and restaurateur Lidia Bastianich attended a talk and book signing event at Sachem Public Library in Holbrook last Sunday in honor of Italian Heritage Month. Lidia signed copies of her latest book, “Lidia’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cuisine: Everything You Need to Know to Be a Great Italian Cook,” and posed for pictures with attendees both before and after her talk.

Lidia spoke about growing up in Italy and moving to the United States at the age of 12, how she got started in television with the help of Julia Child, going into business with her children and how important family is to her. She described some of the differences between Italian and Italian-American cuisine, how proud she is to be from “the two best countries in the world” and answered some cooking questions from the audience. The crowd was thrilled to meet her and enjoyed her personal anecdotes.

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

Pumpkins are readily available in fall, when people carve jack-o’-lanterns out of pumpkins for Halloween or serve up pumpkin pie after a hearty Thanksgiving dinner. But people who are unsatisfied with plain old pumpkin pie can add something new to their repertoire this fall by cooking up the following recipe for Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust, courtesy of Lori Longbotham’s “Luscious Creamy Desserts” (Chronicle Books).

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

YIELD: Serves 8 to 10

Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust
Pumpkin Cheesecake with Gingersnap Crust

INGREDIENTS:

Crust

1½ cups gingersnap cookie crumbs

½ cup finely chopped hazelnuts

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup sugar

Filling

1½ pounds cream cheese, at room temperature

½ cup packed light brown sugar

¼ cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice

1 cup solid-pack pumpkin purée (not pumpkin pie mix)

½ cup créme fraîche, homemade (see below) or store bought, or sour cream

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly butter an 8- or 8½-inch springform pan. To make the crust: Stir together all of the ingredients in a medium bowl until the crumbs are moistened. Press the mixture over the bottom and up the sides of the pan. Bake the crust for 10 minutes. Let cool completely on a wire rack. Increase the oven temperature to 425 F.

To make the filling: With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the cream cheese, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a large deep bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and then the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and pumpkin pie spice and beat on low speed until just combined. Add the pumpkin purée, créme fraîche and vanilla, and beat until just combined. Pour the filling into the shell.

Place the cheesecake on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 250 F and continue baking for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and let the cheesecake cool in the oven for 2½ hours. Then transfer to a wire rack and let cool to room temperature. Refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 10 hours, until thoroughly chilled and set, or for up to 2 days.

To serve, run a knife around the side of the cheesecake and remove the side of the pan. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature, cut into thin wedges with a sharp knife dipped into hot water and wiped dry after each cut.

Créme Fraîche (Makes about ½ cup) ½ cup heavy whipping cream ½ cup créme fraîche or sour cream with live culture Pour the cream into a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid and spoon in the créme fraîche. Let sit on the counter, with the lid slightly ajar, until the mixture thickens, from 4 to 24 hours, depending on the weather. Refrigerate, tightly covered, until ready to use.

Panisse with Harissa Mayonnaise. Photo courtesy of Chef Guy Reuge

Guy Reuge, executive chef of Mirabelle Restaurant and the Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook recently released his first book, “A Chef’s Odyssey: An Autobiographical Cookbook,” to rave reviews. “‘A Chef’s Odyssey’ is a charming and very personal memoir and cookbook by French chef Guy Reuge,” said Jacques Pepin. “From the simple, straightforward recipes of his youth to the sophisticated recipes he made at La Tulipe in New York City and later at Mirabelle, he vividly brings back memories of a time when French cooking rules the New York restaurant scene.”

Try this recipe for Panisse with Harissa Mayonnaise from “A Chef’s Odyssey.” In his cookbook, Chef Reuge writes, “Panisse are a treat from southeastern France. They are made with a chickpea flour batter that is deep-fried. I serve panisse as a snack and they are one our most requested menu items.”

