Sitting down with Chef James Carpenter is a delightful mid-morning interlude before what is sure to be a sweltering afternoon ahead. He treats me to a glimpse (metaphorically, unfortunately) of his enviable gig at the boutique hotel c/o Maidstone in East Hampton where he plays executive chef at The Living Room, a restaurant flush with Scandanavian flair in architecture, decor and food.
Always harboring a love affair for the water with many years spent in the Navy, Chef James was certain that cooking would be his profession from a young age. Both of his parents worked full-time and he landed his first job as a dishwasher in a five-star restaurant, providing an impressionable insight into gourmet food. Today, his culinary approach as executive chef is highly concentrated on the slow food movement and using fresh ingredients he gets to pluck from The Maidstone’s backyard. His menu (which even includes a dog-friendly “Yappy Hour”) touts Long Island’s most bountiful natural resources: plump Peconic Bay oysters, artisan cheeses from the Art Ludlow family farm, delicately cured gravlax, heritage chickens and Natura filtered water. Perhaps sensing my mind wandering to a glossy vision of playing hide and seek among apple crates and haystacks, Chef James is quick to tell me that being a chef is far from a luxurious job.
“It’s all very dreamy,” he says of errands that include taste-testing the Ludlow’s Jersey cows’ milk, “but being a chef is about managing a restaurant.” He likens it to being an orchestra conductor. “If I didn’t love it, I’d be insane for doing it for 27 years.” But love it he does (and insane he might be) but he has surely found his calling in culinary leadership.
A lover of French food, good wine and the beach-side bliss of The Hamptons, Chef James provides a wealth of no-nonsense wisdom for cooks with their sights set on the top. “You have to be a very driven person. You’re orchestrating everything from salad people to pastry people, and you have to be on your game. If not, the whole thing is very sloppy.” With these tactics down to a science, he’s cultivated a loyal crew ten years in the making who have followed him from restaurant to restaurant. With a combined blend of practicality and experience that has no doubt brought him his current success, he stays true to the notion that each worker from dishwashers to the sous chef, must be treated with the utmost respect. He acknowledges his own cooking talents, but humbly concludes with “I’m only as good as my team.”
Learn more about The Living Room here and taste Chef James Carpenter’s locally-sourced and elegantly prepared dishes year round at c/o The Maidstone.
Photos Courtesy of c/o The Maidstone