The contents of a living room vary, but often include furniture, decorative bric-a-brac, walls and some form(s) of acronym-based equipment providing debatable entertainment stuffs. The Living Room within c/o The Maidstone in East Hampton, however, possesses a unique conversation piece: James Carpenter.
[Author’s Pause: Though Carpenter is a conversation piece, he is not any of the aforementioned room-things; Carpenter is a human. Chefs are always human. Unless of course, they are superhuman.]
Carpenter, executive chef of The Living Room since its birth in 2008, presents local-sourced and environmentally conscious cuisine (two components of Slow Food, a global organization reconnecting communities with food). His has a Scandinavian twist. Though no Scandinavian country (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, etc.) is accessible via Hampton Jitney, Carpenter believes Long Island shares similar food-styles with the northern European region.
“Scandinavian menus revolve around local ingredients and seasonal availability, and the biggest advantage of cooking on Long Island is the access to produce and seafood,” says Carpenter, former proprietor of Della Femina in East Hampton. “The summer in Sweden is short, so they have limited time to cook with certain foods. We won’t serve corn or striped bass in January, because it’s not available around here.”
To implement The Living Room’s philosophy of local-mindfulness, Carpenter uses Balsam Farms and Open Minded Organics (Amagansett and Bridgehampton, respectively) as growers, and maintains an on-site herb garden. Despite his inexperience in Scandinavian fare prior to The Living Room, his four-year stint as a chef in the Navy (“I went to Japan, Australia and a lot of different countries and was exposed to a lot of flavors,” he says), and a career of responsible cooking, enabled an easy transition.
“Even though I had never cooked Swedish before, the farm-to-table style isn’t a new movement. I’ve been cooking like that for years, so it was a perfect fit.”
Köttbullar: Carpenter serves lamb köttbullar, or Swedish meatballs, with sheep ricotta gnudi, tomato broth, cavolo nero kale and Västerbotten cheese. A patron favorite, it is revered for its accessibility. “We have some hardcore Swedish dishes like gravlax and toast skagen, so people can get intimidated at the menu,” says Carpenter. “But this is a simple, delicious dish for everyone.”