Panisse with Harissa Mayonnaise

a-chefs-odysseyYIELD: Makes 50 panisse

INGREDIENTS:

4 cups whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

1⁄4 cup sliced shallots

1 sprig of thyme

salt and pepper

3 cups chickpea flour, sifted

olive oil for greasing the pan

vegetable oil for deep frying

2 cups mayonnaise, chilled

1 tablespoon harissa paste or sriracha sauce

DIRECTONS: In a large saucepan combine the milk, cream, shallots, and thyme, season the mixture with salt and pepper, and bring the liquid to a boil over moderately high heat. Reduce the heat to moderate and simmer the mixture for 5 minutes. Pass the mixture through a sieve into another saucepan and return the liquid to a boil over moderately high heat. Whisk in the chickpea flour, whisk the mixture until it thickens, and continue to whisk it for 4 minutes more. Transfer the batter to a food processor fitted with the steel blade and process it for 2 minutes or until it is smooth. Spread a 9- by 13½-inch sheet tray with the olive oil and spoon the batter into the pan, spreading it out. Level and smooth the top of the batter with an offset spatula. Chill the batter for 2 hours.

When the batter is solid unmold it by turning the tray onto a cutting board. Cut the panisse into 2½-inch lengths that look like thick french fries. In a deep-fryer heat the vegetable oil to 375 F and fry the panisse in small batches until they are golden. Transfer the panisse to paper towels as they are cooked and sprinkle them with salt. In a bowl combine the mayonnaise with the harissa. Serve the panisse with the mayonnaise on the side.

NOTE: The uncooked panisse can be stored refrigerated in a container with a tight lid for up to 3 days.

WHAT’S COOKIN’? William Connor serves up a salmon burger with a cucumber-mango-tomato salsa on the side. Photo from Amy Connor

By Rita J. Egan

He’s only 13, but William Connor of Northport is already getting a taste of his dreams. In April, the aspiring chef competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped Junior” in an episode that will air on Oct. 25 at 8 p.m.

“Chopped Junior,” the show based on the network’s hit “Chopped,” features four young cooks who work with predetermined main ingredients presented in a basket to create an appetizer, entrée or dessert in 30 minutes or less, and each round a contestant is eliminated. In the Oct. 25 episode, titled “Snapper Snafus,” William and three other contestants will be judged by a panel that includes Danika Patrick, Jamika Pessoa and Scott Conant. According to the online description, the episode will feature appetizers made with duck and some wild-flavored cupcakes in the first round, snapper in the second round and a playful pie and a tart surprise for the dessert dishes.

Until the episode airs, William can’t discuss the outcome or specifics about being on the set; however, during a recent interview, the eighth-grader at Northport Middle School talked about his love of cooking and what he could about his television experience. The 13-year-old said he developed a love for cooking a number of years ago. “One day when I was about seven, my mom was cooking dinner, and I came in and asked her, ‘What’s for dinner?’ She said, ‘Pasta.’ I was like, ‘Can I help?’” William said. “For the rest of the week I helped her, learning different techniques, and then two years later I started cooking by myself in the kitchen.”

The young chef, who said curried chickpeas with tofu is one of his favorite dishes, likes to cook once a week for his family, which in addition to his mom Amy includes his dad Gene, twin brother James and sister Sarah. During this past summer, he was able to cook for them more often, except, he said, “One week when I was at Boy Scout Camp, I was itching to cook.” William said during both the first and second seasons of “Chopped Junior” he asked to audition for the show but his mother said no. He asked again between the second and third seasons, and she finally said yes. “Third time’s the charm,” he said.

When he first asked, his mother felt William was too young to compete. “I knew he loved to cook, and he was really young. I was afraid you go onto something like this that is so high pressure, and there are these people who are authorities at what you want to do, and they tell you that you’re not good enough; they cut you or they tell you what you did wrong,” she said. “Or, they say this didn’t taste good or this didn’t work. And I thought it could really kill that in him and make him turn away from something that he really loved doing.” This year she realized his love of cooking was strong enough to survive criticism. So they filled out the online application to be on the show and uploaded a video on YouTube for the producers to view.

William said he found out he made the cut to appear on “Chopped Junior” when he came home from school one day and his mother gave him a honing steel (for sharpening knives) wrapped in a gift bag. At first, William said he wondered why she gave it to him. “And then, it clicked in my mind, and I literally, from one side of the house to the other, I literally ran and slid on the floor, screaming the whole time in happiness!” he laughed.

