North Fork food and wine pioneers share a history together

First there was John Ross and Louisa and Alex Hargrave.

That was the message Hargrave and Ross delivered Thursday night in an auditorium at Peconic Landing in Greenport about the North Fork wine industry and the beginnings of the farm-to-table food movement.

The key year for their lecture, part of the institution’s lifelong learning series, was 1973, when the Hargraves began to put down roots in the region’s first European vinifera vineyard, and when Mr. Ross It was the year he started his iconic Ross’ North Fork restaurant on Main Road in Southold.

“John has been an old friend of mine since 1973, and he and I have had parallel lives in the food and wine world,” Hargrave said. “I started her first commercial vineyard with my then-husband Alex that year. John started a farm-to-table restaurant that year, and it was a whole new concept.”

Mr. Ross’ trip to Southold has roots in Michigan, where he attended college majoring in English because he wanted to write poetry. The Canadian-born Ross said he knew soon after he graduated from college that “he’s better at stirring eggs than he is at writing poetry.”

Outside the restaurant that John Ross named after him. (photo courtesy)

He enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard to avoid being drafted and sent to Vietnam and immediately saw his future.

“I wanted to get involved in my love of food and cooking,” he said.

He learned to cook in a small galley on a ship before attending Coast Guard culinary school. He said he discovered where he wanted to live and work as a chef when he was assigned to Governors Island.

“During that time, I started discovering Long Island, and the best thing I discovered was seafood,” he said. it was done.”

Hargrave made similar life-changing discoveries about all that East Long Island has to offer. “My ex-husband and I decided in 1972. He had a master’s degree in Chinese from Harvard and I had a degree in political science from Smith College. “We both loved food and wine, but knew very little about them. We had some money to grow grapes.” But it’s clearly not enough, we’ve explored the west coast, we’re back on the east coast, and we only wanted to do this if we could grow European wine grapes. , found the right place.”

Hargraves at the beginning. (photo courtesy)

The ‘proper place’ was a former potato farm in Cutchogue where their experimentation of trying things never before tried in the East End took hold and soon their wines were acclaimed. The couple sold the winery after their divorce in 1999. It is now Castello di Borghese Vineyard & Winery.

Mr. Ross showed a picture of his restaurant’s first menu on the big screen. “The innovation I started with was the daily specials,” he said. “This was unheard of at the time. It was literally a daily special and a limited menu. From the beginning we decided to use only the freshest ingredients. The building didn’t even have a freezer.

“It’s fresh or we wouldn’t have it, and it’s cooked from scratch.”

Its early menu on the big screen drew some wows and ahs about the prices. Long Island Duck, $7. Lobster, $7.50. The steak Mr Ross pointed out was $8. He pointed to a contemporary Greenport restaurant menu that had more than 20 entrees. He was only six.

“There are so many entrees, it’s not fresh,” he said. “We decided we didn’t need that kind of menu. We had to limit it.”

In another picture projected on the big screen, Hargrave showed an early bottle of Merlot from her winery. The image of the label—a flower vine wrapped around a wire—was drawn by former Cutchogue cartoonist Rob White.

“It was our Merlot,” she noted. “It was a significant turning point in the growth of Long Island wine. Our first wine was her 1977. It wasn’t a standout wine. It was a Cabernet Sauvignon. The first east of the Rocky Mountains.” There was a Merlot of

Longtime friends at Peconic Landing on Thursday. (Credit: Steve Wick)

“For Luisa and Alex, this was their baby,” Ross said. “This 1980 vintage Merlot was serious. It was sold in restaurants from day one.

After working at a restaurant in East Hampton for a while, Ross said he borrowed money from his family to buy an existing restaurant on Main Road in Southold. The goal from day one was simple. It was to get the freshest ingredients as close to the restaurant as possible. He cooked there and elsewhere for the next 27 years.

“I made early connections with farmers like the Krupskys and the Wickhams,” he said. “It gave me a little bit of identity. I wanted to be myself. I didn’t want a fake French restaurant. I wanted to be unique in the North Fork. I knew the place was something special.

“What Luisa and her family did was add the missing piece: the wine,” he said. “This is how the North Fork developed as a food destination. You have to give Louisa a lot of credit. We ate fish, we ate produce. raised to the level of

Longtime friends spoke for an hour in front of an enthusiastic crowd. It was interrupted by applause several times. All in all, history records them as pioneers and started something unique on the North Fork.

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