Seasons by the Sea: Beyond the Ban

Dishes from the six countries covered by the president’s travel ban
Those working in the kitchen for the five-course dinner featuring food from the countries covered by the Trump administration’s travel ban had origins as close as New York City and as far away as Ecuador and Mexico. They were, from left, Miguel Solano, Leo Cordova, Fabian Juela, Jeremy Blutstein, and Andrew Mahoney. Laura Donnelly

Mark Twain wrote, in “Innocents Abroad,” that “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” 

“I was a good student. I comprehend things. I understand very well. Better than, I think, almost anybody,” Donald Trump said to the National Sheriff’s Association regarding his interpretation of United States immigration law.

“I’ll tell you the whole history of it,” former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani told Fox News. “So when Trump first announced it, he said ‘Muslim ban.’ He called me up. He said ‘put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’ ”

A five-course dinner at Almond restaurant in Bridgehampton recently focused on dishes from the six countries covered by the president’s travel ban. They were accompanied by four wines and a vermouth from Channing Daughters Winery. The dinner was conceived by Jason Weiner, the restaurant’s co-owner and executive chef, and prepared by its newly anointed chef de cuisine, Jeremy Blutstein. It was sold out. It was tremendous and huge, hugely successful, and beautiful.

At the beginning, Mr. Blutstein said, “This is a celebration of food from mother countries. Food is bond. People celebrate with food when a baby is born, when someone graduates, and at the other end, people gather and bond around food when someone dies. People have to let go of anger. If you walk around being angry, everybody loses. Here we have friends in the kitchen and friends in the dining room. Nights like this are what it’s all about.” 

He then admitted that in Mr. Weiner’s absence he had taken the liberty of plundering and pillaging the restaurant basement’s supply of last summer’s Pike’s Farm tomatoes and homemade harissa. The menu also featured nettles, ground dent corn, carrots, and potatoes from Quail Hill Farm, wheat from Amber Waves, Marilee Foster’s radishes, arugula from the Bridgehampton School’s Killer Bees garden, and micro-greens from Brendan Davison’s Good Water Farm.

Served family-style at communal tables, the meal began with fattoush, representing Syria and Iran, a salad of greens, sugar snap peas, radishes, pomegranate seeds, toasted pita bread, fennel fronds, and little rounds of falafel. It was lemony, herbal, and minty, with a hint of cardamom. The 2016 Mudd West Vineyards syrah was an excellent match for the variety of flavors.

The next course was salaat jazar, a carrot salad from Sudan, spicy with harissa, a tahini dressing, pistachios, pickled ramps, arugula, and a sprinkling of purple shiso leaves. This was accompanied by a 2016 Petillent Naturel.

When Christopher Tracy of Channing Daughters stood up to speak, he did so with the fervor of a Pentecostal preacher. “Channing Daughters Winery steers away from politics and religion. But these are interesting and different times so you have to be engaged. As Hamilton said to Burr, ‘I’d rather be divisive than indecisive.’ ” He talked about how much fun it was to pair the wines with spicy foods, calling the sparkling rosés “joyful with a touch of sweetness.”

When asked why she and her husband, Chris Jeffrey, were attending the dinner, Laura Luciano said, “People are dying, seed banks are being blown up. Jason [Weiner] is bringing awareness to the foods of each of these countries. If we can’t go to them, Jason is bringing their flavors to us and educating us.”

The carrot salad was followed by mafaiya, a fish stew from Yemen, prepared with monkfish, last summer’s tomatoes, sunchokes, and Quail Hill nettles. It was one of the best courses of the meal, the monkfish cooked just enough, the nettles softened to spinach-like silkiness, the sunchokes adding sweetness, and the broth having a hint of saffron in it. This was matched with a 2016 cabernet sauvignon from Mudd Vineyard.

Throughout the meal, Almond’s co-owner Eric Lemonides was serving dishes and alighting on each table with the speed of a hummingbird. As the guests tucked into the fourth course of chicken and lamb kebabs representing Libya, Mr. Tracy told us why Almond is near and dear to his heart. “These dinners remind us of why we get together to enjoy food. Look behind the scenes: Diego, Steve, Nick, Jeff, all of the staff, they get it.” 

I visited the kitchen before the meal began, and the chefs and cooks were remarkably calm considering they were about to serve five courses in rapid succession to 75 guests. Mr. Blutstein introduced me to the “handsome S.O.B.s” who had prepared our meal, Miguel Solano, Leo Cordova, Fabian Juela, and Andrew Mahoney. Mr. Weiner was absent, working at a dinner in the city.

For dessert we had kac kac, a Somalian beignet topped with local lavender honey. This was served with Channing Daughters Vervain Version 3 Batch 3, a vermouth full of mysterious and intriguing local herbs and spices.

If you are familiar with Almond and the folks behind it, you already know that they frequently host dinners for friends in need, artists and writers, community groups, and more. Food is bond, as Mr. Blutstein said, and this dinner also provided some serious food for thought.

Click for recipes

Fattoush, an appetizer common to Syria and Iran, incorporated East End ingredients such as Marilee Foster’s radishes and demonstrated the exchange of cultures celebrated at Almond restaurant’s dinner featuring foods from countries covered by the Trump administration’s travel ban. Laura Donnelly