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It All Begins in the Garden

Fri, 07/26/2019 - 10:18
Jon Snow, this year’s Chefs Dinner honoree, was recently joined by Hayground School summer camp students in showing off garlic scapes grown in the school garden.
Hayground School

Chefs like Colin Ambrose, Abigail Hitchcock, and Joe Realmuto don’t often get the chance to collaborate on a full-out dinner, but when they do, something spectacular is likely to happen.

They will be in good company, too, when they cook up a celebratory feast at the Hayground School in Bridgehampton on Sunday for the school’s annual Chefs Dinner benefit. Claudia Fleming, Jason Weiner, Christian Mir, Alex Guarnaschelli, and others will come together to fete Jon Snow, a founder of the school and its summer camp, who has run the garden there and helped connect it to cooking as a central component of the Hayground curriculum.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie going on” in the kitchen at the Chefs Dinner, said Mr. Realmuto, head chef at Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton and Coche Comedor in Amagansett, who cooked for and even hosted some of the first Hayground dinners. “It’s a great atmosphere,” he said. “I look forward to these chefs’ events where we’re doing a dinner rather than a tasting, because we all work together and there’s a lot of interaction. We get together, help each other out, plate.”

Joe Realmuto, right, is one of the returning chefs helping to prepare this year’s Hayground School Chefs Dinner on Sunday in Bridgehampton.

Mr. Realmuto will be grilling up octopus, and will serve it topped with avocado and Balsam Farms cherry tomatoes, radishes, and papalo. It’s a play on a dish he created for Coche Comedor.

Speaking of Mr. Snow, Mr. Realmuto said he’s drawn inspiration from the conversations they’ve had over many years. The two have common interests, particularly in gardening. “I’m not a farmer,” Mr. Realmuto said. “I learn a little lesson every time I speak to Jon, which is really nice.”

On Sunday, the chef Eric Ripert will interview Mr. Snow during the benefit, a conversation that will center around the concept of flavor and how a seed becomes a meal. Hors d’oeuvres start at 4:30 p.m., dinner at 6. Tickets start at $1,200 and can be purchased online at

Mr. Ambrose, the owner and chef at Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor, plans to prepare pork shoulder braised in pipian verde, which is a type of green salsa. He will serve it on fried tortilla chips, topped with a bit of sour cream and cilantro sourced from the garden at his restaurant. “Pipian verde is used to enhance dishes, but also in many cases is served on its own. Every table uses it differently. We happen to braise with it,” he said. “It’s very nice, it’s simple.”

For Mr. Ambrose, the Chefs Dinner is a celebration not just of Mr. Snow, but also of the children who attend the Hayground School. “That’s why I do it,” he said. “I like all these chefs, they’re all aspirational people, and the food that gets onto the plate is always inspirational — but the fundamental thing to me is the kids.”

His oldest child attended the Hampton Day School, a predecessor of Hayground, and Mr. Ambrose got to know Mr. Snow soon after Hayground was founded. “They created a community, and I think Jon Snow is a driving force in that community,” he said. “When I heard that the Chefs Dinner was to celebrate him, I said, of course I’m going to do this. There are few people in the East End community as humble and focused on altruism the way he is.”

Ms. Hitchcock, whose restaurant on Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village, Abigail’s Kitchen, runs events like cooking classes and “dinners in the dark” (diners are blindfolded), is an alumna of Hampton Day. Her father, Tony Hitchcock, is on Hayground’s board of trustees.

Abigail Hitchcock and Colin Ambrose

“Being able to help support, in any way, their education is so critical,” Ms. Hitchcock said. “I think progressive education is so critical. I’m a huge supporter of public schools, but sometimes it’s these cool, progressive ideas that lead to a new way for kids to learn. Having that experience, I know progressive education is an important thing. To be able to do fund-raising for it is great.”

She is preparing an hors d’oeuvre on Sunday: New York State steelhead trout gravlax with herbed creme fraiche, pickled turnips, and baby fennel on sourdough.

Ms. Hitchcock admits to being “totally jealous” of Jeff’s Kitchen, the collaborative combination kitchen-classroom where Hayground students prepare lunches for their peers every day. It is named for the late Jeff Salaway, who had the idea for the garden-and-cooking program along with Mr. Snow, and who was a co-founder of Nick and Toni’s. “I think it’s so critical for kids to understand where their food comes from, and to see it grow in a season, and for them to be involved in making their food,” Ms. Hitchcock said. “They tend to be much more adventurous eaters if they take part in creating those things. It’s such a cool thing for them to be a part of.”

Toni Ross, a founder of the Hayground School and of the eponymous Nick and Toni’s, who was married to Mr. Salaway before his untimely death in an auto accident, said the school’s garden and culinary program benefit from Mr. Snow’s “commitment to the land and the environment. He’s an extraordinary human being.” she said. “He’s like a pied piper. His enthusiasm is completely infectious. As the artist-in-residence at the Hayground School, he would have kids working alongside him doing hands-on projects, and the garden is the same way. They’re in it together, rather than him teaching them something.”

Mr. Snow founded Hayground’s summer camp, which Ms. Ross considers “really the main reason that Hayground School is able to exist.” The camp boosts the bottom line for the school, which offers tuition assistance to many of its students.

Mr. Snow, 70, is retiring as head of the summer camp after this season, though he will continue to be involved at the school. He arrived at Hayground by way of a long and varied career. He once ran a bronze foundry in Rome and took care of a vineyard in Tuscany. He has produced documentaries, has been a citizen-scientist, and has worked for the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts. A world traveler, he came to Bridgehampton in 1991 to begin running a summer camp for the Hampton Day School before launching the Hayground camp.

His contributions to Hayground extend far beyond the camp and the garden. He has served as faculty chair, oversees admissions, and has been artist-in-residence. He even directs traffic in the parking lot during drop-off and pick-up.

Mr. Snow said it was wonderful to be this year’s honoree, but that the reason for having the Chefs Dinner extends beyond celebrating one individual. It’s also about honoring the ongoing culinary program, run now by Arjun Achuthan, and celebrating the relationship among food, farming, and learning. “Jeff Salaway, before he passed away, had a dream: Some day, we’ll have a kitchen with a beautiful dining room and the kids are going to cook lunch every day,” he recalled. “It seemed like an impossible vision. But that’s what we have now. I attribute the daringness to try this to Jeff, and that’s why we have the Chefs Dinner every year.”

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