A structured education, training and experience is often a prerequisite for most professions. But Wayne Wadington chose an unconventional path to his current position as owner and executive chef of La Plage Restaurant. He cooked his way there.
“I never went to culinary school and had never really cooked before, but I got in the kitchen and started learning,” says Wadington, who is also proprietor-chef of Caruso’s Restaurant in Rocky Point. “I really owe a lot to Cornelius Gallagher. He definitely pushed me to do better things.”
Wadington hired Gallagher as executive chef in 1995 after securing La Plage Restaurant’s property in Wading River. He describes the culinary member of Daniel, elBulli and Oceana Restaurants as “a ball of nonstop energy.” In 1995, what became La Plage Restaurant was known as Flipper’s Fish House, a clam-shacked establishment serving seafood and burgers. After building renovations and a Gallagher-implemented cuisine shift from fish and chips to Français-Américain, La Plage (The Beach, en Française) was born.
“I was initially fine with pasta, clams and shellfish, but Gallagher was preparing pheasant and sautéed foie gras,” says Wadington. “The name definitely needed to change. Flipper’s Fish Shack and foie gras really didn’t mix.”
As a cost-réduire, Wadington also transitioned from proprietor to proprietor-chef in 1996 and apprenticed under Gallagher, despite no prior experience. The in-house education helped Wadington develop his culinary approach, which includes “subtle, not big and bold flavors,” and menu construction using community farms and fresh delivery.
“I try to stick with the true flavors of food, and want to spend more time sourcing the ingredients at farms and preparing the dish,” says Wadington. “If I get a delivery for harpooned swordfish, I’m headed to the market to see what I can make with it. I just go from there.”
Tomato Salad: An assemblage of haricots vert, ricotta salata, fennel, basil, truffled black olive vinaigrette and, of course, tomatoes. Wadington’s preparation begins with a visit to a neighboring farm (e.g., Condzella’s Farm, Mays Farm and R & M Andrews Family Farms) to hand-select the salad’s ingredients available on Long Island. “I visit the farm stands in the morning and see what looks best,” Wadington says. “We’ve been doing it this way since 1996.” The result, a “mixture of salty, sweet, crisp and fresh,” is a patron favorite for September. “Our customers really love all of the different elements from the salad.”