To prepare for the show William said he worked with two chefs, his Boy Scout leader, Rob Thall, and his consumer sciences teacher, Michael Roberts, but he couldn’t tell them why. He also watched cooking shows and viewed a number of videos on YouTube to master knife skills and learn other helpful techniques from noted cooking professionals, including his favorites Guy Fieri and Jamie Oliver. Every day his mother gave him a basket of four ingredients so he could practice cooking a dish in half an hour. At first, he said it would take him more than 30 minutes, but little by little, he started cutting down on his time. “By the end I was making it in at least 25 minutes,” he said.

William admitted it was frustrating for him to try to cook in such a short period, at first. “In the middle of it, one time, I thought I wouldn’t do it, so I just literally walked out of my house and just sat on my front porch,” he said. The teen chef said once on the set, he and the other contestants toured the kitchen area so they could familiarize themselves with where everything was. However, William had watched the show closely and not only learned from past contestants mistakes but also he said, “I memorized where everything was by just watching it.” He said many times the mystery ingredients can be something unusual such as gummy worms, but William explained in addition to these, the competing junior cooks can also use spices and basic food items such as pasta, vegetables and meats from the pantry.

Despite participating in the television show, William doesn’t dream of being an on-screen chef. “I see myself cooking and not just glamour cooking. I see myself actually cooking in the heat of the kitchen and everything, and not just showing how to cook,” he said. The aspiring chef hopes to one day attend The Culinary Institute of America and obtain his culinary degree. After college, his recipe for success includes working for a few years in a kitchen, and he said he would love to work in a local restaurant such as his favorite, Tim’s Shipwreck Diner in Northport. William also hopes to open his own restaurant one day. “The restaurant is actually in a barn, and I live in the farmhouse, and all the ingredients are based around the harvest,” he said.

When it comes to advice for junior cooks, William believes in practice makes perfect. “When you want to start, just start helping whoever cooks in the house, and eventually you’ll get up to the point where you can start trying different flavors and trying different things and cooking different recipes that you want to try and cook. And, eventually you’ll start soloing in the kitchen.”

Chef Guy Reuge. Photo by Donna Newman

By Donna Newman

Often referred to as France’s gift to Long Island, Guy Reuge, executive chef of Mirabelle Restaurant and the Mirabelle Tavern at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook, has a lot to celebrate. Last fall he opened a new restaurant on Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor, Sandbar, launched Le Vin Wine Bar and Tapas at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove in collaboration with Christophe Lhopitault, and just this week released an autobiographical cookbook, “A Chef’s Odyssey.”

I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Chef Reuge at his restaurant at The Three Village Inn as he reflected on his journey from north-central France to Long Island.

Chef Guy Reuge. Photo by Lynn Spinnato
Chef Guy Reuge. Photo by Lynn Spinnato

I’ve read that you began your training at age 14. Did you know early in life that you wanted to be a chef?

I developed a passion for cooking when I was about 10. I loved baking with my mother. I’d wake up early to help her make Sunday lunch. I loved to roll dough with her. That’s where my early passion began. But things were different in those days. You either went to school or you found an apprenticeship, as I did. My father was a mason. We didn’t have much money and for me to leave the house and go to work somewhere where I would eat, I would sleep, I would be taken care of — with clothes and so on, it was a good way out for my parents who were not very poor, but also not very rich.

What made you decide to come to America?

I grew up in Orléans, where there was an American army base. As a kid, I saw American soldiers every day. In 1963 I was 10 years old when the family of an American soldier moved [in] across the street. So, there was the father, the mother, two sons and a daughter. The boys were about my age. Although we did not speak the same language, kids play together. I was so impressed with them. It’s the first time I saw a woman with pants — smoking a cigarette! And they would do “the barbecue” in the summer and invite me — with hot dogs and Wonder bread! Once or twice they took me to the camp, where they had a movie theater. This was my first encounter with Elvis Presley and I said, “Wow, that guy is good.” I decided one day I would go and visit America.

So when, and how, did you find your way to the United States?

