Maybe you’ve seen Chef George Hirsch while you’re out and about on the East End. You might have caught him at a farm stand chatting up a grower, or discussing wine production at a local vineyard, or even cooking up a recipe on a grill somewhere near the water.
It’s all done for the filming of George Hirsch Lifestyle, his long-running PBS television series which is about combining good food with good living.
Hirsch’s motto on the show is “If I can do it, you can do it,” and in each episode, he introduces home cooks to food producers, showing them how to select and use the freshest ingredients all while teaching them the tricks of the trade in making their own dishes at home. Now in its 25th year, the new season of George Hirsch Lifestyle, which is produced and distributed by American Public Television (APT), began airing on PBS stations across the country in October. Locally, the first episode of the 25th season premiered on WLIW channel 21 on January 18, and while over the years, Hirsch has traveled far and wide to bring his viewers culinary inspiration from the world over, this new season focuses largely on Hirsch’s own backyard.
“I used to travel around the globe and heavily in the U.S. But the last season and this season it’s been wholly on the East End,” said Hirsch in a recent interview. “There’s so much here, so many resources, it’s endless.”
Episode 202 of the show, which airs on WLIW on Saturday, January 25, at 2:30 p.m., will be solely focused on Sag Harbor, Hirsch’s hometown. Joining Hirsch on camera this season is fellow-foodie and Hampton Bays resident Alex Goetzfried. Full disclosure — a few years back, Goetzfried was a journalism intern for the Southampton Press, but since that time, has been pursuing his passion and talent for food, often alongside Hirsch.
“Because it was the 25th year, even though the show hasn’t changed from cooking and lifestyle, we wanted it to represent all my passions and looking back on the series, I think every benchmark was covered,” Hirsch explained. “With Alex, we wanted to do something we’ve done off camera over the years, which is support philanthropic causes and our passion for the East End.”
Five years ago, Hirsch and Goetzfried began offering culinary events to benefit organizations like The Retreat, the domestic abuse shelter based in East Hampton, or nonprofits that feed hungry kids. They also created Sunday Suppers on the East End to benefit Cormaria Retreat House in Sag Harbor, and Cormaria is where a portion of episode 202 was filmed. One segment shows Goetzfried and Hirsch preparing a meal by the water on the property.
“Alex has his own segment in the show called Chat and Chew that we do together,” explained Hirsch. “For this episode, we’re bringing it home to Sag Harbor.”
Though “George Hirsch Lifestyle” is locally grown, so to speak, it has a massive following. The syndicated series is broadcast on more than 400 PBS stations across the country.
“We’re everywhere but Hawaii,” said Hirsch.
When asked how a food series that takes place primarily on the East End of Long Island plays in Peoria, Goetzfried said, “What’s funny, when you think of the stigma of the Hamptons and the East End, people are young, thin, wealthy. But in shooting and producing the show, we’re showing salt of the earth people digging with their hands, harvesting seeds and growing crops.”
Along the way, Hirsch and Goetzfried form major bonds with the farmers they highlight on the show as they meet and talk about the land and their commitment to it.
“Leaving the farm is the hardest part because of their passion and perseverance,” said George.
“And their optimism and hope,” added Goetzfried.
A quarter of a century is a long time for a food-centric television show to be on the air, and Hirsch offered his take, not only on how life has transformed for growers and producers, but also for the audience who has become much more savvy about food culture. Which is why even though episodes of the show focus on the farmers, the terroir and the flavors of eastern Long Island, viewers round the country can appreciate and understand the importance of the locavore movement.
“I think what has changed is the viewer and their education level,” explained Hirsch. “Twenty-five years ago, no one knew what a tortilla was. But the most integral part is the support of local growers. Farmers have always had to struggle. However, if you bring in all today’s issues they have to face, it’s almost insurmountable.
“It was my — and our —objective with the series to put a spotlight on that effort,” he continued. “One of the presenters we worked with on the series is the Long Island Farm Bureau — it’s a new thing for them. What we were able to do is showcase thematically a different grower or raiser, from every sector.”
That means introducing viewers to technology like the massive and innovative Koppert Cress greenhouse in Riverhead that grows huge amounts of microgreens, or people like microbrewers who are growing their own hops and working with other farmers in the area, or even visiting Wickham’s Fruit Farm on the North Fork to film the show on the very day the cherry blossoms appear on the trees in spring.
“People are more educated now,” agreed Goetzfried. “When the microbrew craze hit, some people were doing it out of state. But now, that’s all changed … It’s about the education of the consumer. Farmers are tapping into that, and they’re doing more like retail farm stands and stores.”
Not only has the foodie knowledge base expanded locally, it’s also become familiar terrain across the country. Which is why even though their episodes focus on the farmers, terroir and the flavors of eastern Long Island, George Hirsch Lifestyle is a show with fans from coast to coast.
But this week’s episode is all about Sag Harbor and as a longtime resident, Hirsch shared his thoughts on the transitions that the village itself is undergoing these days.
“There’s always a change going on, that’s inevitable, and there’s always discussion on whether it’s getting better or worse,” said Hirsch. “In my heart and mind, we’re pulling out what is good. When you look at the historic nature, the villagers that are here are wonderful.
“Sure, it’s suppressed for 8-weeks a year,” he added, referring to the crazed summer season. “But our focus was the Main Street area — Captain’s Row, the water, and the access to all these farms … the resources we have here.”
“It ties together the North and South Fork too,” added Goetzfried of Sag Harbor’s pivotal role in the life-blood of the area. “The ferry is an amazing asset.”
Ultimately, notes Hirsch, George Hirsch Lifestyle is about giving viewers the tools and the knowledge they need to create whatever inspires them in their own backyard.
“What is the takeaway?” asks Hirsch. “What is it that they can do at home or to benefit their life? Even if we visit the farm, there is a good takeaway. I hope some people can stop and realize that if they have corn on the cob, they know what goes into growing that one ear of corn — whether it’s from Long Island or Indiana.”
Watch George Hirsch Lifestyle on WLIW Channel 21 on Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. For more information, visit chefgeorgehirsch.com.