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Executive Chef Ben Zwicker Opens Up about Sienna

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Sienna Restaurant & Ultralounge opened over Memorial Day at 44 Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton. Outfitted with pretty girls galore and partygoers looking to throw down, this space has remained consistently busy throughout the summer. We recently sat down with executive chef Ben Zwicker to discuss partying, menu planning, and Hamptons living.

What's different about working in a Hamptons kitchen as opposed to a New York City kitchen?
Actually, it's not that different. We try to do pretty much the same thing. We have a lot of the same customers, and we want to exceed their expectations. Obviously, in the Hamptons, it's a big weekend crowd on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and we've been pretty busy.

Fair enough. The customers at your restaurant definitely like to party. Are you serving them more substantial fare to prepare them for a night of debauchery?
Well, you know, we're out at the beach, and some people want to go lighter. But some people want something heavier to prepare for the evening. We have things like the chopped salad with grilled chicken and grilled salmon. We also have the roast Long Island duck, which definitely fits the bill for filling up before a night out.

Oh, we've heard good things about the duck! What is your favorite thing on the menu right now?
I think it's between the duck and the cavatelli. We make our own in-house ricotta cavatelli. It's almost like a bolognese with more of a Neapolitan ragu, veal, and just a light tomato base. That's very good!

What ingredients are you dying to put on the menu?
One thing we're looking for is another pasta because the tomatoes and eggplants are just great this time of year. Something else we use a lot of right now is fresh corn. For some reason, with the weather we've had this year, the tomatoes and corn are in perfect condition.

Since Sienna features European inspired dining, which is similar to Tony Fortuna's restaurant on the Upper East Side T-Bar, how does this play a role with menu planning?
Tony and I worked together for a long time. I came to New York in 1997, and I was a line cook at the Lenox Room. I worked there for a while and did a few other things. I left, and when I came back, Tony was looking for a chef in 2002-2003. So I've been working with Tony for a very long time. We work well together in terms of bouncing ideas off each other. We sometimes have different points of view, and we go back and forth to create something that the customer wants to eat. And we want to create something that is practical from our point of view. It's been a work in progress for the past ten years.

Since Sienna caters to such a lively clientele, are you energized or exhausted after a night of cooking?
[Laughs] Well, I think I'm energized and ready to party a little bit. But I have to get up and do it again the next day. So you do want to get home and get some rest, especially if you're not quite as young as you used to be. But, if it's Saturday night, it's nice to relax a little bit and have a good time!

That's understandable. So what's your favorite thing about spending time on the East End?
It's fresh change of scenery. It's fun, and it's not quite as high maintenance as the city. It's beautiful out here, and I love going around to the countryside and the beach. It's definitely a breath of fresh air on every level. Everybody needs a break!

Do you spend much time at the beach?
Yeah, I like to go the beach, and running outdoors is good, too. Just to be outside and driving around is amazing. Although, the traffic—

Agreed, the traffic is no fun for anyone!
Yes, but if you can avoid that somehow, it's fantastic. Driving, biking, and going to the beach is so nice. You're relaxing in nature and away from the city.

Clearly you like the Hamptons, so how does the environment play a role in what you want to eat?
It makes you want different things. Sometimes you build up an appetite, and you don't mind loading up on pasta or having a big piece of meat if you've been riding around all day. And, also, with the season, fresh vegetables and fruit are what you want to eat during the summer. It just matches the lifestyle in the Hamptons.

We read that you were excited to try the different dishes when competing at A Taste of Two Forks. What did you like?
I really liked Bostwick's Chowder House. The classic Long Island seafood is great! And I got to meet some of the people and the other chefs, which was really nice. Working in a restaurant, you just don't have to do that.

If you could have anything to eat on the South Fork, what would it be?
Oysters on the half shell with the beautiful, local produce. Also, some of the great fish from Montauk.
· Sienna [Official site]
Jamie Sharpe