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'Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook' Author Shares Vision

"Love is the best ingredient, after all," said author Leeann Lavin, whose book celebrates stories and recipes celebrating the bounty of the East End and Long Island and the intrinsic ties between chef and grower.

A new cookbook, "Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown" celebrates the flavors and bounty of the East End and Long Island. Author Leeann Lavin shares her vision.

Q: What inspired you to write a cookbook about the East End?

A: When I first started work on this book concept in 2002, I had the idea that gardens are peerless; that because gardens are so utterly beautiful – so inspiring -- it could be said that Mother Nature is responsible for no less than giving birth to the magic of artistic endeavor. It was more than the notion that gardens are just pretty to look at or sit in, but indeed, I believe their very essence captivates us and elevates us to create.  

Especially artists. I knew that gardens had been igniting passions and fueling artists from painters to sculpturers to writers and musicians throughout the ages. 

And none more so than the culinary artist, because they utilize the garden’s bounty in making their transporting, artisanal signature recipes. I wanted to further explore the nexus where garden art meets and fuels other art, beginning with the culinary artist because they use the bounty of the garden directly in their creations.  

I wanted to discover how locavore chefs discover inspiration from their growers, farmers, fisherman, dairymen, vintners and artisanal food producers to create seasonal, sustainable, and delicious menus.  

Long Island and particularly the East End have a long and proud agricultural history – and today it is still the most productive farming and food production region in New York. The book demonstrates the special relationship and respect between the chef and their inspired grower and their relationship to the land and the waters. I wanted to tell those challenging and triumphant stories.  

I live in New York and the Garden State, and have spent so much time on the East End in producing the book: bicycling to interviews across the two Forks, photo shoots, tastings – it is safe to say it is my home, too. Everyone welcomed me – opening up their gardens, their duck farm, oyster beds, wineries, and kitchens.  It’s an intimate experience and I am proud and honored to share the food history and stories that are Long Island.  As I note in the book, the original Paumanok name for Long Island is “Land of Tribute,” and the "Homegrown" book is my tribute to Long Island. 

 Q: What does your book focus on?  

 A: Told in a rare collection of loving profiles and beautiful color photographs, "The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook" captures the authentic and delicious homegrown ingredients produced by the artisanal food growers and the majestic land and seascapes that are the romantic hallmarks of the Island’s food culture. Inspired by the terroir and the growers, the book celebrates that distinctive, inspired cuisine and lifestyle -- bursting with flavorful recipes from the area’s best locavore chefs.  

Q: How do you define Hamptons and Long Island "homegrown?"

In the book, I define Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown as a chef who creates their menu based on the seasons and what is available locally.  It can be argued this is more difficult to manage or to do. However, that’s what helps make them great chefs, not just good cooks. They will get up extra early to visit with the fishermen to pick out the just-caught seafood, or get to the farm or greenmarket as it opens. The menus are market-driven. They learn horticulture and agriculture; they can butcher. They seek out the best, local ingredients. They can practice the “Rule of Claudia,” and seasonal, sustainable is what inspires them. They have respect for their growers and nature.  

Q) How does this focus on homegrown produce reflect a shift in the American consciousness?

A) People want to know where their food comes from. People have also developed a curiosity to learn to grow native edibles. And to make much of what they eat – to become empowered to explore and prepare good food, not tainted or adulterated ingredients. The focus on homegrown has ignited a passion to create: whether it’s to make a homegrown crafted beer or cupcakes, or pickles, people love making and sharing their food.  Love is the best ingredient, after all.

Q) What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?

Like children, I truly love them all. I make different recipes for different seasons or occasions – for a bridal shower for example, we made many of the recipes – pre-publication - and labeled the trays and dishes so guests could reference the food memory when they got their book. 

Q) Why is your book a must have for anyone who lives on the East End or loves the area?

