By Dawn Watson
Two days before Sybille van Kempen officially reopened the Loaves & Fishes Food Store for the season, the Sagaponack gourmet shop was abuzz with activity.
Enveloped in heavenly smells, pastry chef Licia Kassim manned the industrial oven, busily baking up decadent and sweet-smelling chocolate cakes, biscotti and lemon bars. Equally aromatically pleasing, in the kitchen prep area, chef Miguel packaged up the shop’s signature sesame dipping sauce. Behind him, in the back kitchen, head chef Oscar busied himself “getting back into the swing of things,” he said as he checked on a number of house-made soups and stocks.
Calmly taking it all in, Ms. van Kempen quietly led with an air of authority and ease. Her demeanor was reminiscent of a seasoned queen bee overseeing a productive hive at the start of honey-making season.
“We’ve been doing this for more than 30 years,” the proprietress said by way of explanation for her serene countenance as she walked from the office through the various prep and cooking areas of her “family kitchen,” which has become a community staple and foodie hangout. “It’s hard work but we’ve got it down to a science.”
Part of the science behind that fact is that the food made and sold at Loaves and Fishes has been made with “the best ingredients” available, of both local and imported variety, she reports. That goes a long way in keeping her part of the food preparation process pure and simple.
“You don’t have to do a lot to products that are at their maximum peakness and flavor,” Ms. van Kempen, who also owns the Loaves & Fishes Cookshop and the Bridgehampton Inn, explains.
The “market-to-table” advocate reports that the food sold at her family food store, first opened in 1980 by her mother Anna Pump, is “whole, unprocessed and fresh every day.” Still today, that guiding principal behind Ms. Pump’s founding of Loaves & Fishes close to 40 years ago is a subject close to her own heart, she says. To that end, Ms. van Kempen is partnering up with Jennifer Pike of Pike Farms for a “Farm to Table” discussion at the East Hampton Library on Thursday, April 20.
The conversation will explore the symbiotic relationship between farm provider—in this case Sagaponack’s Pike Farms, which has been growing prized produce for nearly 20 years—and the ultimate consumer—which would be those who end up eating it. As part of the Tom Twomey lecture series, Ms. van Kempen and Ms. Pike will share their considerable knowledge on the importance of knowing where the food on your table actually comes from. Additionally, the two will touch on food waste, and offer some suggestions on how to combat it.
“We are going to talk about why it’s important to look behind the curtain when it comes to what you’re eating,” says Ms. van Kempen. “We should all be a little bit of a Sherlock Holmes about what’s on our tables, what’s being sold and served to us, and what we do with that food.”
Ms. van Kempen, who believes that good food is at the heart of health, wellness and nurturing, acknowledges that there’s a bit of a need for “re-education” concerning today’s attitudes and approach to mealtimes. The need for convenience and availability has, in effect, even changed the way we eat. And even the way the bulk of the food consumed here in the United States tastes.
“We have sacrificed so much flavor, and our standards have been lowered, because of these great demands,” she says. “I think back to the memories of childhood—that first ripe peach we ever ate, the smell of a fresh-picked tomato off the vine, the plumpness and juicy flavor of just-picked berries—so much of the food that is being sold today just can’t hold a candle to that.”
But, that doesn’t mean that all is lost. Right here on the East End, we have an incredible array of tantalizingly fresh, unprocessed produce, seafood and meats available to us in season, according to the Loaves & Fishes owner.
“It all starts with the farmer, and fortunately for us, there’s an embarrassment of riches in our local farmers, who grow with such integrity and pride in their product,” she says. “There is such luxurious bounty in what they bring to our tables. It practically speaks for itself. Even so, Jen and I will do our best to share what we know about it.”
As part of the Tom Twomey Series, Sybille van Kempen of Loaves & Fishes and Jennifer Pike of Pike Farms, will give a “Farm to Table” talk at the East Hampton Library on Thursday, April 20, at 6 p.m. Chip Rae will host the discussion. For additional information, or for reservations, visit http://tomtwomeyseries.org.
Cardamom-Raison Bread From the Loaves and Fishes Cookbook
Yield: 2 loaves
Prep time: 3 hours and 45 minutes
¾ (1 ½ sticks) cup butter
½ cup milk
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 ½ tsp. active dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm water
½ tsp. sugar
2 tsp. ground cardamom
¾ cup raisins
4 ½ cups unbleached white flour
1 egg yolk
1 Tbsp. heavy cream
Sugar to taste.
Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Add the milk and heat until lukewarm, then add sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and stir until the sugar and the salt dissolve. Pour the milk mixture into the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix the yeast, water and sugar in a small bowl and set aside for five minutes.
Add the eggs, cardamom, raisins, half the flour, and the yeast mixture ot the milk mixture. Mix at medium speed for five minutes.
Add the rest of the flour and mix at low speed for two minutes. Scrape the dough out onto a flat floured surface. Dust your hands with flour and knead the dough into a ball. Place it in a buttered bowl. Let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 and ½ hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Divide the dough I half. Shape each piece into a round ball. Place the balls on a buttered baking sheet eight inches a part. Combine the egg yolk with the cream. Brush over the loaves and sprinkle with sugar. Let rise for 45 minutes more, then bake for 35 to 40 minutes. The bread is done when the crust is well-browned and the top sounds hollow when tapped with your knuckles. Cool on a wire rack.