Carissa Waechter at work baking bread in new South Fork Kitchens at Stony Brook Southampton. Stephen J. Kotz
By Stephen J. Kotz
Imagine a farmer searching for ways to get the most out of a bumper crop of strawberries this June. Besides selling them by the quart, along with every other farmer whose crop has just come in, he might want to try his hand at making jam to sell at the farmers market later in the season. The same might be true of a cook who wants to use local tomatoes to sell the sauce her friends have been raving about for years.
Typically, one of the biggest logistical roadblocks for such entrepreneurs is a place where they can produce their small batch food products and not run afoul of state agriculture and markets law or county health department regulations.
That changed this week when Stony Brook Southampton and Amagansett Food Institute announced that the college had reached an agreement to rent the sprawling commercial kitchen in its Student Center to the institute. The institute, in turn, will rent it to entrepreneurs as well as provide them with other assistance to help them bring their foodstuff dreams to the table, as a business incubator known as South Fork Kitchens.
“Many producers told us there was no commercial kitchen on the East End where they could go and produce their product in a professional way,” said Kathleen Masters, executive director of the food institute, part of whose mission is to provide economic development support to farmers and other small scale local producers. “Many have been renting restaurant kitchens at night, or using church kitchens. It might be a nice kitchen, but there is no storage space” for both their raw ingredients or finished products.
Carissa Waechter, the owner of Carissa’s Breads, who has baked for Amber Waves Farm and Garden of Eve, and is a founding board member of the food institute, will be the kitchen coordinator.
Part of her job will be to help provide schedules for the different entrepreneurs who are expected to start using the kitchen in the coming weeks.
“The people who plan to be working out here are such a cool mix of professionals,” she said. “I’m really excited to be working with them.”
Ms. Waechter said the kitchen, which once served the college cafeteria, is so spacious and well equipped, with a six-burner Garland stove, Blodgett pizza oven, industrial-sized Hobart mixers, and refrigeration galore, that as many as four different people could be using it at any one time, provided they don’t need to use the same mixer or other equipment at the same time.
“This space was the perfect find,” she added.
Ms. Masters said the facility will provide ample storage space and afford those who use it a place to accept deliveries. The size of the kitchen will allow them to work more efficiently and in larger batches than they could elsewhere.
Another selling point. “The law prohibits you from doing it in your home, with very limited exceptions,” Ms. Masters said. To that end, those using the kitchen must be licensed by the state. Ms. Waechter said a class would be held for the dozen or so producers who have expressed interest in using the facility.
The institute will also be available to do “co-packing,” according to Ms. Masters. So, if a farmer does not have the time or staff to take on the cooking, “we are available to production for you,” she said. “It’s a process. You have to have your recipe approved by the Department of Agriculture and Markets.”
As part of its rental agreement, the food institute will also reopen the student cafeteria on a small-scale basis as a “farm to table” café serving students, staff, and campus visitors.
“There is an audience out here for everything” South Fork Kitchens will produce, said Ms. Waechter. “Something the AFI says is everyone should have access to good food.”