Picture the perfect gooey, crunchy, soul-satisfying, god-believing grilled cheese sandwich. You know, the one that simultaneously brings you back to your youth and makes you believe in a higher power. Now breathe. Then replace the cheese with warm, creamy, sticky peanut butter and jelly, soak it all in eggs, cream, sugar and vanilla, and fry it until the edges are crispy. Now breathe. For a final act, imagine that this ingenious concoction wasn’t created by a culinary mastermind but by a stoned teenager looking to satisfy his gut’s request.
Jesse Schenker has always been a bit of a boy wonder in the culinary world. By the time he was 31, he had worked in several Michelin star restaurants, opened two successful Manhattan eateries, emerged victorious in an episode of Iron Chef and been nominated twice for a James Beard award.
Kitchens can often be a place of chaos but even as a child, when he watched his grandmother concoct Jewish delicacies, they were sanctuaries for the Florida native. “I was a wild child and the kitchen was calming to me,” Schenker recalled. “It was the only place where I would stop tapping my foot.”
He graduated culinary school and progressed to working at some of South Florida’s finest restaurants before moving to New York. “It’s like any other profession—if you want to work for the best, you go to Manhattan.” Work for the best he did, landing jobs under a who’s-who list of chefs including Gordon Ramsay, Thomas Keller and Jean Georges.
Eventually, wanting to flex his creative muscles, Schenker launched a private dining concept called recette. With the help of Savoy Bakery owner Brian Ghaw and Per Se pastry alum Christina Lee, he created tasting menus for private parties. Recette became a West Village brick-and-mortar restaurant in 2010 and received a two-star review from The New York Times. That teenage peanut butter and jelly French toast dish was relabeled PB&J Pain Perdu and became one of recette’s must-eat dishes. In 2014, Schenker opened a second, larger restaurant, The Gander, in Manhattan’s Flatiron District.
Even with positive reviews, both eateries would eventually close when rents became too high and margins too small, but not before a regular introduced Schenker to Michael and Claudia Taglich, who were looking to open a restaurant on Long Island. Schenker originally committed to be a consultant but when the end for The Gander was in sight (it closed last year), he grew more enamored with the Taglichs’ Oyster Bay project and dove in.
2 Spring officially opened in January and the tranquility Schenker finds in the heat of the kitchen is evident in its menu—he keeps things simple, relying instead on superior products and impeccable execution. “I’m not reinventing anything. We have a roast chicken dish—salt, pepper, herbs. That’s it. But how we cook it—we have the leg, which is shredded and turned into a terrine and then fried into a croquette. Then the breast is slow cooked and roasted with potatoes. But if you ate it you’d be like, ‘That’s the best chicken I’ve ever had.’ But it’s just chicken.
“The diners out here want to eat well. They can handle it. Most of the people that call here are calling from Manhattan, they work in the city. They know what it’s like…I think the diners out here are ready for this and want this badly.”