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Tara Higgins

Chef Andrew Seeley with host Cliff Crooks as he samples his dish, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1. Photo from Food Network

A staple in the Port Jefferson community is heading to the small screen, sharing their story on the Food Network’s newest series, “Chef Boot Camp,” to air on at 10 p.m. on Thursday, April 8.

Under the guidance of chef Cliff Crooks, culinary director of a global restaurant brand, the show takes struggling chefs from family owned businesses and helps their techniques. 

In its season premiere, a local bar and eatery is stepping up to the plate — with chef Andrew Seeley of Tara Inn.

“They take a troubled chef, that’s a good chef, but who needs technique to help a place that’s struggling in the area,” he said. “Prepandemic and now, this area is not what it used to be.”

But Seeley said thanks to the new apartments soon to be developed in Upper Port, the inn has “an amazing opportunity here.”

According to the Food Network, Crooks will put a trio of underperforming chefs each episode through a grueling series of challenges to test their real-world culinary skills and fitness for the role. 

With their jobs on the line, these chefs will attempt to not only survive but thrive in “Chef Boot Camp” and prove to their owners they have the talent and passion that it takes to succeed. 

Owners Tara and Kate Higgins also joined in on the episode, where they offered tips that Seeley needed to work on. 

“The chef spends time with you, teaches you techniques and kind of puts you to the test to see what you can do and what you can’t,” he said. 

Kate, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said last summer the bar received a phone call from a producer with the Food Network. She didn’t believe the message, but called them back to find out they were interested in featuring her family’s spot in their new show. 

“I thought it was a joke,” she said. “I’m not even sure how she found us, but I’m happy they did.”

From July on, Seeley and the Higgins family talked with producers and got ready to film at two locations —  in Manhattan and New Jersey — in November. This week’s episode is the first one to kick off the season, where Seeley and the bar’s owners will be featured in the hour-long show.

Boot camp

Chef Andrew Seeley, as seen on Chef Bootcamp, Season 1. Photo from Food Network

The Food Network said in a statement that Crooks assesses the three featured chefs’ skills in the kitchen and addresses their areas for improvement. 

After an introduction to each chef that reveals what brought them to boot camp, Crooks gets a firsthand look and taste of one of their signature dishes to begin to understand what the issues may be. 

Next, the chefs must demonstrate fundamental cooking techniques of a classic dish, which they must create on time and to Crooks’ satisfaction, showing their skills, knowledge and ability in the kitchen. 

Then, the chefs must bring it altogether — working a fast-paced, live dinner service at one of Crooks’ restaurants, and then, finally, whipping up a creative, new dish for their restaurant owners to demonstrate their growth and progress from boot camp.  

The chef

Seeley has been working at Tara Inn for a year and a half, but his experience comes from a hands-on approach.

He said when he was a child, he would come to Tara’s with his grandmother and enjoy their famous $1 burgers. He spent his young adulthood visiting the bar scene with friends. 

After a move to Florida, he owned several food trucks, but due to some unfortunate family problems, he had to forfeit them, eventually moving back north. 

Now living in Wantagh — and commuting to Port Jeff — Seeley would come into the inn for lunch, according to Kate. She was looking for someone to help with a few shifts, and he asked if he could join the team. 

“Sometimes hiring customers doesn’t necessarily go well,” she said. “But he started on Sundays, it was a five-hour shift, and three weeks later, he was working six days a week.”

An emotional experience heading back into the kitchen, Seeley said joining Tara’s brought his love for cooking to a whole new level.

“It’s amazing,” he said. “They’ve adopted me as their little brother.”

The legacy 

Kate Higgins, Andrew Seeley and Tara Higgins at Tara Inn. Photo by Julianne Mosher

Tara Higgins said her father, Joe, opened Tara Inn in 1977. Now 90 years old, he has passed the responsibility to Kate, but all eight of his children have worked at the bar at some point in their lives. 

“It’s part of who we are,” she said. 

Tara, a Port Jefferson resident, village judge and attorney at the Suffolk County Supreme Court in Riverhead, said the inn has always been a labor of love. 

“Not just having Andrew work here, but having him be on our team, is such a weight off of our shoulders,” she said. 

Located at 1519 Main St., and known for their inexpensive but filling bar food —the former $1 burger now costs $2 — Seeley said there’s more to Tara Inn than the food and drinks.

“It’s also the guests that come in here,” he said. “When you come here, you’re coming into a place that has been around for so long it’s a legacy.”

The motto the Higgins family has held for 43 years is what keeps Seeley going.

“My favorite thing they say here is, ‘We don’t have customers, we have guests,’” he said.

