When I visit chef Jeremy Blutstein at his new restaurant — Showfish, the culinary centerpiece of Montauk’s newly opened Gurney’s Star Island Resort & Marina — he is sporting a moustache. After a series of 15-hour days (33 in a row!) spent preparing for the season premiere, he says, the kitchen deserved a little levity.
“You’re sleeping on the couch,” Blutstein’s wife, Jarhn Blutstein, said of the facial hair, as we stood in the gleaming, vaulted entrance that connects the hotel’s entertaining spaces. Ms. Blutstein the beverage director for both of Montauk’s Gurney’s properties, was unmoved by the aesthetic choice.
The truth is, chef Blutstein’s mustachioed humor in the face of stress — what is more stressful, after all, than opening a massive kitchen operation that commands scrutiny from every hospitality professional in the area on Memorial Day Weekend? — is part of his persona. He has established his culinary pedigree, even earning a coveted James Beard Award nomination. But his cheeky demeanor, amplified by a strong social media presence, has also cemented him as one of the more visible chefs on eastern Long Island. Promoting an ethos of locally driven cooking (boxes filled with goods from Marilee Foster, Balsam Farms, and Quail Hill Farm regularly appear in his Amagansett driveway), Blutstein has paved the way for a large-scale system that recognizes small-scale growers and purveyors. I ask him the provenance of his local seafood, and he points to the marina, listing the individual boats and their operators, which arrive daily, providing him with the scallops, tilefish, and other seafood required for the restaurant’s operation.
In the kitchen, which is divided into separate working spaces for each component part of the hotel’s dining program, Blutstein takes me to see his current pride-and-joy. A glass-paneled refrigerator, not unlike a wine fridge, houses his curing program, where he hangs and ages everything from duck prosciutto to king trumpet mushroom “lardo.” Jewel-toned carrots, bathed in fat, await their plated fate. They will cure for a month before being used. Even the scraps are destined for greatness. Bar garnish leftovers are converted into flavored vinegars, for use in future dishes.
Around the corner, in an area of the kitchen visible to guests, is another showstopper, a massive pizza oven constructed “by some kids up in Brewster.” The rotating oven cooks pizzas in 2 minutes flat, and guests can order them as part of a room service program or to go. This restaurant concept, Il Forno, fills a gaping hole in the South Fork’s pizza scene, where artisanal, Neapolitan pies are virtually nonexistent. Specialized pizzas run from about $18 to $22, the crown jewel of which is the razor clam pie, served with Calabrian chili, oregano, and a Béchamel.
At a press preview, the night before the restaurant’s official opening, Blutstein is jovial, despite the apparent pressure. He makes the requisite loops, commiserating with a crowd who was there to see, in large part, the fruits of his labor. Retreating back to the kitchen, he feeds a dining room full of rapt customers. Fluke crudo arrives shingled with tiny scales of cucumber, while a charred piece of octopus swims in lamb fat from its accompanying “lamb bacon.” The night hinges, though, on an expertly cooked, crisp-topped piece of tilefish, perched atop vinegar-braised leeks and served with fresh crab on a cracker. The proximity to the sea is something chef Blutstein does not take for granted; he seems to know the absolute value of what Long Island’s East End has to offer, and his case for localism is compelling. Walking out of the dining room, through the space housing a lobster tank, vegetable buffet, and fish cooler, I am greeted by a whole tilefish, a wide-eyed reminder of the bounty just outside the restaurant’s glass doors. Under chef Blutstein’s spell, the fish looks to me like nothing but potential.