Coming out of military service, I found a job in Freebourg, Switzerland. [But] it was not a good situation for me. So after two months I was looking for another job. [In] the newspaper was an ad [from] a Swiss man, established in America, looking for a chef. I answered the ad. His name was George Rey and he owned a restaurant on 55th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. He wanted someone quickly. I came to this country on a one-way ticket — no visa to work, only a tourist visa. I just wanted to try it. And, of course, I fell in love with New York. I got a lawyer and [began the process] of becoming legal in this country; a foreign resident with a green card, good for one year. And then, you have to renew it.

So now you were officially a New Yorker?

Not yet. In 1974 I returned to France with money to spend. That was new to me. I traveled to Morocco, to Spain — and spent time with friends in France. But I knew my green card was about to expire again, so I returned to America in late ‘74. Upon arriving in New York the second time, I met friends in a nice pub where we used to hang out. (P.J. Clarke’s; it still exists.) When we arrived there was a table of giggling girls. A few of them spoke French [and my English was not so good]. We stayed to talk. One of them was to become my wife.

Tell me about her and how your lives came together.

[Maria] had moved from Virginia [after college] and was working as a receptionist at Gourmet Magazine. Before long she was offered an editor position. [The publisher] decided to put out a book called “Gourmet France.” Half the book would be about traveling in France, and half recipes from great restaurants. Sally Darr, head chef for Gourmet, went to all kinds of restaurants and got all kinds of recipes for the book. By then, people [at Gourmet] knew I was a chef and the editor-in-chief asked me to help. For one year, beside my restaurant work, I tested recipes for Gourmet. I could buy whatever I wanted, so I shopped at Jefferson Market, at Balducci’s, at Zabar’s — the best stores in New York at the time. My friends loved me because on the weekend I would cook and invite them for dinner. The book was published in 1977. My name is not on it, but I had a great time doing it.

So then you married Maria?

We had a good relationship, but I wanted to move back to France — she wanted to stay in New York. We decided to part. I landed a job as a chef in a restaurant in Luneville, in eastern France. The restaurant was called Georges de la Tour (named for a 16th-century artist from there). We opened a great restaurant in the wrong place. It was a small town, very provincial, people were not open to the prices or the type of cuisine we were doing. It was challenging. And, to tell you the truth, I missed Maria. And she missed me. The restaurant was going so-so, and my father had died of cancer, when Maria sent me a letter. Sally Darr and her husband decided to open a restaurant called La Tulipe. She asked Maria if I would come back to New York to be her chef. My green card was about to expire again. So I returned to New York.

Tell me about that restaurant.

La Tulipe was at 13th Street and Sixth Avenue. I went to look at it as soon as I arrived. It was a shell of a building. There was nothing there and I realized the restaurant was not [going] to open any time soon. So I found a job in one of the best restaurants in New York, Le Cygne (The Swan) as “chef saucier” [and spent my days] making 16 different sauces every day. A year later, La Tulipe opened. It was a small restaurant with about 65 seats. In France they were doing “nouvelle cuisine,” and we were its precursor in [the U.S.]. We’d serve 30 to 40 customers a night. Then Times food reviewer Mimi Sheraton decided — within three visits — we were worthy of three stars which, in those days, put you on the map. We were packed every night from then on. Every big wig, every politician ate there. And celebrities: Danny Kaye, Mary Tyler Moore, Candice Bergen, Mary Travers, and the biggest thrill of all — James Beard. Those were my days at La Tulipe — very glamorous.

After spending all those years in New York City, how did you come to open Mirabelle in St. James?

Maria’s uncle Philip Palmedo lived in Old Field. He was a businessman, a physicist by training, and very fond of French food. He said to me, “Guy, why don’t you open your own restaurant?” I said I didn’t have enough money. He said, “Well, if I help you raise capital, would you [put] your restaurant in my neck of the woods?” We did a lot of little dinners at his home, invited a lot of people and put together a group of 50 investors. I found a location, Maria left Gourmet and I left my chef position at Tavern on the Green. We were young and ambitious. Nothing scared us. We were sure to be a success. A food editor at Newsday became interested in Mirabelle. She and a photographer followed us for three months during construction of the restaurant. When we opened in late December, she did a big spread on us. And we were on the map; packed every day. We opened with a three-star review in the New York Times from Florence Fabricant and [the critic] at Newsday gave us four stars.

