Ned Baldwin was a home cook long before becoming a chef. The 49-year-old only started working in kitchens at 36 and since then, has always felt like a secret agent of sorts.
“I kind of like to think of myself as a spy, a home cook spy, in the restaurant world,” said the chef and owner of Houseman in Manhattan. “Where I’m like, ‘Wow, I wish I had known that when I was cooking that dinner party for six people.’”
Now, Baldwin, who lives part-time in Orient, has taken all that intel and put it into a cookbook for the home cook. “How to Dress an Egg: Surprising and Simple Ways to Cook Dinner” breaks dishes down in a simple manner. The beginning of a chapter starts with something uncomplicated — like a roast chicken — and teaches you the very basics of that. The subsequent recipes are then ways you can build on the roast chicken you have mastered. An herb sauce to drizzle on top. Sweet potatoes, cashew brown butter and shards of cheese nestled on the same platter. Pumpkin seed tahini to smear it with.
“What we discovered by looking through all my recipes is that there are things that I like to learn how to do,” he said. “I applied that to cooking. As an illustrator, you might learn how to draw the hand, that’s not art. But once you can really draw a hand effortlessly, then you can draw the hand holding God only knows what.”
To Baldwin, who was an artist and a cabinet maker before becoming a chef, those concepts are similar to cooking. Master the simple techniques and then riff on them. And during times when people are getting cozy with the idea of cooking at home, this cookbook fits.
“I’m getting tons of feedback from people I don’t know about the book saying how incredibly useful it is at this time,” he said. “We allow you to cook one thing, and then we show you a variety of different ways to serve it over the course of a week.”
Baldwin wrote the book alongside well known food writer Peter Kaminsky, who has co-authored books with chefs Daniel Boulud and Gray Kunz. Their shared love of fishing brought them together when Kaminsky came to Baldwin’s restaurant and was served wheat fish.
“I knew he would think that was cool,” said Baldwin, who became a fan of the food writer after reading his book “The Moon Pulled Up an Acre of Bass,” an autobiography. “We ended up becoming friends, and decided to do a cookbook together even before there was an idea.”
Turn back to page seven of the book and you’ll see Baldwin’s page of thanks. The very last line says: The wonderful people of Orient, New York, who encouraged me to do what I thought I couldn’t.
“There’s just not a person walking down the street who’s not groovy and unusual and does something really cool.”Ned Baldwin on the people of Orient
“Orient Village is a really special place,” he said. “There’s just not a person walking down the street who’s not groovy and unusual and does something really cool. Very few of our pursuits in life overlap each other. And so, there’s a wonderful way in which everyone supports each other and is excited for each other.”
“It’s easy to be unsure of yourself as you’re taking all these risks,” he continued. “As I went through the book process, a lot of publishing people in Orient were so supportive and believed in me.”
Baldwin keeps himself busy by doing one of two things during quarantine — cooking or fishing. In fact, he has spent much of this time fishing the shores of the North Fork, often after dark, when the striped bass feed best. “I make dinner for the family, clean up, sometimes take a nap, and then get rigged up and go wherever I’m going,” he said.
As far as the cooking part, it’s a lot of the roast chicken from his book — “I’ve cooked it 4 trillion times, and I’m going to cook it 4 trillion times again” — tons of seafood from North Fork Seafood (porgi, fluke, shrimp), oysters from Peconic Gold Oysters, and he is sipping on Gratitude from Chronicle Wines. Being on the North Fork gives him access to all that and allows him to do both of his hobbies.
“There’s just water everywhere,” he said. “With this COVID thing, I’m driving around, because I’m fishing, looking at all these different beaches and bays — I love it and I love the culture.”
And even though he has a house in Orient, Baldwin still considers himself a full-on tourist here — “a Seattleite who lives in Manhattan and comes out here sometimes. But the culture here. I don’t know that there are ways to say this that don’t sound a little weird, but I just like the North Fork people a lot.”