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Chef Todd Jacobs Reveals that Conservation is the New Sexy!

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Held on the longest day of summer, the Group for the East End's The Here Comes Sun benefit celebrates everything beautiful about the Hamptons. You know, the pristine beaches and sprawling farmland. The gala attracts a well-heeled crowd that is as passionate about conservation as they are about revelry. This season's party will be held at Wolffer Estate on Saturday, June 21st, with a farm-to-table meal served by executive chef Todd Jacobs of Fresh Hamptons. The restaurateur chatted with us about his views on sustainable food, the importance of supporting local farmers, and his deep commitment to cleaning up the Hamptons. It turns out that preservation really is the new sexy!

Tell us about your involvement with the Group for the East End.
I've been involved with them for many, many years. It's a grassroots organization that is making a difference; they are preserving our quality of life. They are educating and lobbying to make legislative change, and they litigate when necessary. It's inspiring, members are motivated to actually go out and participate in things like beach cleanups. It's about preserving our farmland and water quality, which has really rebounded in the last 20 years.

That is impressive! Last year was such a big year for you, with Fresh Hamptons opening. Are you satisfied with how the public is responding?
The response has overwhelmingly good. There are maybe a few folks that haven't loved it for whatever reason- they think the menu is too big and confusing. It's kind of funny. But, honestly, the local community has been supportive, and they like having so many choices. They appreciate that we make everything that we serve, so we know what's in it. And, my philosophy is to say yes. The answer to every question is yes. So, we try to make people happy.

You know, a lot of chefs don't say that stuff-
It's food service, and people should be happy. They should get what they want.

Currently, what is your menu about?
First and foremost to me is sourcing as close to my door as I possibly can. Using organic food is important to me, but you need to know your farmer. There's no small farmer that wants to hurt his animals, land, or livelihood. But, yeah, having the organic certification is a big plus. I work with some farmers who focus on sustainable practices.

What exactly do you mean by that?
They don't use pesticides. Maybe they don't use organic fertilizers all of the time, but they tend toward organics. For example, Art Ludlow is down the street, and he's not a certified organic dairy farmer, but he won't use pesticides on the grass. He does everything naturally. So, it's more about knowing your farmer.

That's good advice. Tell us, what ingredients are you loving at the farmers markets right now?
The asparagus is amazing, and strawberries are really good. I'm actually growing my own strawberries, and we pick them fresh everyday. We have a strawberry rhubarb crisp that we're running on our menu. That's really a highlight.

What else are you growing in your garden?
We really ramped up this year. We're harvesting all different kinds of herbs, mesclun, lettuce, arugula, watercress, strawberries, and zucchini blossoms. Coming up, we've got tomatoes, eggplant, cucumbers, and a lot edamame.

What you are dying to cook right now at Fresh?
I love skate. Fisherman used to throw it back. It's underused- it's sweet with a wonderful texture. Even my kids love it. With a light wasabi crust, you get just a little bit of crispiness. My advice is to pan sear it and serve it with a little beurre blanc. It's delicious! Black sea bass and our duck is also really good. It comes from an organic farm, as does our chicken. Those are always favorites.

You are known for serving health-conscious fare. So, what's your guilty pleasure food?
I eat mostly vegetarian with a little bit of fish. My guilty pleasure is a cheeseburger with beef and cheese from Mecox Bay. It's incredible. I actually recommended this dish to one of my regular customers last summer. He said, I want to try something different, and I suggested a grass fed burger. He hadn't eaten meat in 30 years, and I apologized. But, he decided to try it anyway. Now, he eats red meat once a week.

That's interesting-
It's healthy to eat meat from a single grass fed cow. It's not mass produced from a factory where you don't know what's going on.

Finally, tell us what you love to do in the Hamptons.
I love to get up and do yoga and then head out to the beach. Maybe pack a lunch with raw salads from the restaurant and go to Ditch Plains. After a day of surfing, come home and barbeque. That's my day off pretty much every week all summer long!