Why did you relocate Mirabelle to the Three Village Inn?

Projects like [Mirabelle] are nice when they are young. The first 10 years you do well. Then things change. Other restaurants open. Trends change … I made a mistake, too. I opened a restaurant with partners in New York City in 2000. It was a fiasco. We lost a lot of money and came back to St. James. In 2007 a friend asked me, “wouldn’t you like to own the Three Village Inn?” He said, “if you can make a deal with the owner, we’ll go in together.” I always loved this place and thought we could do something interesting. I approached the Lessing’s Group but they told me it’s not for sale. Three months later CEO Michael Lessing called. “So, how about you sell your restaurant, we revamp the Three Village Inn, and you come in as the chef.” My life would change; I’d be corporate instead of being on my own, but we could make Mirabelle a success again. We transferred the name Mirabelle and the restaurant was reborn in 2008.

Beside breathing new life into Mirabelle, did the link with the Lessing’s bring other opportunities?

Yes. Mr. Lessing asked me to put a restaurant in his hometown of Cold Spring Harbor. We found a place, built the building from scratch, and it’s a beautiful restaurant we call Sandbar. Highly successful, it’s fully booked every night, thanks to good reviews in the Times and three stars in Newsday.

You’ve won many prestigious culinary awards. Which means the most to you?

I became a Master Chef of France in 1991. I never thought I would accede to that. I admire the chefs among that group. It’s an elite. Jean-Michel Bergougnoux, chef at Le Cygne, and Andre Soltner at Lutece sponsored me. And then [there is the] trophy — every year one of the Master Chefs gets it. I won the trophy in 2006 — a beautiful Toque d’Argent (silver chef’s hat) that you keep in your restaurant for a year. I received it at Le Cirque. There was a big ceremony and the French ambassador was there. It was nice. In France, we love our medals.

Do you have a favorite dish?

Not really. For me cooking is something that is based on your mood. So you are in the mood for fish because you go to a pier and you see a fisherman coming with a fish, and you think, “Oh my God, I would love to cook this.” To me, the situation sets the mood and the mood sets the food. I love everything. The beauty of working as a chef in this country is that you have so many influences: Asian, Mexican, so many others.

Tell me about Le Vin at Smith Haven Mall.

It’s a project I put together with Christophe Lhopitault who owns Lake Side Emotions [wine shop] across the street [in the Stony Brook Village Center.] We decided to get together to open a little wine bar. The wine is sold at a very good price, by the glass or by the bottle. We have a blackboard menu, which is all tapas, but with a French flair. The menu changes every two months. It’s challenging because it’s in the mall and people are not used to that. There’s an entrance from the food court and one from outside, [so we’re not limited to the mall’s hours]. Once inside you have no idea you are in a mall. It’s a breath of fresh air.

Do you have retirement plans?

I am getting older and people ask, “Why do you still do this?” It’s been 47 years. My role model is Paul Bocuse. He just turned 90, and although he does not cook anymore, he is still active in the business. I have no desire to give up what I am doing either, as long as I am healthy. Every day I come to work excited about it. I love projects. In this business we are constantly with young people. It keeps you young.

Book signings:

a-chefs-odysseyThree Village Inn

Tonight, Thursday, Oct. 20, Chef Guy Reuge will host a special book signing dinner in celebration of the release of his cookbook, “A Chef’s Odyssey,” at the Three Village Inn, 150 Main St., Stony Brook at 7 p.m. The night will feature a four-course prix fixe menu highlighting a selection of the chef’s classics. Menu items, subject to change, include panisses with harissa mayonnaise (first course); maple glazed quail and fried eggplant with lime and sherry-maple syrup (second course), aged shell steak and red wine braided beef short rib with an autumn vegetable medley or woven sole and salmon sauce Duglere (third course); and Gâteau Mirabelle and petits fours (fourth course). Cost is $110 per person and includes a copy of the cookbook and dinner. Reservations are requested and can be made by calling 631-751-0555.

Book Revue

On Nov. 7, the Book Revue, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will welcome Chef Guy Reuge who will sign copies of “A Chef’s Odyssey,” at 7 p.m. For more information, call 631-271-1442 or visit www.bookrevue.com.

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