Growing up, Port Jefferson native chef Michael Massetti never thought he’d be a chef—he majored in English for three years at Stony Brook University—nor did he think he’d call the Hamptons home. He’s about to enter his second year of The Living Room Restaurant at The Maidstone Hotel. Just like writing is an art, Massetti considers food an art, and East Hampton is his perfect toolbox.
“There’s something about East Hampton that you don’t get elsewhere,” Massetti said. “The scenery, the farmland, there’s so much local everything to get and use.”
Massetti and his team make their own breads and pastas and source many ingredients from local farms. It keeps him busy, but he took a break to talk about his spring menu, summer in the Hamptons, cooking with grandma and the guilty-pleasure food he was just a little embarrassed to admit he loves.
Pulse: What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now and why do you love it?
Massetti: It’s really simple but it’s delicious: a shrimp salad. It’s got chickpea puree, it’s got hearts of palm, it’s got a nice, fresh watercress. The shrimp is dressed in a chimichurri sauce with cilantro as opposed to parsley. It’s got a nice sriracha-red pepper-tomato-toffee gel on it. Food as art is very big for me. I really like bright, vibrant colors on the plate and making it visually beautiful for the guests and the shrimp salad is a perfect representation of what I like to do.
Pulse: What inspired the menu at Maidstone?
Massetti: A lot of my inspiration comes from the people I surround myself with. I’m very big on team. The team I put together is very skilled and talented so when we do a menu, I’m not the executive chef that says, ‘This is what we’re making and this is what we’re doing.’ If somebody has an idea for a dish, they put it together and we all try it. It might be my name on the menu but what we’ve put together out here is not me, it’s all of us.
Pulse: What made you want to be a chef?
Massetti: I have good friends that are in a band and they were always touring when I was younger. After my first year in college, they were like, ‘Hey, we need a guy. Want to come hang out and just travel?’ Being in all these different states and eating all these different foods was just incredible. [My favorite meal was] goat tacos in California. At that time I had never eaten goat. From that day on there isn’t anything that hasn’t been put in front of me that I haven’t tried.
Pulse: What’s your go-to guilty-pleasure food?
Massetti: This is terrible. What I honestly love to eat is White Castle. I love White Castle burgers. When I grew up, every body always wants McDonald’s but for some reason mom always took us to White Castle and it’s one of those things where when I want to feel like I’m four or five again, I want White Castle.
Pulse: There is a lot of nostalgia when it comes to food, so on that note, what’s your favorite food-related memory?
Massetti: My grandmother was an amazing cook and she cooked for me all the time so my real love of food definitely came from my grandmother. [She] was a very Italian grandmother and every single Sunday there was a monstrosic meal. She used to buy pre-made beef and pork rissoles. After a while I was like, ‘Grandma, you make everything by hand. Why are you buying these?’ She said, “Because I’ve never made them before,” I was 13, 14, and one day we made them and it was amazing, absolutely delicious.
Pulse: What’s your favorite Long Island restaurant (other than your own) and what should we order there?
Massetti: Roots Bistro Gourmand in West Islip. I was so excited to work there because before I started working there, it was my favorite place to eat. You have to do the tasting menu. It’s the only way to go. The best thing about the tasting menu is when Felipe comes into work, he’s like ‘Alright, I’m going to make this stuff for the tasting menu today.’ You’re not going to get things on the regular menu on the tasting menu. He literally just whips up whatever he whips up and it’s incredible to watch, it’s incredible to eat, it’s amazing.
Pulse: On a rare day off, what’s your perfect summer day in the Hamptons look like?
Massetti: Golf. That’s it. [laughs] No, especially out here a little further East you have Montauk with the water and it’s very beautiful and I hang out with my girlfriend.