Tara added the vibe of the inn has always been like their living room — a place to get together, share a meal and a beverage, and just hangout. 

“I think people believe that just because we’ve been here 43 years means that we’re going to be here for another 43,” Kate said. “And that’s not going to be the case if we don’t continue to get local support.”

Joe Higgins is happy that after four decades, people still stop into Tara’s.

“Dad was saying that he feels sorry for the local people that don’t realize this gem is in their own backyard,” Tara said. “And it’s true. You know, I used to say the only place to go that’s cheaper is McDonald’s, and now we’re cheaper than McDonald’s and the food is much better.”

And now thanks to “Chef Boot Camp,” Seeley might have a few new tricks up his sleeve. 

Although he can’t give away too much, he said on the episode he works on his seasoning and plating techniques. 

But in the end, no matter how cheap the food — and how delicious it is — people come back to Tara Inn for its welcoming attitude. 

Father offered more advice when Kate took over.

“Dad said to me, ‘You have an opportunity to be good to people and to help people,’” she said. 

At the Jan. 1 fundraiser, Patti Kozlowski, left with tie-dye shirt, Danielle Warsaw, Kate HIggins, Tara HIggins, flanked by Warsaw’s four daughters. The HIggins said the family showed real strength after the tragedy of their father passing. Photo from Kozlowski

On New Year’s Day, Tara Inn in Port Jefferson was flooded with people, from young children to adults, people from Port Jefferson to people in Brentwood, all to support a family who lost their father from cancer.

Locals and attendees helped raise close to $20,000 for the Warsaw family of Manor Park. Wayne Warsaw, a teacher and football coach in the Brentwood school district, died Dec 8. at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He had only received news of his diagnosis of neuroendocrine cancer 30 days before he passed.

His family, which includes his wife Danielle and four young girls, all attended the fundraiser. One of the children had also battled and fought off cancer at a young age.

Tara and Kate Higgins, whose family owns Tara Inn, said well over 100 people came to the event. Funds were raised through raffles and T-shirt sales. On those shirts there was a quote from Wayne Warsaw saying, “Life’s too short, do what you love and do it with all your heart.”

The Higgins normally provide the food and drink for the fundraiser, absorbing the cost to the business themselves. Bartenders also donate their time and tips. The place was packed “wall-to-wall,” said Kate Higgins, who helps run the restaurant full time.

“It was great to see Port Jeff and the businesses go out for this.”

Kathleen Barber Mercante

Other businesses in the community also donated their time and efforts to the event. Just a few examples include Terryville’s Port Jeff Sports, which donated shirts, Butcher Boy in Mount Sinai donated food and Joe DeNicola, the owner of Ruvo in Port Jeff and Del Fuego in St. James, donated gift cards for the raffles.

Brentwood’s South Middle School Assistant Principal Kathleen Barber Mercante, a Port Jefferson resident, also thanked all the people who donated their time for the event.

“It was great to see Port Jeff and the businesses go out for this,” she said at a Jan. 6 village meeting. 

Patti Kozlowski, who runs the grassroots community organization North Shore Neighbors Helping Hands, learned about the family through their GoFundMe, which as of now has raised over $19,000 for the family. Her group normally helps local families fight cancer, and so she reached out to the person organizing the GoFundMe and brought it to Higgins’ attention.

She said that once Danielle Warsaw learned about her husband’s diagnosis “all bets were off.”

The night of the fundraiser was filled with both Tara Inn regulars, who often support the restaurant’s fundraisers, and of many friends, family and community members of the Manor Park family.

“It was a complete cross section of the community,” Kozlowski said. “It warms my heart to bring so many aspects of their community together.”

The Higgins family has had generations now of providing such fundraisers. Joseph Higgins was honored by TBR News Media in 2017 for his help in getting over $15,000 for Hurricane Harvey relief, along with years of other fundraisers including for the employees of Billie’s 1890 Saloon after a devastating fire. Previous fundraisers held at Tara Inn also helped the Port Jefferson School District with over $7,000 to construct their veterans memorial outside the high school.

“We try to do it for an individual or family rather than a major organization — they get all the funds,” Tara Higgins said.

Her sister agreed that it was less of a generally nice thing to do, but more of an obligation.

“I almost feel like it’s our responsibility, that the community has supported this business for over 40 years, it’s just a small way we can pay back,” Kate Higgins said. 


Port Jeff Village is asking residents to use the online parking sticker portal. File photo by Elana Glowatz

Port Jefferson residents shook up the village court on Tuesday night, voting for a new justice to take over the bench.

