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Welcoming is a word Lauren Lombardi speaks to catering clients while helping them plan their North Fork event.
Her artful catering blends an eye for décor with vibrant local ingredients. Her signature Harvest Table brims with specialty Italian appetizers such as salami finocchiana from Lombardi’s Love Lane market plated elegantly beside bowls of seasonal produce dressed with edible flowers and placed beside fresh flowers picked up from local farm stands.
“I consider my catering thoughtful, whether that be the food itself and being considerate to the season and the clients in terms of creating their dream menu and bringing their vision to the table,” Lombardi said. “You want your food to be welcoming and presented in such a way that makes people feel like they are home.”
Lombardi, of the famous Long Island culinary family, opened her market on Love Lane five years ago. The brick building is among the most prominent on the bucolic street. Customers come in for pastries, an assortment of meats and cheeses and prepared salads, pasta dishes and wood-fired pizzas. Its location in the heart of the North Fork was particularly alluring for Lombardi, who has long been drawn to seasonal farm-to-table fare. And for all the market and café has to offer on site, it’s also grown as an in-demand catering option for off-site culinary events.
“The driving focus behind opening Lombardi’s Love Lane Market was to be in an environment where we could cater,” she explained. “It is about the ingredients. As a caterer, being able to source ingredients five miles down the road … I feel like I have to pinch myself.”
Shinn Estate Vineyards in Mattituck is among the local venues where Lombardi has showcased her skills through private rehearsal dinners or birthday parties for her clients as well for the winery’s special events. She recently helped Shinn design and execute a “Beautiful Destinations” theme, featuring globally inspired food stations, including a “Taste of Napoli” with mini pizzas, a “Taste of Tulum” with mini tacos and a “Taste of New England” with lobster rolls.
“Each station showcased different foods and really spoke to Lauren’s range of talents,” said Shinn Estate co-manager Chelsea Frankel. “One of the greatest parts about Lauren is her ability to jump into any of the spaces we have — barrel cellar, winery, crush pad — and transform it.”
Lombardi’s love of cooking and sharing food is rooted in family. Most Suffolk County residents are familiar with the restaurants and catering halls that bear the family surname. Her father, Guy, opened their first restaurant in Holbrook, serving homestyle Italian fare, in 1976, shortly after arriving in America from his hometown of Avellino, Italy. Over four decades, the Lombardis added multiple locations and a line of Mama Lombardi’s pasta sauces based on Lauren’s grandmother’s traditional recipe.
“In Italy, you only can cook what you had access to so it was what the farmers grew and it’s very seasonal when it came to what we made at home and how we ate,” she said. “I appreciated that and it’s what I incorporate into my catering. I feel like catering should be built around the same values, as far as simple ingredients paired with homestyle cooking.”
Lombardi’s earliest memories are of her family gathered around the table for traditional Italian meals on Sundays or Mondays (the only day the restaurant was closed). Raised in Miller Place, the Bayport resident grew up working in all aspects of the restaurant industry, from manning the coat check to folding napkins ahead of a wedding in the catering hall.
“It is natural that I went into catering because I love to share food,” Lombardi said. “It was the perfect environment for being creative and serving food that my family built their business on, which is high-quality food.”
Art is influential in Lombardi’s catering. A French Culinary Institute graduate, she also holds a business degree from Hofstra University and spent a summer studying art history in Florence, an experience that honed her natural aesthetic sense. As a food stylist, beauty goes hand-in-hand with ingredients, allowing her to indulge her hobby of antiquing, picking up vintage plates, platters, bowls and even rolling pins at White Flower Farmhouse in Southold and Small Holdings Farm in Aquebogue. The decorative servingware is filled with produce and mixed in among well-appointed platters of food, filling the table from end to end so the tablecloth is barely visible.
“I always tell people that I don’t know if I was a hoarder before I became a caterer or it just really came out after, because I just collect everything that could make a table pretty,” she said with a laugh. “I love the Renaissance, with the still-life paintings of fruit. I want to create that — the bowl of cherries and the baskets of fruit — in real life.”
Food styling is something Lombardi picked up along the way, she said. With images of paintings in the back of her mind and iPhone in hand, the amateur photographer started using Instagram as an outlet to share her designs and document inspiration. (Follow along @lombardislovelanemarket.)
“It has happened naturally, or I can blame it on my iPhone,” she said with a smile. “I was one of those annoying people taking photos of food before people could eat it. I was so excited when Instagram came out, because it was easy to share inspiration for my clients and for me to snapshot where I am when I see something that is inspiring.”
Her Instagram-worthy tables, which have been featured in Vogue magazine, are an element of her catering that make special events even more memorable, according to her clients. At Shinn’s summertime Brunch & Bubbly events, Lombardi served a vibrant spread of individual granolas and seasonal quiches.
“If you can believe it, her food tastes even better than it looks,” Frankel said. “We are always hoping for leftovers, but Lauren is always so sweet that she brings us something special just in case.”
Be it private events for 12 guests or hospital galas serving 400, Lombardi begins with two questions at her guideposts: “In what season are you having your event? What are the best options we have with what is available that time of year?”
“That is always where we start,” she said. “It is showcasing the best of the North Fork available during the season of their event … to connect people with their food. Sharing meals and sharing the table has always been one of the most important things in my life.”
Lombardi’s Love Lane Market is located at 170 Love Lane, Mattituck