Friday, July 15, 2016

Real Feel

Madison Avenue. 8:30 PM. Photo: JH.
Friday, July 15, 2016.  It was very hot humid day, yesterday in New York. There were huge storm clouds to the north and south of us when I walked the dogs at 8:30 in the morning on the Esplanade. But the heat already was taking hold, and the Sun was out.

By mid-afternoon the Real Feel according to Accu-weather, was over 100. You could believe it. Then at about 3:30 in the afternoon, the storm clouds moved in overhead and within ten minutes it was almost dark out when the thunder clapped and clattered, and the rain came down in torrents. Like a tornado, someone said. Took away a lot of that Real Feel. These moments of Summer weather can be exciting, offering (maybe) something new like: Cooler. When the simple things really matter.
Wednesday lunch, as I wrote on yesterday’s Diary, was to meet Toni Ross who is famous in the world out here as Toni of Nick and Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton. That’s how I knew of her. I’d never met her before. Actually I’ve never been to Nick and Toni’s either. Although I’d heard about it from the time it opened about 25 years ago. It was/still is the go-to restaurant for the rich, the chic and the shameless, and all other categories of fame and notoriety. And anybody else who can get a table in a such a popular spot. In other words, the “in” place. Among its charms, so I presume, is that the food is really good, the service is excellent, and the world’s fine too. At least until you get home.

Jon Marder, the public relations man who is not out to publicize himself but rather his clients, called me about meeting Toni Ross a couple of weeks ago. Something to do with the Hayground School which is in Bridgehampton. I’d heard of it because it was across from the horse farm where they play polo. It surprised me that Ms. Ross was meeting me about a children’s school, however, and not about publicizing somebody’s new restaurant or another rich and famous thing. Jon told me that the School was deeply important to her.
DPC and Toni Ross at Michael's.
That intrigued me. The proprietor of a hot East Hampton fooderie and “deeply important” school business. After meeting her, I got it of course. It’s called philanthropy. (She doesn’t call it that; she doesn’t call it anything: she just does it.) All philanthropy – I don’t mean the money, I mean the results because of the money – is good for us. Would that we were all imbued with its characteristics, including our politicians.

So we met for lunch. You know how you often have a vision of someone after you’ve heard about them but before you’ve met them? I visualized Toni Ross as a blonde, with a warm personality and a kind of je ne sais quoi manner of a sophisticated lady, evenly distributed with a quiet charm. You know, a sophisticated restaurateur.

As you can see from the photo of us at table at Michael’s that I had that one wrong. She’s not quite still a kid, but almost. Gamin-esque maybe. Slim as a rail and wearing a blue-green shade of Essie nail polish. I know it was Essie because I asked her, having met Essie, the nicest tycooness I’ve ever met.

So I asked her about her restaurant. It turns out she has five restaurants, all in the Hamptons and all successful. She started in the food business with her late husband Jeff Salaway back in the '80s in New York. It was called JAM and was on the Upper East Side. I can’t remember why they moved out there but they got their hands on a small little house and turned it into Nick  & Toni’s. Jeff died an untimely death (he was in his forties) a few years later. There were two children, a boy and a girl.
Toni Ross and the late Jeff Salaway.
Jeff’s death must have been difficult for the lady because they were close and they were on top of their lives, always a hard place to reach for anybody, and they loved their family. But they’d also acquired Mark Smith as a partner shortly after opening the restaurant, and he is still running the business of restaurateuring. Toni is also a full time artist with her studio in her home out there. At the end of the day in the studio she goes over to the restaurant.
Toni Ross, Tower and Vessel Group, 2012, stonewear and slip.
And so we get down to business. The Hayground School, which goes up to the 8th grade, was founded 20 years ago this year by a group of parents, including Jeff and Toni. Its founding was the result of another small private school for local children that had added a “creationist” to its staff. These parents wanted to let children in on Science instead.

It’s a school that does not have a director. The teachers create the curriculum. Because the local non-summer communities out there have a wide range ethnicity-wise, the founders wanted a school that could serve all the different communities within the whole.  They also created the old fashion classroom where there was an age range in the room – seven-year-olds up to thirteen-year-olds. This enabled the younger children to learn from their older peers and the older children to learn how to teach. A greater bond is created. They also learn to cook and how to grow a lot of the food they prepare and eat each day at lunch.
On June 4th Hayground alumni and school families came together to celebrate the 20th year of Hayground and to reconnect with each other.
This year's Movie Night which screened films that kids produced this year. The students took charge of the entire event from making the films, setting up for the event and running the screenings. They took questions from the audience at the end of the evening.
Students in Charlie Freij's apprenticeship group held a car wash and bake sale to raise money for their camping trip to the Princeton Blairstown Center. They also had help from parents and other students!
Students presenting their year-ending Senior Learner's Projects.
Hayground School Farmers Market.
Today, 80% of the student body are on some kind of financial help. Toni told me that no schools today can run on tuition income and that Hayground’s fundraising is required to keep the dream going.

