Defying Convention in Bridgehampton

Sybille van Kempen's permanent pop-up
Before the Friday night rush at the Bridgehampton Inn and Restaurant, Sybille van Kempen met with her creative team, including her son, Kyle Fengler, seated, Brian Tsao, top left, and Brian Szostak. Jamie Bufalino

When Sybille van Kempen opened a restaurant at the Bridgehampton Inn five years ago, she decided to defy convention and create sort of a permanent pop-up, a place where the menu and the cuisine are ever-changing. 

“I think it’s wonderful for a chef to be given that freedom,” said Ms. van Kempen. “You create things and give yourself joy, and then extend that to people you are feeding. When you have a stagnant menu, the inspiration for the chef goes away.” 

For the past four years, Brian Szostak, the inn’s executive chef, has been letting his imagination run wild, cooking up customer favorites like lobster corn dogs, crab tater tots, and other dishes you’re unlikely to find at other East End establishments. “I try to make it a totally different dining experience,” he said.

The formula has proven so successful that the restaurant will be expanding its hours of operation. It will be open for dinner every night starting after Memorial Day. “We’re ready for the next step,” said Ms. van Kempen. “And in order to take the next step, you need more manpower.” 

That’s where Brian Tsao comes in. Mr. Tsao, a native New Yorker who previously was chef de cuisine at Beauty and Essex, the acclaimed restaurant on the Lower East Side, will be joining Mr. Szostak in the kitchen. “Coming from the city, you always dream about having this type of cooking experience where you have literal farm-to-table,” he said of life at the inn. “Our herb garden is eight feet from the kitchen entrance, that’s unheard of in the city.”

Ms. van Kempen also runs the Loaves and Fishes gourmet food store in Sagaponack, which her late mother, Anna Pump, developed into a Hamptons landmark, as well as the cookware store of the same name in Bridgehampton. So while the two chefs plan menus for the restaurant, she will focus on growing other areas of the family business.

First up: launching the “Bridgehampton Inn and Restaurant Look and Cook Book,” which she co-authored with Mr. Szostak, and her son, Kyle Fengler, the resident mixologist, who has concocted hundreds of unique drink recipes while working at the inn. The book, which will be out next month, will be published by the Loaves and Fishes imprint, a new business Ms. van Kempen created for her cookbooks as well as reprintings of her mother’s works.

“With the increase in business, and with the launch of the book, we’re putting ourselves on the radar, we’re putting ourselves in the spotlight, and we’re ready for it,” said Ms. van Kempen, who likes her businesses to keep evolving. 

“My mother always said, ‘If we’re bored with what we’re doing then our customer is bored, and we need to do something different.’ That was the motivation in working for 38 years with my mother,” she said. 

At the Loaves and Fishes food store, which is marking its 40th anniversary this year, Ms. Kempen develops a new menu every week. “Everything comes together,” she said. “The customers make suggestions, staff make suggestions, and together we create something new, which is what my mom and I did as well.” 

Bringing that same ethos to the restaurant is something that would have made her mother proud. “She’d be thrilled,” said Ms. van Kempen. 

It also elicits the admiration of chefs who are accustomed to working in far more restrictive kitchens. 

“I’m a heavy metal guy,” said Mr. Tsao. “And the core of heavy metal is being rebellious. So when I spoke to Sybille and listened to her about why she put out this book, why she does the menu the way she does, why she allows so much creative freedom, I just looked at her and I said, ‘You’re really punk rock. You’re making things happen on your own terms.’ ”

“That’s exactly what I do,” said Ms. van Kempen. “That’s how I work.”

A recipe for lobster Bolognese from the Bridgehampton Inn’s May menu is available here.