Top photo: Alexis Trolf
Lost & Found
Long Beach, New York
What is your personal connection to Austria?
I am a first generation American. I was born in Queens and raised in Long Beach, NY. My mother was German, from Buckeburg, a small town near Hannover. My Father is Austrian, born in Salzburg. Most of my relatives live in Austria and Germany.
My parents both worked for T.W.A. and met while based at J.F.K. international airport. As children, my brother and I spent a lot of time in Germany and Austria with our relatives. Today, it is a little more difficult to travel, especially as a restaurant owner. Last year my father and I took a trip to visit some relatives in Mittersill and stayed for a week. I hadn’t been there in 15 years and was immediately struck by its charm and elegance. I was wondering why my father actually ever left!
When did you first discover your passion for cooking?
As a young child, I was a picky eater, much to the dismay of my father, who is quite the gourmand himself. I can’t pinpoint the moment, but at some point I realized that food doesn’t have to be a chore and can be enjoyable. Eating and tasting new things, the cleaning, preparation, and cooking of those things, the history of the ingredients and techniques. A whole new world had opened up tome. So, when I was old enough to start working, I started in a kitchen as a prep cook.
You have been in the business for quite a while: Are there any special stories that happened to you or in one of your restaurants?
This year I celebrate and bemoan 20 years as a cook. I’ve seen and experienced a lot in that time, much of which is not fit for print. (laughs)
How did you experience Hurricane Sandy in 2012?
2012 started off strong! I was the chef of a restaurant in Long Beach that had been in operation for more than ten years already. It had gone a little stale however and was in need of some fresh ideas. I bought a one third share of the business, revamped the menu, and started to create a real following.
It was an Italian style restaurant and the previous owners had installed a wood burning brick oven, front and center, that really captured my attention and imagination. I started to utilize that oven more and more, learning how to manipulate its heat and intensity. Before long it had become a show, of sorts, in which food was the art and wood fire was the medium. Nightly we would perform for 100-200 people and started to draw people from out of town and even from Manhattan!
Summer came and the business continued to grow and garner critical and common adulation. Then came the storm nobody expected. Its ferocity was hard to imagine: No amount of sandbagging and preparation was capable of holding back that water! There was nothing to do. Without an adequate insurance settlement, we were forced to walk away. I like to joke that for a while, we had the only swim up bar in town. (smiles)
But honestly: Hurricane Sandy devastated the community. Some here are still feeling the impact. However, houses are being built up on high foundations, federal grant money is coming through and the locals are in high spirits! Much has been done already and the town feels as if it is in the midst of a renaissance. Businesses have bounced back, and interest has skyrocketed. I think that in the next few years, Long beach will really boom.
Tell us a little about your present restaurant.
Currently I own and operate a little restaurant on the south shore of Long Island called The Lost and Found. 30 seats, an open kitchen, and an ever evolving menu. I like for it to be seasonally inspired, so we change the menu rather often. The moniker “New American” has been thrown around a lot recently, I’m not quite sure what that means.
Good food drawn from a variety of geographical and cultural influences? Hyper local sourcing of ingredients? Sure, we have that, but, to be sure, I draw most of my inspiration from the food of my childhood. Very much a Central European sensibility and palate.
What made you switch from Italian to American cuisine?
I like to think of myself as an intuitive cook. I am deeply interested in all ingredients, in all techniques. Throughout my cooking career, I have worked in all kinds of kitchens, burger joints and greasy spoons, pasta houses and pizza places, barbeque pits and seafood spots. For me, it’s important to understand that food IS culture, that culture is born out of the shared experience that is food. It is the great unifier!
We all eat, we all enjoy eating, it’s that commonality that can help us to bridge any gaps arising. Through food, through cooking, I have been introduced to some of the most influential people in my life, some of my greatest experiences have to do with the teamwork and fraternity that come in kitchens, that come with a common goal. So, I’m not sure if I cook American food or Italian food, I am proud to cook just good food with a history.
What is next for you? What would you like to be doing in 10 years?
The dream never was to have just one restaurant. The dream includes several restaurants and/or food shops. I’d love to have a butcher’s cafe that works as both a retail space and a lunch spot. Perhaps a bakery and patisserie? I’ve worked hard over the last decade to assemble the right team. A like-minded commitment, an intense passion, immersive creativities, and dedication to a lifestyle. With this team, only the sky is the limit.
I am looking forward to our next project, but I’m not quite sure of what it will be. What is your favorite Austrian dish? Is this a trick question? Like all good Austrians, I love a good thin Wiener Schnitzel mit Kartoffelsalat. My Omi’s recipe, of course. And let’s not leave out a world class glass of Grüner Veltliner!
Thank you for taking the time!