It was at a benefit for Group for the East End at Wölffer Estate Vineyard last summer that Robin Neimark Seegal first tasted chef Noah Schwartz’s tuna tartare with seaweed salad and crab-stuffed deviled eggs.
But Seegal, who sits on the James Beard Foundation‘s hospitality committee and whose husband, Fred, is a trustee of the organization, said she only needed a few rounds of passed appetizers to know Schwartz would make a great candidate to host a dinner at the James Beard House.
“I bolted toward him screaming, ‘Noah,'” said Seegal, who has a home in Wainscott as well as New York City. “I said you are so talented. It was pure, fresh and exquisite. Each hors d’oeuvre was a ten.”
Six months later Schwartz, who owns an eponymous restaurant in Greenport, found himself in the kitchen of the Beard House in New York City, overseeing production of a five-course (plus one bonus course) meal made from the bounty of the North Fork.
To be accepted to cook a dinner, or rather perform, at the James Beard House, a chef must meet strict criteria. He or she must have a regional reputation, be known for their use of local or high quality ingredients, submit a menu for vetting and more. There is also a substantial financial commitment on the part of the chefs who must provide their own ingredients.
Proceeds from the dinner benefit the nonprofit, which has disbursed more than $5 million in scholarships since 1991.
All 80 seats at Schwartz’s Feb. 5 dinner were sold out, Ms. Seegal said.
To not only host a dinner at the Greenwich Village headquarters of the organization that hands out what’s commonly referred to as the “Oscars of the food world,” but to sell it out, is certainly an honor for the Greenport chef. Diners that evening included not only patrons of his restaurant, but Schwartz’s wife and partner, Sunita, his mother, Penny, and brother Justin.
The dishes were served with wine from Bedell Cellars including the unusual pairing of its 2013 cabernet franc with Peconic Bay scallops and pumpkin purée and the winery’s heavy-hitter 2010 Musée served with duck from Crescent Duck Farm in Aquebogue (prepared both confit and slow-roasted.)
“[These wines] are grown in the same place that Noah’s ingredients were grown,” Bedell winemaker Richard Olsen-Harbich told the crowd gathered in what was once the private quarters of James Beard, a trailblazing American culinary figure. “There’s a common ground and a common theme that runs through all of these things.”
The attendees ranged from full-time North Forkers who are also long-time Noah’s customers to those who had never stepped foot on the North Fork, let alone Schwartz’s Front Street eatery.
“I’m a member (of the Beard Foundations) and when I saw that Noah was coming tonight, as a loyal customer, I felt like I had to come to support him,” said Sheila Scharfman, a mental health counselor with homes in Dumbo and Cutchogue. “As someone who has had many meals at the James Beard House, this was a highlight. The duck was exquisite.”
Mike Sullivan, 35, and a food and wine enthusiast from Williamsburg said Noah’s has become a regular stop for him on his North Fork sojourns. He seized the chance to enjoy his food closer to home.
“I’m from California. I thought there’s no way there’s good wine out there. I came out there as a joke and I was blown away,” Sullivan said. “Noah is incredible and I knew Bedell would be fantastic. There’s not a lot of downside to a fabulous meal.”
The duck, which was the evening’s largest course was a highlight for many in attendance. During the question-and-answer period, Mr. Seegal asked Schwartz how he kept the breast meat tender while crisping the skin.
“Slow and low,” Schwartz said.
See more photos from the event below.