By Kathryn G. Menu
For many, it is difficult to imagine the South Fork’s culinary landscape without Michael Rozzi, the executive chef at The 1770 House in East Hampton, who formerly ruled the kitchen at Della Femina. For my family, it is impossible.
For over two decades, Chef Rozzi – a third generation South Fork resident – has focused his art on highlighting, and elevating, local provisions from land and sea. The chef’s connection to local food was cultivated as a child, picking apples, fishing, shucking oysters – and his reverence for those local ingredients is evident in the seasonal menus he has brought to the table throughout his career.
On October 29, Chef Rozzi will create an “East End Land and Sea” dinner at the James Beard House, the Greenwich Village townhouse of James Beard, a celebrated cookbook author and television personality. Beard’s memory is honored by the foundation, which seeks to celebrate – and preserve – culinary art traditions from across the country. Great chefs are invited to Manhattan to present dinner for up to 74 members of the foundation and general public. Mr. Rozzi’s dinner, which celebrates his own culinary heritage, was sold out by the third week in September.
According to the chef, he has worked for months in an effort to capture the flavors found in multiple seasons on the East End, preserving peaches and cherries, pickling summer squash, and even taking a personal role in raising local Berkshire pork with Art Ludlow at Mecox Bay Dairy Farm in Bridgehampton. Mecox Bay cheese will also be incorporated into the menu, as will fruit from Jennifer Halsey’s Milk Pail, vegetables from Alex Balsam and Ian Calder Piedmonte’s Balsam Farm in Amagansett. Holly Browder’s chicken and eggs from the North Fork, Montauk scallops, striped bass and lobster from Montauk’s Gosman’s Dock and Cornell oysters from Hog Neck Bay on the North Fork are also on tap for the dinner.
1770 House sommelier Michael Cohen will offer wine pairings from Long Island, California, France, Italy and Spain, highlighting the restaurant’s comprehensive wine list.
It’s been somewhat of a banner year for Rozzi, who was celebrated for his involvement testing numerous recipes for Robyn Lea’s
gorgeous, and thoughtful, “Dinner with Jackson Pollock: Recipes, Art & Nature.” He spoke on a panel discussing the book and the interconnectedness of food and life on the East End at Guild Hall in East Hampton, and had the opportunity to cook a private dinner in the historic Pollock-Krasner house, using the same spaces Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock used to prepare meals for their family and friends.
While this may have been a summer full of accolades for Rozzi, he has been celebrated by devout followers as arguably one of the best chefs – if not the best chef – on the East End for many years now. Admittedly, I am one of his acolytes.
Having grown into a descent culinary palate, and having fallen in love with a former cook turned newspaper man in my mid 20s, foot loose and child free, my now husband and I went to Della Femina early in our courtship. Chef Rozzi’s food, coupled with intensely professional and warm service by Walter Struble and John Cavallaro – whose bar was our seat of choice – the restaurant quickly became our place to celebrate any and every special occasion.
Our engagement, my bridal shower, our wedding week, when we discovered we were having our first child, Easter brunch, Christmas or birthday celebrations, or, just on nights driving to other restaurants and finding our car inexplicably slowing on North Main Street in East Hampton, necks craning to see if a seat was free at the bar – there we would end up, sitting at the bar, marveling over staples like Rozzi’s roast chicken (the only chicken I order at a restaurant), his pillowy agnolotti, decadent and seasonal foie gras preparations, and crisp, refreshing mignonettes that taught this woman who hates cocktail sauce how to truly love chilled, local oysters. When our daughter was born, the chef sent us a take-out dinner of our favorites when she was just a couple of days old.
A 10th anniversary tasting menu this past August, was likely one of the greatest meals of my life – culled from the land I love, crafted by a chef I hold in the highest regard, and served with incredible grace by a group of lovely people including Michael Cohen, who took the evening to the next level with a flight of wine that perfectly complimented each course as fireflies twinkled around us on an August night on the 1770 House patio. My husband and I giddily cheered each course upon its arrival, and were touched when Rozzi came to see us himself before bowing out late in the night to get home to the young daughter he has with Chef Holly Dove-Rozzi, whose delicious desserts can be found at Little Red in Southampton.
When Rozzi found his home at the 1770 House, it felt like kismet. The historic inn and restaurant – which has operated for more than 250 years – serves as an impeccable backdrop for a pioneer in East End centric cuisine. Whether the cozy, rustic tavern, the classic first floor dining room, or, in the warmer months, the heavenly outdoor patio, the restaurant is the perfect canvas for Rozzi’s food. General manager Carol Covell and sommelier Cohen lead a professional, yet personal, staff in guiding diners through Rozzi’s focused and creative menus that look and taste like many of the reasons we still live here.