Fishers Island holds a special place in my heart as it was the place where my family would gather during the summer months, where I raised my son for the first years of his life and where I realized my true passion and talent for cooking.
My husband at the time Tom, and I, purchased a small building on the main drag, which led from the ferry dock to the island homes and the small village. The building had been known simply as “the Greeks”, a produce stand, for years owned and run by a local Greek family.
I didn’t have any professional culinary training, only some retail experience gathered while working in clothing shops as a teenager. One of the wonderful things about being so young was that I didn’t realize how crazy it was to simply buy a building and open a gourmet grocery store and delicatessen, but that is what I did.
Tom was a contractor, so he had the building painted inside and out, the wood floors refinished, shelves built and I bought used equipment to outfit the store on a shoestring.
Days on end were spent in New York City, walking through the most successful specialty markets, where I searched for products and secrets to ensure my own success. I was clueless about the food business, but lucked out while walking through Dean & DeLuca one afternoon.
I was trying to be discreet while looking at labels and writing company names and telephone numbers on a little pad of paper when the store manager tapped me on the shoulder and asked me what I was doing. I told him about my small shop, mentioning that it was no competition for them, and then confessed that I was looking for products. He gave me a stern look and asked me to follow him, nervously, I did. We went down a back staircase into the offices where they introduced me to one of their buyers who proceeded to give me a crash course in retail food buying and then scooted me out the door with a long list of distributors and food companies, and enough knowledge to go back to the island to begin my new venture.
Within four months of buying the store, I had it pulled it together enough to open the doors for business the Friday before Memorial weekend and by Monday afternoon, I was sold out of everything. I was elated. I never turned any request down, if someone asked me to make a dish that I had never made I would say “sure, I’d be happy to make that for you” and then spend all night figuring out the best recipe I could. Soon I was catering parties, weddings and dinners. By mid winter, my catering business was booked solid for the following summer.
Lately, I’ve been revisiting some of the simple recipes that stocked my take-out counter… here is one that is delicious served hot or cold…
Spicy Sesame Noodle Salad
1\4 teaspoon garlic, minced
4 tablespoons tahini paste
3 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari sauce
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar or honey
1-2 tablespoons of hot sesame oil (add more if you like it spicier)
3/4 cup canola or safflower oil
A handful of fresh cilantro, chopped course
1 pound spaghetti noodles, cooked to al dente
1/2 cup scallions, cut in quarter inch pieces
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted in a dry saucepan until just browned
1/4 pound snow peas, trimmed and blanched until bright green and crisp-tender
Optional: 1/2 roasted chicken, pulled and torn into bite size pieces, or 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips and sautéed or 1 cup of diced firm tofu
Whisk the garlic, tahini, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and hot oil together. Slowly blend in the canola or safflower oil. Toss with noodles, snow peas, scallion greens, cilantro, tofu/chicken and half of the toasted sesame seeds.
Serve cold on a bed of greens or hot in a bowl. Sprinkle with remaining sesame seeds and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Makes approximately 6 servings.