Meet the Long Island Chefs Attracting the Attention of James Beard

Photo by Mirella Cheeseman

There was a time when Manhattanites, as well as some Long Islanders, believed good restaurants and chefs could only be found in New York City. In recent years, however, Long Island chefs have been flexing their culinary muscles, and have removed the stigma that Long Island can’t produce great food.

Ryan Keough, executive chef of Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Garden City, is another contender in a growing list of chefs making their mark in the Long Island restaurant world. On August 9, Chef Keough, a Johnson & Wales University graduate, presented a Coastal Italian Tapas dinner at the world-renowned James Beard House located in Greenwich Village.

The menu was carefully curated by Chef Keough, who has drawn from his coastal Rhode Island roots, and his appreciation for local, seasonal and sustainably sourced ingredients. The prepared meal featured a selection of hors d’oeuvres, followed by a five-course dinner and dessert, which included hand-selected wine pairings to complement the flavors of each dish.

James Beard was born in 1903 and died in 1985. He was a well-respected cookbook author and teacher who had an “encyclopedic” knowledge when it came to food. He is known in the culinary world as a champion of American cuisine, and he helped educate and mentor generations of professional chefs and food enthusiasts. The historic James Beard House, which is named after him, serves as a “performance” space for visiting chefs, and is maintained by the James Beard Foundation, which was founded in 1986. The purpose of the foundation is to “celebrate, nurture, and honor America’s diverse culinary heritage through programs that educate and inspire.”

“I was honored to present Coastal Italian Tapas at the prestigious James Beard House,” said Chef Keough. “At Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas, we believe in sharing wonderful food and the knowledge needed to fully appreciate it—a collaborative effort that cultivates a unique experience to share with our guests. The James Beard Foundation shares this philosophy of creating an experience that is both educational and inspirational, and I am grateful for this opportunity to deliver a delicious, authentic culinary experience.”

For hors d’oeuvres, Chef Keough prepared a citrus-cured smoked sea bass with smoked caviar, blini, crème fraiche and lemon zest; granchio fritto—crab with buttered leeks and dill; formaggio di bufala—mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes and toasted garlic; tonno crudo—tuna with peaches and balsamic pearls, and prosciutto di parma riserva which was aged 18 months.

Entrees included a salad of artichokes with baby arugula, pomegranate, and shaved pecorino; polpo fritto—octopus with tomato panzanella, carrot puree and summer herbs; housemade squid ink campanelle with seafood ragu and micro basil; halibut with red beet puree, black truffles and wild mushrooms, and brasato di guanciale al Barolo served with wild garlic and piave polenta. Each dish was beautifully paired with Italian wines from various regions. A burnt caramel semifreddo with cinnamon, bourbon and cherries rounded out the meal.

Guests to the event had the opportunity to walk through the kitchen upon arrival to see the chef in action, as well as participate in a Q&A session with Chef Keough during the dessert course.

Chef Keough is proud to be among a growing list of young Long Island chefs who are James Beard worthy. This past February, Brazilian-born executive chef Franco Sampogna from Jema restaurant in Huntington, was invited to the James Beard House where he prepared a locally inspired meal featuring duck from Crescent Duck Farms, North Fork Sea Salt, HOG Farm organic vegetables and Barna Bee Honey. In July, executive chef James Ahearn from Verde in Deer Park, participated in Chefs & Champagne, the James Beard Foundation’s annual summer tasting party which took place at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponeck. He prepared foie gras torchons with wagyu beef pastrami, and cocuzza squash fluke with quinoa, greens and leek broth. The event honored multiple James Beard award-winning celebrity chef and restauranteur Marcus Samuelsson.

So if you are considering a trip into Manhattan for dinner, think again. Long Island is on its way to becoming a mecca for great chefs and outstanding restaurants.

For more information on the James Beard Foundation and how you can attend events there, please visit their website at