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Chef Terri Novak at Braun’s Kitchen in Cutchogue. (Credit: David Benthal)

Terri Novak needs to be fully engaged in work that she loves, which means she was made for the three-dimensional chess of running a successful restaurant. Finding the best suppliers, training cooks, developing a menu that can be executed with speed and the intangible-but-necessary ‘wow’ factor are essential. Armed with the skills she developed working with Rooted Hospitality Group’s restaurants Cowfish, Rumba and Flora on the South Fork, she brought her game to Braun’s Kitchen in Cutchogue, where she launched a menu with a new look.

Throughout her restaurant career, Novak’s go-to supplier for fish was Braun Seafood, owned and operated by three generations of the Homan family in Cutchogue. She’d grown friendly with most of the staff over the years. When third generation family member Cody Homan had a vision for elevating the menu of Braun’s Grill while keeping white tablecloths off the picnic tables, he knew that Novak was the right person to make it happen.

She brought her drive for food perfection to the North Fork in October of 2021, when she began a collaboration with Homan they called Braun’s Kitchen; a new seafood-forward, fast-casual restaurant adjacent to one of the premier seafood markets in the area.

Novak was born in Japan, and grew up on Long Island. She graduated from Longwood High School, but knew college was not the right place for her to bloom. Her father would not permit her to stagnate.

“He told me I had to do something; figure it out, maybe go to trade school. So, I thought about what I am naturally good at, and what will keep me engaged because if I don’t want to do something, I will not do it.”

She went to the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC, graduated in 2009 and began working in restaurants. “I always cooked, for myself, to sustain myself, and for my friends,” Novak said. “Cooking always came very natural to me. I like flavors and I am always trying new things. I’ve never had to struggle with it. If I am stressed out, I will make dumplings until 2 in the morning. Some see a video of things and want to eat them. I see those things and I want to make them.”

In 2012, she went to work as a part-time prep cook at Rumba, a restaurant on Shinnecock Bay, and rose through the organization of the Rooted Hospitality Group, working at Cowfish in Hampton Bays and helping to open Flora in Westhampton Beach and Avo-Taco in New Hyde Park and New Orleans.

“I grew with that company, and ended my career there as their Culinary Director,” Novak said. “Exceeding the expectation was always something I wanted to do.”

Last year, Novak began to want a more balanced life. Thirty-five with a seven-year-old son, she was ready for a place where she could express her creative and organizational culinary skills, but also make room for the hands-on job of raising her son, Theodor.

Braun’s Kitchen is an expression of Novak and Homan’s shared vision.

“We did not want a deli-style experience,” she said. “We utilize the local farms, and use high-end ingredients to give everyone that wow factor.”

The menu includes small plates such as a black bean and corn salsa with won ton chips as well as grain-based salads such as quinoa with toasted almonds and grapes topped with a grilled white fish.

Carnivores will welcome the steak sandwich with dijon aioli, havarti and tomato relish or the Braun burger with bacon jam. Old favorites get a special tweak, like the 1 1⁄4 pound lobster on a bed of shrimp, clams and mussels, with chorizo and corn-on-the-cob with a miso butter.

Sides include cornbread with a local infused honey butter compound and sautéed bok choy. House-made sauces such as dijon aioli and red curry lemongrass reduction for mussels and a spring cod dish show off Novak’s sense of flavor. “I want them to say, ‘This is surprising,’” Novak said. “I’m always trying to make the ultimate of everything, putting the best components together.”

Working a few feet away from some of the best seafood on Long Island helps Novak get the right stuff. On a late March afternoon, a couple of customers arrived for lunch and were happy to see bay scallops on the menu, something they did not think they’d get to taste. They definitely checked Novak’s ‘this is surprising’ box, when they came by to tell her how much they enjoyed the meal.

She feels trusted and supported by the Homan family and the staff at Braun Seafood.

“They told me, “You are here for a reason, and we are here to cheer you on. That’s amazing,” she said. “I’m a worker bee and I need to be productive.”