By Gianna Volpe
Those looking to find food fit for a king have enjoyed more than a year of such at the Highway Restaurant & Bar in Wainscott, but this Saturday the East Hampton eatery’s world-class executive chef plans to pull his expert hands back to basics for the dozen culinary students attending his upcoming class through The De Gustibus Cooking School at Macy’s.
London-born Anand Sastry has a cookery resume so vast and internationally impressive it includes a three-year stint cooking for the King of Jordan, but the 52-year-old chef said he has been far more focused on impressing—and impressing upon—East End locals in the 18 months since TOMS Hospitality Group acquired and re-opened a restaurant.
“To be honest when we did The Highway, we didn’t know it was going to be successful,” said Chef Sastry. “We went in there, opened the doors and started cooking. It’s quite old school and it’s quite old-fashioned. We just said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”
In the beginning, Chef Sastry wasn’t keen on keeping the Highway name, but ultimately decided the restaurant’s food would do the talking while the name would be a bit like Bo Peep following after. “The name doesn’t always make a restaurant great,” he said. “People think, ‘Oh expensive materials, expensive plates,’ but then you go there and have a really rude staff and really bad food, but it looks amazing…I know we’ve got a long way to go and we still have things to achieve, but with the Highway, people don’t think about the name anymore. They just say, ‘They’ve got really great fish, you’ve got to go there.”
Chef Sastry said fighting an uphill battle on the East End hasn’t been an easy task—not even for a chef whose Manhattan experience included working in beloved chef’s restaurants like La Bernadin, Nobu and Eleven Madison Park.
“[The Highway] wasn’t in the best position,” he said. “We had to turn it into something positive and that’s a really hard thing to do. It’s not like you’ve got a blank canvas like in New York City. What I realize is it’s much harder in the Hamptons than in New York City because there’s millions of people in New York City, so if you’re not busy, then there’s something wrong, but what’s important about the Highway to me is the ‘off-season.’ Yes, people come and go in the summer and they spend, but during the leaner months in the winter? That’s when locals come in and they can really enjoy the food.”
Chef Sastry said positive response to special pie nights or those highlighting technically tough cuisine like Thai street food, as well as an inborn desire to share knowledge and raise the culinary bar outside of his own knife, only complement the upcoming cookery class. He has structured the course into a two-hour class covering fish preparation, homemade pasta-making, wine pairing, Thai and pie, so attendees of all skill levels can benefit from the instruction. “When you go to other restaurants the chef will show you what [they] can do, but this really isn’t about me,” he said. “I want [attendees] to come away from the class having something to cook at home because there’s no point in me showing them how to scale a great bass—it’s all great, but it’s all showmanship—I know they’re not going to be able to do it and yeah, it looks great, but I want [attendees] to come away and have something they can do at home. I think that’s really important.”
According to Chef Sastry, the 12 students at this Saturday’s event will be broken up into groups of three who will rotate through four stations within the restaurant within two hours, adding he expects folks will be either pleasantly surprised or entirely shocked by the skill level present at the Highway Restaraunt & Bar. “There’s no shortcuts in that kitchen,” he said. “You have to really know how to cook. If you can’t cook, you won’t survive in that kitchen—there’s nowhere to hide—and I think people are going to see that and what we deliver in the cookery class.”
The Highway Restaurant and Bar is located at 290 Montauk Highway in East Hampton. For more information, call (631) 527-5372 or visit highwayrestaurant.com.