Readers will relish the food stories and part of the joy in a regional book is to identify with the chefs and restaurants and growers. Though the book is being marketed nationally, because you may not realize it but many people aspire to a "Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown" lifestyle. People display the book with pride. They use the book to create memorable meals. And they can gift a truly unique and special tribute to Long Island.  

Q) What other factors inspired you to write the book?  

A) I also wanted to celebrate local and regional food. In the not-too-distant past, people would travel to different places or far-away regions to not only enjoy the beauty of the landscape, but also to taste and experience the local cuisine. Today, more people eat the same shopping mall-one-size-fits-all-menu. That’s bland and uninteresting. I want to recapture a food tourism. Local terroir and salinity of waters and the seasons, for example, make fruits and vegetables and dairy taste different and unique. Food tourism will again suggest people will visit Long Island to dine and drink. Long Island is blessed with a climate and landscape and waterways that afford it fresh, delicious food sources in just about every season.  

Q) Where can it be purchased?

A) To order my book "The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook" at Barnes & Noble, Amazon & local independent book stores, go to:  http://tiny.cc/4zjhbw, http://tiny.cc/pijhbw, http://www.indiebound.org/indie-bookstore-finder.

Q) What is the message you hope to convey in your book?

A) There are several messages that I hope readers will take away from the book, including a sense of pride in the region’s longstanding agricultural history and contribution to an American cuisine (duck, potatoes, tomatoes, corn, fish, wine, to name a few landmark ingredients). Also, that they celebrate and embrace the locavore chefs and their growers who work really, really hard to produce and serve this food.

And that readers will see that the best food starts with the best ingredients. The best chefs advocate starting with the best ingredients and then to do as little as possible to them.

In turn, I hope readers will support their local farmers, CSA, and growers – and perhaps grow some things themselves. It is very empowering and healthy. Sustainable food is good for the economy, too. And, finally, I am overjoyed when fans tell me the book is so special for a few reasons: they love the food stories – learning about what drives the chefs and growers – and I hope that inspires the readers in whatever life endeavor they have.

Further, the recipes are simple to make and simply delicious – recipes that you can return to over and over. As a guideline, I asked each chef to offer recipes within these guidelines: a family heritage recipe, a signature recipe, a seasonal recipe, and a brand-new recipe.  The collection of recipes in the book is bursting with culinary creativity.

What distinguishes the book is that it is both food stories and recipes. Readers can learn about the locavore chefs and what makes them go the extra mile to the farmer’s markets or to the honey growers or the duck farmers or the dairies – when it would be so much easier to just pick up the phone and call a purveyor. See, it wasn’t good enough for “my” chefs to be good cooks – that had to be a gimme – no, my chefs had to be a cut above – a master chef – a culinary artist who reveres their craft in such a way that no less than the very best homegrown ingredients compel them to create simple, delicious recipes. I hope the reader can follow the food adventure and see the respect for the chefs, their growers, and the food and their relationship to the land and waters of Long Island.

Q: What singular moment on the East End prompted you to embark on this journey?

A) Long Island is a place of extremes, extending nearly 120 miles east of New York City. But it is also a place that exists in the dreams and imaginations of our collective consciousness. As I wrote in the book: F. Scott Fitzgerald captured its aura-as-character in the 'Great Gatsby' while living on the Island’s famed Gold Coast, where he wrote of “that slender riotous island.” In fact, Long Island is the longest and largest island in the contiguous United States.  From the New York Harbor to Montauk Point, the Island’s contrasts and diversity are an anthology of American culture.This place has told us many stories and has many yet to tell.  I wanted to tell those stories.As I look back at how I started my journey with the map of Long Island, the restaurants where I planned the follow up chef and grower interviews looked like a necklace.  I think it was exploring a history, a dream and today’s good news food story that fueled this journey.

Food is a lens by which we can view so much of the world.  Food can also create and trigger a remembrance – a recalled moment of joy: a first date, Grandmother’s house, holiday traditions, or dinners with Dad. I hope The Hamptons & Long Island Homegrown Cookbook prompts readers to embark on their own homegrown journey.

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