This is where our lunch comes in. So what do they do? One thing is a dinner. This year, on Sunday, July 31st at the School, they are holding their 12th Annual Chefs Dinner.

At which, this year, they are honoring Chef Claudia Fleming and the lady at our lunch table, Toni Ross. 
The dinner: Hors d’oeuvres begin at 5, with dinner to follow at 6, in Jeff’s Kitchen at the School. Limited to only 140 seats, the evening’s celebrated chefs this year including Josh Capon (Lure Fishbar, Bowery Meat Co.), Tom Colicchio (Crafted Hospitality), Elizabeth Falkner (Chef/ Author/ Artist), Alex Guarnaschelli (Butter), Abigail Hitchcock (Camaje Bistro), Marc Meyer (Cookshop, Hundred Acres, Rosie’s), Christian Mir (Stone Creek Inn), Joe Realmuto (Nick & Toni’s), Jason Weiner (Almond, L&W Oyster Co.) Sommelier Julie Berger (Nick & Toni’s) and Fromager Michael Cavaniola (Cavaniola’s Gourmet). Dinner will also be accompanied by a brief, live auction featuring auctioneer Charles Antin of Lot1.Bid.

“Jeff’s Kitchen” is named for Toni’s late husband Jeff Salaway who was one of the School’s founders and a co-founder their restaurant. Jeff believed that “growing, preparation and sharing of food is a primal human experience and the foundation of family and community.”

The Kitchen has grown over the years to a full-service professional kitchen and classroom fitted with top-of-the-line Viking appliances. Classes in nutrition, food science and cooking are held there for both children and adults. There is also a professional Farmtek greenhouse recently erected by the School’s students, staff and friends with funds provided by Slow Food.

For tickets visit www.haygroundchefsdinner.org / Dinner Tickets are $1,200 per seat. For tickets information contact: Hayground School, Nanao Anton Hope at 631.537.7068 Ext.113 or email chefsdinner@hayground.org

So. Toni Ross. A very likeable lady. All business and all serious but fun just to talk to. She’s one of those amazing women who just Do A Lot with their time everyday of their lives. The mothers of us all.  Of course I don’t know what her schedules are like but I know from learning of her interests and her responsibilities and her dedication to her art, to her businesses and to her family, and the Hayground School, that she does a lot with her day.

I left the table feeling like I’d made a friend – although our paths may never cross again. Doesn’t matter.  Like the rain that fell in steaming torrents in the sudden high winds of yesterday afternoon, it’s a relief; it’s for the good for everyone.
Toni with the Great Chef dinner crew.
Catching up out of town. The 41st Annual Garden Party, benefitting the work of the Monmouth County Historical Association, was held on Sunday, June 26th at the Rumson home of Patricia Whittemore whose riverfront estate provided a wonderful backdrop for the event attended by over 300. The Association, the largest private non-profit organization devoted to history in New Jersey, collects, preserves and interprets the rich history of Monmouth County.
Peter and Allison Rockefeller with Mark Gilbertson.
Brian Henke and Michael Holcomb. Shea and Chuck Jones.
George and Emily Billington.
Hope and Charlie Jones. Hostess Patty Whittemore and Tim Britton.
Evelyn Tompkins.
Chris and Pari Harrison. Claire and Woody Knopf.
Diane Millhiser with Ross and Aaron Millhiser.
Julie and Peter Gilbertson. Ann and Tom Unterberg.
Christina, Tom, and Valerie Gimbel.
Event Co-Chairs Mark Gilbertson, Jennifer Mullins, Cynthia Labrecque, Emily Billington, Charles Jones, and Claire Knopf.
Also: This past July 8th, Dylan Lauren and ARF held an ARF Adopt-a-Thon at Dylan’s Candy Bar on 52 Main Street in East Hampton. Ms. Lauren’s nonprofit organization is working to increase awareness about animal adoption and finding good homes for animals in need. Look at all those beauties. It’s always hard to imagine how someone could give one of them up.
Dylan Lauren with "Georgica."
Arf's Jamie Berger with "Debra."
Alexandra Achi, Kimmy Lucier, Bella Achi, and Liliana Achi with "Darcy."
Sassa Osborne, Bernt Heiberg, Dylan Lauren, and William Cummings with "Flink," "Annie," and "Fia."
Daniel Ehrlich and Mason Shoshany with "Annie."
Peter and Sharon Kossoy with "Maxie." Chelsea Audibert with "Georgica."
Barbara Liberatore, "Biff," and David Mazouz.
Richard and Barbara Rubens with "Baci."
Jose Valentin, Mason Shoshany, and Daniel Ehrlich with "Foxy."
Melissa Pomeranz, Amanda Thomas, Eros, Elizondo, and Jaccara Stephens.

Photographs by Russ DeSantis Photography (Monmouth); Richard Lewin (ARF)

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