Jeremy Blutstein: Locally Sourced and Proud of It
The terms “farm-to-table” and “locally sourced” have become so casually and pervasively absorbed by the culinary lexicon that their efficacy has become questionable. “Everything is farm-to-table,” said Jeremy Blutstein, chef de cuisine at Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton, during a recent early morning break.
“McDonald’s gets their tomatoes from a farm, but it’s what farm and how that farm practices and how it impacts the environment that are important.”
Mr. Blutstein, whose parents moved the family to Amagansett full time in 1989 when he was 10, can address that issue with authority. “This whole area is just a huge part of my life. There’s no better place to be. Period. It’s the best place to cook as far as I’m concerned.”
His best friend is Alex Balsam, an attorney and the founder of Balsam Farms in Amagansett. “We grew up together. So when he shows up with all these vegetables in the back of his truck still covered in dirt, and he’s my best friend of 30 years — what’s better than that?”
Other sources for Almond’s food include Marilee Foster of Foster Farm, Jim and Jennifer Pike of Pike Farms, Brendan Davison from Good Water Farms, and Katy Baldwin and Amanda Merrow of Amber Waves Farm, to name just a few.
“They’re not just purveyors, they’re our friends. In season, the only thing we’re not buying from a local farm is celery, which doesn’t grow well here, and citrus for the bar. Everything else comes from local sources. Anthony down the street provides us with our polenta and grits, Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters Winery drops off 10-gallon buckets of grape juice to make jelly.”
Mr. Blutstein’s wife, Jarhn Blutstein, who is the beverage director at Gurney’s, forages in Montauk for concord grapes and comes up with 30 pounds at a time. His friend Shawn Christman, proprietor of the Sea Bean food truck and catering company, brings the restaurant locally foraged sea beans.
“Who’s doing that? Nobody’s doing that. I’m not saying our food’s better, I’m saying our sourcing is and our friends are. Any given night at the bar are three farmers, one distiller, two winemakers, and their kids are running around outside. We’re part of this community, and we’re proud to be.”
The “we” includes Jason Weiner, the executive chef and co-owner, with Eric Lemonides, of the Almond restaurants in Bridgehampton and Manhattan and L&W Market, which recently opened next door in Bridgehampton.
“Jason was and is a friend of mine, and he approached me almost two years ago and said, ‘Dude, I’d be silly not to offer you the kitchen at Almond. Do you want it?’ I told him it would kill date night, because Almond is where Jarhn and I always went on my night off. But she told me to just take the job.”
Mr. Blutstein went to the Amagansett School and the East Hampton Middle and High Schools and started working at the Farmhouse restaurant in Amagansett when he was 14. “I was basically running the place by the time I was 20.”
Over the years he helped open the Surf Lodge and Ruschmeyer’s in Montauk and ran the Crow’s Nest there. He also worked in New York City, where he opened Blue Fin in Times Square for Steve Hanson and cooked at the Palm and Del Frisco’s, among others. He also ran the kitchen at East by Northeast in Montauk for two years before moving to Almond in April 2017.
“Jason and I are similar in a lot of ways. We’re both cooks, we both have a really big affinity for using what’s local, and we’re both into fermenting.” During the summer the restaurant burns through 200 pounds of house-fermented kimchi each week. It produces 10-gallon batches of sriracha every few days, and Mr. Blutstein is fermenting his own Vietnamese-style fish sauce from whiting supplied by a fisherman friend.
“I went down the rabbit hole of fermenting this winter with koji, a mold that is the basis for the fermentation process for soy sauce, miso, and sake. I’ve had almond miso, mushroom miso, wheatberry miso, and sweet potato miso fermenting downstairs for almost a year now.”
The two chefs started a company called KimchiJews, labeled their products, and began selling them at Amber Waves at the Amagansett Farmers Market. “We sold a lot. It went from a joke to a side business that turned into a product line of 10 to 15 items, depending on what we have in the house.”
The KimchiJews line is available at L&W Market along with everything from pastries, breakfast, quiches, and salads to house-cured bacon, ready-to-cook marinated shell steaks, roast chicken, and Moroccan lamb meatballs.
Mr. Blutstein noted that the heart of the restaurant’s season is August, September, and October, but business remains brisk through December. “Tumbleweed Tuesday doesn’t happen until Jan. 2 now,” he said. Special events such as the monthly Artists and Writers dinners and frequent wine, beer, or spirits meals keep the restaurant busy through even the slower months.
Last winter Almond held three pig dinners, a goat dinner, a duck dinner, and a spring chicken dinner. The pigs came from the North Fork winemaker Joe Macari, the goat from a friend in Vermont, and the 70 chickens from Iacono Farm in East Hampton. “These events are great for our staff, they keep the wheels greased, and our employees paid, happy, and interested.”
Mr. Blutstein shares photographs of his personal and professional life on Instagram. In addition to family, friends, and co-workers, there are hundreds of images of his exquisitely plated food, all annotated with ingredients and other information.
“I use it as a catalog so I can see what I was doing this time last year. And it’s a learning tool. You take a photo, list the ingredients, the staff can access it, and if you’re not there the next day they have something to work from. We use it for training, and Instagram lets you be inspired by seeing what other people are doing.”
Social media have also impacted restaurant promotion. “A line cook who tags his things on Instagram is reaching more people than a newspaper ad.” Mr. Blutstein also stressed that the impact of Anthony Bourdain on the cooking world was as big as any of the great chefs.
“And Bourdain wasn’t a chef. I’ve been in the kitchen with the guy. He was a hack — admittedly. That’s what made him so great, he was a working stiff, he wasn’t the guy at the top, he was the guy next to the guy at the top.”
“He enabled people to understand that when they go to Daniel, it’s not some white guy with a clean-shaven face and a toque who’s searing the foie gras, it’s a guy from Ecuador. And guess what? He doesn’t have papers. And he does it better than anyone else you’ll find.”
While Almond’s menu will change according to what ingredients are available, certain items — the escargots, the mussels, and the roast chicken — will never change. “It’s not my menu, it’s not Jason’s menu, it’s Almond’s menu, and we have fun doing it. There is no ego here.”