Chefs Alex Guarnaschelli and Claudia Fleming come together for a gourmet cookout, the perfect way to say goodbye to summer in the Hamptons.
Clockwise from top left: North Fork Table & Inn’s Claudia Fleming prepares a fresh peach-blueberry cobbler topped with homemade biscuits (bottom right); Fleming, Guarnaschelli, and Feldman man the grill; a glass of Feldman’s “famous” rosé lemonade.
It’s one of those pinch-me kind of moments. It seems surreal to get to spend a day with two people who are both considered among the best in their field and who also happen to be longtime friends. But here I am, early in the morning, ready to embark on a culinary adventure with two of the industry’s leading lights.
Acclaimed chef, restaurateur, and TV personality Alex Guarnaschelli not only cooks like an Iron Chef (she is in fact the only female toque to have earned the title America’s Next Iron Chef on Iron Chef America), but she’s also a great storyteller. Award-winning pastry chef and restaurateur Claudia Fleming is another titan of the kitchen. While Fleming’s primary focus is dessert, her team at the North Fork Table & Inn doesn’t miss a note from a meal’s start to finish.
The two have known each other for many years and share a bond as female chefs and restaurateurs, yet they take very different approaches to cooking, with Guarnaschelli employing an artistic knack for combining ingredients and flavors, while Fleming has the measured, exacting technique of a scientist.
The day begins with Guarnaschelli and I taking a Blade helicopter to Mattituck, where Fleming is waiting on the tarmac. She seems as excited as we are to spend the day exploring the food purveyors of the East End and creating some incredible dishes from the season’s bounty. It’s a well-orchestrated plan—land, shop, then cook.
But as the fog continues to roll in, what should have been 45 minutes of air travel turns into a scene out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, except for us it’s helicopters, cars, and ferries—oh my! As this culinary Thelma and Louise in a VW convertible talk shop while the rest of the team and I follow behind, I can’t help but appreciate how cool it is to watch these icons coming together: two women in a male-dominated world, each at a celebrated time in her career, each with a passion for making others happy through food.
After we arrive on the South Fork from the North Fork, the next step is to formulate a menu and shop for ingredients. We stop at Schiavoni’s Market in Sag Harbor, where the scene is like a jam session between two accomplished musicians: perhaps a little ragged at first, but quickly it all comes together. “I say we just do something simple, like grilled vegetables,” Guarnaschelli yells out.
Fleming gives a quick nod and adds, “I’ll do a simple fruit tart.” As the amateur, I mostly stand back and watch. “I’ll just do my go-to,” I suggest, referring to burrata with roasted vegetables, a dish I make frequently. But these two aren’t going to let me off easy. “Do something different,” Guarnaschelli replies. “Have fun and challenge yourself.” For our final ingredients, we head to Bhumi Farms, where we meet a perfect example of the day’s theme: Do what you love and do it with purpose.
The farms’ owner, Frank Trentacoste, ditched a high-powered trading career in New York City to get more “grounded,” he says. Today he’s devoted to growing amazing organic produce. When it comes to farming, “I may not do everything right or everything everyone tells me to do, but we love this farm and what we grow,” says Trentacoste as we pick through the produce with resident chef Megan Huylo, who shares his enthusiasm for the farm, the surroundings, and what they can share with the East End community.
As we start cooking, the two women perform like a well-oiled machine, as if they’ve shared a kitchen for years. From prep to grill, nothing is allowed to get too fancy. Watching their contrasting styles is eye-opening. Both are meticulously organized, but Guarnaschelli’s approach is more “a dash there, a sprinkle here,” while Fleming’s measuring cup rarely leaves her hand. At the table, we marvel at the simple but spectacular dishes (paired with my “famous” rosé lemonade).
Guarnaschelli starts us off with fresh tomatoes lightly seasoned, drizzled with olive oil, and topped with shishito peppers. Then come mussels and clams, straight off the grill and drizzled with lemon, along with simply charred leeks with salt and pepper. My contribution is fresh burrata with roasted corn, grilled onions, and roasted tomatoes drizzled with balsamic vinegar. We finish the meal with Fleming’s homemade biscuits on top of fresh peach-blueberry cobbler, finished on the grill and adorned with whipped crème fraîche.
As our epic day comes to a close, it isn’t lost on me that what allows these women to make it look so easy is years of hard work and never-ending passion. While the simplicity of the meal is inspiring, I continue to be awestruck by Guarnaschelli and Fleming’s drive and commitment. Whether Fleming is taking two ferries and a car back to her restaurant to prepare for another night of service, or Guarnaschelli is racing back to New York City for a practice run of her comedy routine ahead of a gig at Guild Hall, the two act with precision and purpose. Before departing, we all agree that the East End offers an idyllic backdrop for a perfect simple feast.
Photography by Ken Goodman