Keith Luce, chef of in South Jamesport, is, in a way, the prodigal son who came home. Born and raised on a family farm in Jamesport, he’s come back to his roots for the love of farm fresh food.
Luce’s journey from local farm boy to five-star chef put him on a path that started with a move to New York City in his teens to study and play music, his first passion. As luck would have it, his connection with Jean-Jacque of Le Côte Basque put him in restaurant kitchens to help pay for his music classes at the New School.
Working at the Rainbow Room as a pastry chef, and at La Côte Basque, Luce said he became hooked on the “romance, craft and creativity” of the restaurant world. Despite working 18 hour days and never having had formal culinary training, he found that he was able to learn the classic French techniques and attain skills that most culinary graduates lack.
His journey took him to San Francisco, Italy, Paris and Strasbourg working under some of the most acclaimed chefs of the time. He says his most outstanding experience was likely as sous chef at the Clinton White House at the tender age of 23. From there, offers came pouring in from such restaurants as Little Nell, in Aspen, Colorado, a five-star restaurant. Then came the James Beard Award in Chicago.
Back on the West Coast where he felt more at home, Luce opened his own restaurant, Merenda which quickly became one of the top 50 restaurants in the country. After opening the Herb Farm in Seattle, another huge success, Luce was drawn back to the North Fork with its newly burgeoning wine industry and its shift from commodity crops to a chef’s paradise of fresh produce and sea food.
Chef Luce said he has a defining philosophy about food.
“Great food is about the ingredients,” he said. Once back home, he saw the Jedediah Hawkins Inn as having the right combination of history, space for his own “kitchen garden” and openness to his ideas about preserving the environment.
Chef Luce delights in the fact that his butter is from cows pastured only five miles away. He remade the restaurant to meet his exacting standards for using only the freshest local ingredients.
For Luce, and the Riverhead culinary scene, this was a homecoming much deserved.