She possesses the culinary chops to prepare highly elaborate meals, but Arielle Ferrara’s go-to dinner of peanut butter and jelly, enjoyed on rare evenings off at her Greenport apartment, requires little effort.
“I keep it very basic,” the 31-year-old said with a laugh.
Less simple but just as hearty are Ferrara’s offerings at American Beech in Greenport, where she’s executive chef. The restaurant, located in the village’s Stirling Square, opened last summer and quickly earned a coveted “very good” rating from The New York Times.
Ferrara’s commitment to no-frills cooking has made customer favorites of her buttermilk fried chicken and burgers topped with melted Gruyère and garlic aioli. Both dishes are staples of American Beech’s menu, which she changes seasonally.
“It’s definitely homey comfort food,” she said.
As a child, Ferrara, who is of Italian and Jewish heritage, honed her cooking skills by experimenting in her family’s East Moriches kitchen. At just 14, she secured a job preparing eggs, sandwiches and salads at Westhampton’s now-closed Golden Pear Café.
“I wanted to work,” she said. “I always found ways to make money when I was little.”
During high school, Ferrara’s passion for cooking was further ignited when she took part in Eastern Suffolk BOCES’ culinary arts program, where she “learned so much.” She also began working the fry station at Oaklands Restaurant in Hampton Bays, which she credits for giving her a “foundation in restaurants and how kitchens work.”
After graduating from Westhampton Beach High School in 2002, Ferrara enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., graduating with a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts and food service management. While there, she was pasta cook at Mediterraneo Café in Providence, which was sold in late 2015 but is said to have welcomed entertainment heavyweights like Billy Joel, Danny DeVito, Aretha Franklin and Alec Baldwin as guests.
Even before Ferrara finished college, she found herself in the enviable position of being offered a job as sous chef at the upscale J. Alexander’s restaurant chain in Tampa, Fla. Still, she was uncertain what her professional future held.
“You don’t come out of culinary school a chef,” she explained. “You have to get the experience and work. At that point, I didn’t really know. I was just young and enjoying being at different places and learning from different people.”
With that in mind, Ferrara made the move to Florida, where she was not only sous chef at J. Alexander’s but also learned food service management, a skill she said taught her “structure and consistency and systems and organization.”
After four years, however, Ferrara was ready for a change. She also longed to do more cooking than her role at J. Alexander’s permitted.
Fortuitously, the perfect opportunity arrived when her friend Chris Cariello of Hampton Bays mentioned that he was opening a restaurant called One North Steakhouse.
“He was like, ‘Listen, I’m opening a restaurant and I’d be more than happy if you want to come help me.’ That was kind of my outlet to move back to the island,” she said.
In addition to assisting Cariello, Ferrara spent two seasons as sous chef at Sebonack Country Club in Southampton. Afterward, she began working under then-executive chef Steve Amarelle at Desmond’s restaurant and lounge in Wading River.
While Ferrara said potential employers might worry that her lengthy résumé could indicate she never stays with one job for long, she considers it an advantage.
“I think the more places you’ve worked at, the more knowledge you’re bringing from all these different people,” she said. “Your people skills get better. You learn how to work with different personalities and attitudes. If you work at one place, you only know that one place.”
Perhaps one of the most rewarding shifts in Ferrara’s culinary career took place around 2012, when she was head chef at Beth’s Café in Quogue. While there, she made her initial foray into private catering.
“We would do private parties in people’s homes; we would do big parties for Peconic Landing and East End Hospice,” she said. “It was fun. I really have a true passion for catering.”
In 2014, Ferrara made a name for herself on the North Fork when she became executive chef at the Riverhead Project, restaurateur Dennis McDermott’s now-closed East Main Street establishment.
“I liked her brashness,” said McDermott, who is general manager at American Beech. “She was very straightforward. She was up for the challenge.”
Although they disagree about whether they have similar personalities — McDermott thinks they do; Ferrara maintains they’re “very different” — their dynamic clearly works. That’s why Ferrara was happy to join McDermott at American Beech, which is owned by Brent Pelton.
“She’s predictable in a good way,” McDermott said. “I never have any doubts about what she’s able to do. It’s nice to have her behind that [kitchen] door.”
Ferrara is essentially given free reign in the kitchen, which is stocked with seafood from Braun’s in Cutchogue and Gosman’s Fish Market in Montauk, duck from Aquebogue’s Crescent Farms and produce from Sep’s Farm in East Marion. American Beech’s beer and wine menu is also reflective of the region, with IPAs from Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. and rosé from Jamesport Vineyards.
“We want to support everybody who’s doing something local,” Ferrara said. “Greenport is great for that. Even though there’s so much competition and so many different restaurants, it’s kind of like we’re all in it together.”
That’s not to say being a female executive chef in an industry dominated by men has been easy. Ferrara said she has “absolutely” encountered on-the-job discrimination by men who resisted having a woman in the top role. She attributes her perseverance to a lack of ego.
“I’m very humble and I work with people who I want to work with,” she said.
Ferrara doesn’t tolerate resistance, gossip or bad attitudes in her kitchen. At the end of the day, she said, her team of six employees should respect each other — and it appears they do.
“She’s a very good manager and pretty easy to work with,” said sous chef Kyle Romeo.
Running a kitchen aside, Ferrara prefers to focus on doing what she does best: cooking.
“I’ve been in this business a long time and I’ve hired many chefs and worked with many chefs and I’ve never seen anybody like Arielle be able to produce the way she produces,” McDermott said. “It sounds like, ‘Well, that’s just what you’re supposed to do,’ but it doesn’t always happen that way in this industry.”