Improvisation and the Combi Oven

Most folks don’t stay at a B&B for a rack of lamb. It’s more about a crackling fireplace, a cozy reading nook or a pastoral setting. A decent scone is simply a bonus. Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport is the exception. For years guests have come from Manhattan and beyond, while locals book their special occasions in advance, all for a multi-course meal at the Inn. Many don’t bother to stay the night, the food is just that good.

It’s 3pm on a Tuesday and a customer saunters in to request an unusually late lunch. For the restaurant’s newest executive chef Craig Attwood, there’s absolutely no problem whipping up a meal during off-hours, even if the kitchen’s closed. In fact, he admits he prefers a special request or a fussy eater. “When someone comes in and wants something special or says ‘Hey, can you make this?’ I like that. It pisses some people off, but I like it,” he said.

He’s even gone as far as making a zabaglione for a customer at a former restaurant who had a serious hankering for the Italian dessert. And then there’s the regular who comes in to Jedediah for a special all-foie gras menu. Attwood gets a kick out of catering to the fellow who has an affinity for eight courses of Hudson Valley foie gras. “Sometimes it’s only three courses, sometimes more. It depends on how he’s feeling.” No matter the mood, he’ll often end it with a dessert, such as cherries or a brioche—generously laced with fatty goose liver, naturally.

Attwood said that lately he’s big on cooking with a “combi oven: a technique using combination steam and heat, slow cooking at a low temperature,” particularly for his famous garlic, thyme and coriander seed lamb dish (that comes with a side of fresh garbanzo beans and pea shoots). There’s also his seared Montauk skate, served with toasty basmati rice, dotted with raisins, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and a miso butter. The dish came to fruition when the chef inherited 10 pounds of miso after taking over the restaurant and, to him, the basmati and miso butter created the perfect marriage of flavors—especially when served with the local fish.

Like many of the area’s restaurants, Attwood is taking full advantage of Long Island’s farm and seafood bounty and he’s excited to build a relationship with the people who will supply his food. “This is the fun part,” he said. “I wake up in the morning and see what came in. If the boats aren’t going out and they don’t have monkfish, and the guys have something else, I’ll change my menu based on that.” Attwood generally meets with his sous chef and begins to wax about what might go well with, say, the local farmer’s fresh shitake, and they’ll put it with that fish, even though it’s not a monk. “Sweating your ass off and being on your feet wears on you, but the exciting part is when you get to work and sit down and write down your dishes with stuff like that local fish—that’s what I love the most.”