It’s nearing the golden hour, with the sky warming and the sun lounging close to the treetops, giving Ron’s of Orient farm a luminescent glow-up it hardly needed. Neat rows of peppers, okra, squash and eggplant twinkle with colorful goodies that delight Noah Schwartz, the chef of Noah’s in Greenport, which he also co-owns with his wife, Sunita. “I do like this!” he crowed while rummaging through vines with Ron Fisher, Schwartz’s friend and owner of the farm. Schwartz works with Fisher to procure specialty local produce his patrons love, like the squash blossoms he stuffs with goat cheese on his summer menu and the kabocha squash he whips into a risotto come fall.
While you might not need a farmer to grow personalized offerings for you, if you do want to cook and eat well, you might want to spend more time at the North Fork’s local farm stands. “It puts you into connection with your ingredients and the terroir. Most local farm stands are located on the farm itself, where the produce is grown,” said Schwartz, joyfully crunching a shishito pepper he’d just pulled from the ground. ”So to go on to that land and get something that was grown right where you can see it puts you a little more into chef shoes.”
Earlier in the day, as his lunch rush slowed, Schwartz, who has twice been recognized by the peer-reviewed guide Best Chefs America, pulled up a seat at his bar and explained just how much local produce and seafood influence his restaurant, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year.
Schwartz grew up in Malverne, Long Island, and after attending New England Culinary Institute headed west to Napa and Sonoma, Calif., for a few years. While there, he worked and learned at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone and cooked in kitchens like The Girl And The Fig — which is where he met Sunita, who is a certified sommelier and also runs front of house for Noah’s. He describes his restaurant as “New American cuisine, sourcing as much local fruits, vegetables and seafood as possible. One of the reasons I opened out here is how surrounded by bountiful produce and fisherman and farmers the North Fork is. Having that connection to the supply chain is part of what moved me to be a chef in general.”
Schwartz said his mother’s green thumb was a big influence on him. “My mother always kept a garden,” he said. “I was always interested in what we were growing and picking things for dinner that were fresh right from our own backyard. But when I was starting my career in California, I was able to experience agriculture on a larger scale. I started to really appreciate sourcing things directly from the farm and the difference in quality that you can get.”
That may be true, but if you’ve spent years popping produce in a cart at the supermarket or, these days, clicking boxes online to have ingredients show up at your door, venturing to a farm stand, with crates overflowing with sometimes unfamiliar fare and frequently haphazard labeling, can feel a little intimidating even for some North Fork locals.
Even if you know your way around a farm stand, you should still strike up a conversation, Schwartz said. “You might discover something new! Ask how to use it. Just recently I was at Latham Farms in Orient and saw a green I’d never worked with before that’s popular in Greek cuisine. They told me to cook it in olive oil and it was incredible.”
While experimenting can be exciting, Schwartz loves the tried-and-true basics for which Long Island is renowned — and has great advice for buying and using them. “Our favorite things to get in the fall are the apples, the pears, the squash and the garlic,” he said. “And we love to utilize the end-of-season corn, which is prolific out here through the end of October, as well as the tomatoes, eggplants and melons. Enjoy the fruits and veg that are phasing out, because you won’t see them again till next year. But when the weather starts to change, our diners definitely start looking for things that really feel like autumn, like winter squash and pumpkin.” He uses small pumpkins not only for their flesh, but as a bowl for serving a beautiful pumpkin bisque.
His favorite source for apples and pears is Wickham’s Farm in Cutchogue. “They’ve been growing them for hundreds of years and have some of the sweetest and ripest fruit you can find on the North Fork,” he said. “There are a ton of interesting varietals, like Macouns, which are a little larger and have a great texture for both cooking and using in salads. They are underappreciated! I like the Gala apples and Honeycrisp as well, which are just perfect for eating out of the hand. My favorite pear to work with is the Asian pear which is round and has the crispness of an apple.”
While you might think of fruit for dessert, Schwartz is always looking for surprising applications for his seasonal produce. “While of course I like to do cobblers, in the fall I really like to use fruits in salads, where we can get a combination of crunch and sweet and savory all into one plate. One of our classic salads is a Satur Farm butter lettuce salad with local Granny Smith apples, because they have that kind of sour taste and lean toward the savory side, with candied walnuts and a maple sherry vinaigrette. And we’ll throw a little bit of aged local cheddar cheese in there to round it out. All those flavors together scream fall.”