Jon Oh and Jorge Espinoza are the head chefs at Scarpetta Beach at Gurney’s in Montauk, Long Island. Both took starkly different paths to the industry but they now work together to bring high end dishes to diners in the Hamptons. The pair will be participating in Dan’s Clambake MTK, an oceanfront food and drink fest taking place this coming Saturday, July 30th at Gurney’s Montauk Resort. The event is hosted by renowned chef, restauranteur and Food Network personality Marc Murphy as well as Cooking Channel Personality Edin Grinshpan. Here Jon and Jorge give us some insight on their paths to Scarpetta Beach and what it takes to be successful in the Hamptons restaurant scene.
What was your career path like to being a chef?
Jon: It definitely was not your conventional path. After studying Industrial Engineering, I went to Chicago and worked for an accounting firm. Then decided sitting behind a desk wasn’t for me. I moved to NYC to go to culinary school and the rest is history.
Jorge: While cooking on the line, I started to feel that same passion for food as when I was with my family. That’s when I realized that I could really move forward with this and the emotion will carry me to the next level. Cooking has always been home and family for me.
How did you end up at your current position?
Jon: After putting in my notice at my last position, I wanted to take some time off. I didn’t really have a plan on where I was going next. That’s when LDV Corporate Chef, Jaso
n Kallert, contacted me through a reference. I worked with him on a small job, but within a few months, I was offered the job at Scarpetta.
Jorge: I started working with Scott Conant early on and opened L’Impero and Alto with him. From there I went on to open Scarpetta NYC, Las Vegas and Miami. Then last year, had the opportunity to bring Scarpetta to Montauk, which has been a great success.
Do you have any mentors or inspirations that helped you along the way?
Jon: Definitely quite a few, but I’ll give you the short list. First, James Bowen, who really showed me what discipline and pushing in a kitchen was all about, he laid the foundation of my values and integrity of cooking. Then, Eric Haugen, who’s understanding of so many
techniques really opened my eyes to how many different ways food can be prepared. His complete understanding of how to run a business also really allowed me to grow as a Chef and business operator.
Jorge: One of my biggest mentors was David Walzog, at Monkey Bar and Tapika. After that, Scott really showed me that Italian Food was for me.
What kind of employee succeeds in your kitchen?
Jon and Jorge: The ones who really understand what we are trying to accomplish. We try to build our employees up professionally and personally. We really want to provide better lives for them and want to give them the tools to grow.
What are some of the unique challenges of being a chef in the Hamptons compared to other places?
Jon and Jorge: Staffing has always been a battle. Every season, everyone opens at the same time and it’s a race to find all the employees before they start working at other venues.
Why do you enjoy cooking in a place like the Hamptons?
Jon and Jorge: To be able to work with the local companies and get the product that is not available in the city. It’s also a nice change of pace from the Meatpacking District.
What makes for a successful restaurant in an elite, high-end area such as the Hamptons?
Jon and Jorge: The ability to evolve and be flexible. We had to understand that certain things that worked in the city were not for out east. These small adjustments made a really big impact on our success.
Does the restaurant close in the offseason? If not, how do you bring in customers?
Jon and Jorge: It does not, but we believe that our success in season really carries through the offseason.
What are the most popular items that you are serving right now?
Jon and Jorge: Two dishes really stick out. Our Tagliatelle with Lobster has really given the Scarpetta Spaghetti a run for its money. Also, people are really enjoying our Halibut en Croute with Salsa Verde and Endive.
During the season are you able to source most of your produce locally within the Hamptons?
Jon and Jorge: We do our best to get as much as possible, but unfortunately, our operation here is too large to source everything.
Have any of the recent food trends (gluten free, vegan, vegetarian, healthy eating) affected you? If so, how have you adapted and adjusted?
Jon and Jorge: It hasn’t really affected us at all. We’ve always provided a separate section on our menu for vegans and vegetarians.
Thanks Jon and Jorge and good luck at Clambake MTK this weekend! You can get more information on the event they will be featured in here at http://danstasteofsummer.com/clambakemtk/