Tara Higgins is the new village justice. Photo from the candidate
Tara Higgins is the new village justice. Photo from the candidate

In addition to re-electing Trustees Bruce D’Abramo and Bruce Miller, who were running unopposed, to their positions on the village board in this week’s election, voters chose attorney Tara Higgins to serve out the three years remaining on the term of former Justice Peter Graham, who died in office late last year shortly after being re-elected to his judgeship — and after more than 30 years of service.

Candidate Bill Glass had been appointed to serve in Graham’s place until an election could be held, but he lost his bid for re-election, with only 330 votes to Higgins’ 390 votes.

A third challenger, attorney Scott Zamek, garnered just 158 votes.

The defeat is a repeat for Glass, who also lost a try for the village bench against Graham in 2011.

Higgins, a 50-year-old East Setauket native, has lived in Port Jefferson for 18 years. Her connection to the village goes further back: the Tara Inn pub uptown, owned by her father, was named for her.

Tara Higgins: 390 votes
Bill Glass: 330 votes
Scott Zamek: 158 votes

A graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law, she works at Islandia-based Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles LLP, where she does municipal defense work and civil defense litigation.

The unopposed trustees, D’Abramo and Miller, secured their fourth and second terms, respectively.

Miller has listed his goals for a new term as pushing for the Port Jefferson power plant to be upgraded, to keep it a viable form of energy and property tax revenue; making the village more energy-efficient; and strengthening the power grid in Port Jefferson to better withstand storms. For his part, D’Abramo wants to revitalize the uptown area and improve the village’s infrastructure.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

By Elana Glowatz

Justice will be served during the Port Jefferson government election later this month, with three people vying to be a village judge.

Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass
Bill Glass is a newly appointed village justice in Port Jefferson. Photo from Glass

There are three years remaining on the term of former Village Justice Peter Graham, a judge of more than 30 years who died in office late last year, just months after being re-elected to his position on the bench. Bill Glass, the man appointed to fill in until the next election, is running to be returned to the seat and faces challenges from residents Tara Higgins and Scott Zamek.

Glass, 61, decided to run “because I really enjoy the job and I’d like to keep doing it.”

The lifelong resident, who also has volunteered with the Port Jefferson Fire Department for more than four decades, has a private law practice in the village through which he represents fire and emergency medical service groups throughout Suffolk County.

He graduated from Fordham Law School and once filled the roles of village prosecutor, village attorney and village trustee. He was also previously an assistant district attorney in the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, where he worked under village Trustee Larry LaPointe in the Rackets Bureau.

Glass tried to win a village justice seat in 2011, but voters re-elected Graham.

People should vote for the married father of three this time because “I feel like I know the village inside and out,” he said. He has vast experience in criminal procedure law, which is a “key ingredient” in the village court. “I think that I’m … uniquely qualified for the position.”

Tara Higgins is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate
Tara Higgins is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate

Higgins grew up in East Setauket and moved to Port Jefferson 18 years ago, when she got married. The 50-year-old, who graduated from Seton Hall University School of Law, said she spent time in defense litigation for an insurance company before moving on to Islandia-based Lewis Johs Avallone Aviles LLP. She does municipal defense work and civil defense litigation for that firm.

“I just thought that it was a natural progression in my career,” she said about running for village justice. “I’ve tried cases, I’ve written appellate briefs and I thought, ‘Why not?’”

Voters should choose her because she is experienced in the courtroom, she said.

“I’ve spent my entire career in the courthouse,” Higgins said. “There are plenty of lawyers who never see the inside of a courtroom.”

The married mother of two high school kids, whose father named the Tara Inn pub in uptown Port Jefferson after her, said, “I’m hardworking, honest, fair and think I’ve got a good temperament for the position.”

Zamek grew up in the village, graduating from the local high school, and returned with his wife to raise his three daughters in Port Jefferson.

Scott Zamek is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate
Scott Zamek is running for village justice. Photo from the candidate

The 55-year-old graduated from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and has a private practice in Hauppauge where he focuses on transactional real estate. He explained that he represents landlords and developers with buying, selling and borrowing transactions.

He decided to run for justice because he’s always wanted to be a judge and has always been involved with the community, including working summer jobs for the highway department, volunteering with youth sports, helping out with the Port Jefferson arts council and, for the last two decades, serving with the Royal Educational Foundation.

“I think it’s time for me to step up a little bit,” Zamek said. He wants to give back to the village because “I feel that’s something everybody should do. … I want to do what I can to make it as good of a place as possible.”

Voting is at the Port Jefferson Village Center on June 21, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Also on the ballot will be two trustee seats, for which the incumbents are running unopposed for re-election. Bruce Miller is running for his second term on the board and Bruce D’Abramo is running for his fourth.