The Curious Chefs: Elizabeth Ronzetti & Adam Kopels

The married chefs of 18 Bay Restaurant are endlessly inspired by their love for food, each other and Shelter Island

By Sponsored by Hendrick's Gin
Published September 19, 2013 4:01AM (EDT)

This is the fifth installment in a new series called Keepers of Curiosity, featuring interviews with intrepid performers, artists, writers and culinary-minded individuals with a thirst for discovery and innovation. The series is brought to you by Hendrick's Gin. To read the other interviews in this series, click here.

What do you do?
We are a married couple and we are also both chefs. We run a restaurant called 18 Bay on Shelter Island in New York.

How would you describe your work?
Since we source, cook, and plan everything ourselves, I might say we are chefs who hold some of the most inquisitive dinner parties any night of the week. Our regulars might agree. As a starting point, we work with a menu format that’s based on an Italian-style tasting menu. It is four courses consisting of antipasti, of which diners receive four; a handmade pasta course; a choice of a meat or fish entrée; and a dessert. The selections change every week from top to bottom, so that it reflects the local markets and our local terroir as it is that exact moment in the season. If it’s a good week for tomatoes, then we buy tomatoes. We also taste all of the wines on our list to personally decide what will pair best each week with each menu.

When are you most inquisitive?
Every morning, we start our busy days at the local farm stands on the North Fork of Long Island on our way to the restaurant on Shelter Island. This is where it all begins. Our day might start with the discovery that there are three different varieties of plums, which were just picked from the trees that morning and are still warm from the sun and fragrant. This kind of find might make us say, “Let’s make mostarda!” It’s often that spontaneous.

What are you most inquisitive about?
The endlessly complex and delicious flavors you can create from the most basic and simple of elements, like heirloom tomatoes, for example, or corn, arugula, and husk tomatoes. All those fresh options peak our curiosity and drive us to create dishes that will make sense on the plate.

What curiosity does your work satisfy?
Perhaps it’s not so much curiosity that we hope to satisfy, but an actual appetite. Yours even.

What drives your curiosity?
We are inspired daily by our surroundings, our purveyors, our guests, and each other, every day, every season. It’s an awesome place to be in—both literally and metaphorically.

How do you keep things curious?
We always spend a lot of time talking to people at the markets—too much time even. Our favorite stop is our local fish market. Being in a beach community, the ocean is at the heart of what we do. We always love talking to the people there, especially since they know the area best and can provide some really surprising insight and input. There’s also the aspect of just enjoying the best of our region and really living—and savoring—its lifestyle. Being here is a choice. To really capture the history of this place, we always bring our fish in whole and it’s always right off the boat. Since there is so much to choose from, it’s often hard determining what actually winds up on the menu because it’s all so fresh!

Where do you mine inspiration?
The markets. Each other. The seasons. After stopping at the markets, then we go to work. The 15-minute ferry ride is usually the final planning stages of the menu. Two of our greatest motivators are perfectly baked scones that we grab before getting on the boat from Due Latte in Greenport and a view which we still feel like we’re stealing because it’s just so gorgeous. Even now, after three seasons, there’s nothing that feels routine about it. It’s still our best collaboration time. We’re always excited to go to work and start creating and we think it comes through. If you start to feel dull or inspired, so will the dishes you create.

What's your next project?
Our next project is always our next menu. So each week we have a new project. Since we work seasonally, we have a sketch of what might be good, but we want to react to what’s actually happening at the markets. Some seasons are better than others for certain ingredients. It’s unpredictable and that keeps it curious. We recently found a local source for beach plums that we made into a signature cocktail called The Harelegger, as a homage to someone who is born on Shelter Island. Right now our best-selling cocktail is a puree of local kirby cucumbers that we mix to make a Hendrick’s Gin Gimlet.

Is your work for now or later?
As soon as we figure out the menu we can go back to holding hands and staring out of the window at some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. We get into work and somehow everything starts to come together. Right now we are the only two chefs in the kitchen. We never really know what the plate will look like until service, but we are always satisfied with what we ultimately serve.

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