Scott Leventhal’s culinary career might never have begun were it not for a fortuitous bit of eavesdropping on Fire Island in 2006.
Leventhal, then a college student with no professional kitchen experience who was looking for a summer gig, overhead the owners of Fire Island’s Houser’s restaurant, bar and hotel say they would be without a chef for the first few weeks of the season.“I was like, ‘I’ll do it,'” said Leventhal, 29, who recently took over the reins in the kitchen at First and South restaurant in Greenport. “I jumped in there. I didn’t know anything. I got a quick tutelage in opening clams and making salads.”
He went on to French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) and has spent every summer since working in the kitchen at Fire Island’s Island Mermaid.
“I worked my way up to head line chef and then I left,” he said.
Leventhal began his new role in Greenport last month. He replaces Taylor Knapp, who has left to focus on his snail farm Peconic Escargot and his popup restaurant PawPaw.
“We’ve carried over a lot of dishes we created with Taylor,” said First & South owner Sarah Phillips. “It’s nice to revisit your business every three or five years and look at it with a fresh set of eyes.”
Phillips and Leventhal first met in the summer of 2006 while working the Fire Island restaurant scene. Phillips said she had originally considered Leventhal for the position when her eatery opened in 2012, but the timing wasn’t right.
She ran the opportunity by him again during a phone call earlier this year.
“I must have been talking for like 30 minutes without breathing,” Phillips said. “At the end of it, Scott was like, ‘I’m in.'”
Leventhal has recently worked for the New Orleans-based catering company Southern Hospitality. He has also worked at Norwood Club and Tolani Eatery and Wine in New York City and has worked in Puerto Rico.
New Orleans influences on the menu will include a lobster remoulade roll — “it’s a chunkier version than what people are used to,” Leventhal said — chicken and waffles (with buttermilk brine, honey glaze and maple gravy) for brunch and calamari with cajun seasoning.
But what is sure to be one of the more anticipated additions will be incorporated into the restaurant’s weekly pig roasts.
“We’re hoping to do a kickoff with a crawfish boil,” Phillips said.
A southern take on a New England-style clambake, a traditional crawfish boil entails boiling an enormous pot of crawfish, corn, potatoes and more. Those items are then laid out on long table layered with newspaper for a communal feast.
“Everyone stands around together. You have your beer, you’re just hanging out eating crawfish. Maybe you pop a Brussels sprout or two,” Phillips said. “It’s an experience that until you do it, you can’t understand it.”
Still, Phillips said patrons can expect the same New American cuisine on the menu and also local produce like spinach from KK’s The Farm and mushrooms from The East End Mushroom Company when they visit this summer.
Leventhal, who says his primary focus is New American cuisine, said the pair aim to hit a sweet spot with an upscale approach to comfort food.
“It’s the same quality without the pretense or the white tablecloth,” Phillips said.
First and South’s spring hours are Fridays from noon to midnight, Saturdays from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. and Sundays and Mondays from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Visit them at 100 South Street in Greenport.