A collaborative foodie culture on the North Fork

Last month, Love Lane Kitchen owner Carolyn Iannone hit a snag: She received ground lamb instead of the lamb chops she’d ordered to make that night’s special.

That could have punched a hole right through her plans since, unfortunately, ground lamb doesn’t exactly work for lamb chops with spicy grilled eggplant. But instead, Iannone walked approximately 30 seconds to the adjacent Lombardi’s Love Lane Market, where Carolyn-Iannone Love Lane Kitchenshe struck a deal.

“They had some [lamb chops], so they gave us a few to get through the night,” Iannone recalled. “That way, we didn’t have to 86 the dish, which is always the worst thing you have to do. And they needed avocados, so I was like, ‘I have plenty of avocados!’ ”

Such a solution seems more likely for residential neighbors — the image of borrowing a cup of sugar comes to mind — than for those in the fast-paced food service industry. But on the North Fork, cooperation is a way of life.

“There’s a feeling of having each other’s back. We all want each other to be successful,” said coffee roaster Jennilee Morris, co-owner of North Fork Roasting Co. in Southold. “That’s what I love out here. I feel like it’s not a lot of ‘every man for himself.’ ”

Even in the most competitive business environments, it is hard to envision neighboring restaurants acting only with cutthroat self-interest. Sarah Phillips, owner of Greenport’s First and South, can’t imagine another restaurant refusing to loan her napkins if she runs out.

“What are they going to say — ‘No, I hope everyone gets their faces dirty and they come to my restaurant instead?’ ”

But for many out here, a sort of symbiosis exists at the intersection of farm, market and restaurant. Chefs will ask to use a specialty shop’s equipment for a certain dish, farmers will stay active later in the season to keep providing crops for restaurants and markets will go out of their way to highlight a specific farm’s produce.

“That’s the whole reason that we even opened out here,” Phillips said. “I wanted to be able to work hands-on with my purveyors, with the people that are supplying us our oysters, our greens, different meat products and bread products and bitters and salts.”

And Morris said the culture is so friendly that she can strike atypical business deals, swapping her cold-brewed coffee for almond milk from her next-door neighbor, The Giving Room.

That cooperation is present for farms, too; Lucy Senesac, farm manager at Sang Lee Farms, said they will often share equipment or place joint orders with their neighbors for everyone’s mutual convenience.

It’s likely that the North Fork’s geography contributes to such a culture. As a narrow, dense peninsula, the area is fairly independent and separate from the rest of the island. Many residents live, work and shop within a radius of just a few miles.

“People feel encouraged to help each other because we’re bumping into each other all the time,” Morris said. “It really does feel like a big community.”

The long history of local agriculture plays right into collaboration. Building a locally sourced menu is simply easier when a restaurant is in the exact same region from which it buys its ingredients.

“Why would I buy greens from a large distribution company and get them from a place in the middle of America when I can get them from Southold from a team of five people that come eat dinner here once a week that I know were out there working their butts off to make it the best lettuce they’ve ever grown?” Phillips said.

Ira Haspel, owner of KK’s The Farm in Southold, works so closely with local restaurants that he emails and texts chefs to inform them of the ingredients he has available, which he said helps both parties — restaurants can be assured of quality and meet customer demand for local ingredients and farmers know they have a guaranteed source of business.

Haspel credited Gerry Hayden, the acclaimed chef who died in August, with helping jump start the North Fork’s interconnected food industry. Hayden and his wife, James Beard award-winning pastry chef Claudia Fleming, left New York City to launch Southold’s North Fork Table & Inn, where they doggedly pursued a mission of “farm-to-table” dining.

“Gerry would come to the farm and my wife, KK, would take him around,” Haspel recalled. “It was a real great collaboration.”

The trend of cooperation is multiplied by the North Fork’s status as a tourist destination. Visitors tend to look for local recommendations on where to go, and while they eat lunch at one restaurant, a server might recommend a specific winery or farm stand or even another restaurant for dinner.

Many members of this group are happy to promote their fellow members because they say doing so makes the region a more enjoyable, entertaining destination, which in turns brings out more free-spending tourists and boosts business for everyone.

Iannone invoked a cliché to describe the trend: A rising tide lifts all boats.

“More people come out because this region is just full of great restaurants, great things to do, warm hospitality,” she said. “To have that reputation is just going to bring more people out here, and then we’re going to be even busier.”

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