How would you describe the food you create at Caravan?
Caravan serves the kind of food that we like to eat, the kind of food we’re always searching for but that isn’t terribly easy to find—boldly-flavored, healthy, local and seasonal.
We like food that transports people to different places when they eat—whether it’s to Greece, to India, or to the Caribbean. We don’t shy away from ingredients that people are unfamiliar with. We love borrowing from different cuisines to create flavors at once familiar and surprising.
Core Value represented in the food:
There are twin values at the core of Caravan. The first is ecological and environmental. Our weekly menus are made up almost entirely of ingredients harvested on the east end of Long Island, whether it’s the vegetables, the fish, the eggs, the chickens, the cheese, or the grains. Eating locally requires eating seasonally, and eating seasonally means eating in a way that puts less stress on the environment and in turn on our communities. We do everything we can to promote this kind of eating.
The second is the desire to help people derive more joy from their food. Like most things, the more energy you invest in your food, the more thought you put into it, the more you get out of it. Taking an interest in where your ingredients come from isn’t just about seeming cool and well-informed; it’s about deepening your relationship to what you eat, which sets you up to take greater satisfaction in it. Just a little bit of thought and attention goes a long way towards promoting health and happiness.
How do you source the items you sell?
Before the three of us came together to form Caravan, we each spent a number of years traveling and working abroad. Many of the products we sell are items we encountered in our travels—things like our José Gourmet sardines and mackerel (which are not only delicious but also come in the most beautiful packaging) and Pommery Fireman’s Mustard (we call it “the world’s best” and mean it).
We focus on sourcing items that can transform what might otherwise be an average meal into something special, something memorable. We look for items that are produced with skill, thought, and attention to detail. We’re supporting producers that are experts in their crafts, who dedicate their lives to refining their work.
A more recent pick-up for us was Seed+Mill tahini. We’d been using tahini in all kinds of ways for a while before we encountered Seed+Mill’s tahini in Chelsea Market, but since we did, we’ve been finding even unexpected uses for it…even in pesto, where it replaces the traditional cheese and nut combo. It’s an incredibly versatile ingredient. We didn’t even realize what a difference a high quality tahini could make. They use Ethiopian sesame seeds, which—we’ve learned—are some of the world’s best. The result is a tahini that is deeply nutty with a rich but not overpowering texture.
What inspired Caravan and what was its genesis?
Caravan is the product of a passion for food and travel and a concern for the environment.
What are our individual roles?
Alex – head of kitchen
Deeva – sourceress in chief, primary liaison to farms, local producers, etc.
Lee – branding, shop-boy
All important decisions are made collaboratively. We all create the menu together each week, talking through the available ingredients, exchanging ideas…each of us contributes something to every dish.
Background in food and hospitality?
Alex—trained chef, graduate of the International Culinary Center’s Farm to Table program. Worked in different kitchens around NYC, including The Smile and Poppy’s Catering.
Lee and Dee—former food directors at Greenhouse Juice Co in Toronto, for whom they also coauthored a vegan cookbook. Worked at France’s first zero packaging grocery store in Bordeaux. Both have worked front of house in restaurants.
How do you like being part of Amagansett community?
We’ve fallen in love with Amagansett. First and foremost, the Amagansett farms—Quail Hill, Balsam and Amber Waves—are fantastic partners in every way. Their hearts are in the right place, and the food they produce reflects their investment of time, energy and love. The people at these farms have all been hugely supportive of what we’re doing—they always interested in knowing what’s on the menu, what we’re up to with their produce in any given week. Many of them got into farming for the same reason we got into cooking—the love of food.
The wider community of Amagansett has also been incredibly welcoming to us newcomers. None of us grew up coming here, but we all feel as if we’re at home in Amagansett. Amagansett is filled with interesting characters with diverse backgrounds and interests, but what seems to connect them is a certain laidback vibe that is far from ubiquitous elsewhere on the East End. These are people who care about quality, who are interesting in learning, growing, trying new things, but they’re not pretentious about it.
Our aim was always to help connect people—eaters—with the farmers and the land. When people see our harvest list and the farms we work with, they see the names of farms they’ve been going to for years, so we’re actually reinforcing a connection that’s already been in place for years.
We also love the other business owners in Amagansett. Everyone seems to know each other, and everyone is supportive one another. What’s good for one business in Amagansett is generally good for another…it just makes it an increasingly desirable place to spend time.
How did you wind up in Amagansett? Where were you before?
Before we opened in Amagansett, we sold food out of our caravan at Bhumi Farms in East Hampton. We had a great couple of weeks there at the beginning of the summer before the village made us move the caravan.
Luck brought us to Amagansett…a mutual friend told us about an unfilled storefront next to the Tack Trunk. The second we saw it, we knew it was exactly the place for us. From day one in Amagansett, we had this sense that Amagansett was where Caravan was meant to make its home all along.
Most Important Flavor Building Ingredient In Your Food
Acid…lemon juice first and foremost.
Favorite Dish at Caravan?
Our Terroir Bowls change weekly based on the available harvest. These are basically composed salads, typically themed around a particular region or cuisine. This week we had a thai green curry with kimchi and a French lentil dish with smoked monkfish and carrots. Next week we’re channeling Lebanese cuisine and ratatouille from Provence using the late summer veg—peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, etc.
Lee: Our menu changes every week, but one format that I really love is the frittata. It’s a great way to feature whatever veg are being harvested that week, and you can take the flavor in a million different directions. One more element we have to play with is sauce…we always serve our frittatas over a smear of pesto or some other kind of herby thing. Our frittatas might more properly be called vegetable and egg pies (on second thought, that’s not a very catchy name, but it is probably more accurate) because the egg is really mostly there as a binder and a vehicle for flavor. All summer long I’d been fantasizing about making an eggplant parmesan frittata…we finally got eggplants in the last couple of weeks, and tomatoes just this week, so the time has finally come… In the coming weeks, we’ll start doing a romesco using bell peppers underneath the frittata. And one of these days we’ll get around to doing a Korean frittata with kimchi, mushrooms, and miso.
Most popular dish?
Our three most popular dishes this summer have probably been our Amagansett Nicoise, our Indian bowl, and our Bluefish salad. The former is a loose take on a salade nicoise made using local potatoes, gem lettuce, radishes, hard boiled eggs, haricot verts…and we finish it off with a few olives and some meaty chunks of mackerel preserved in olive oil. The Indian bowl is basically a greatest hits compilation of everyone’s favorite vegetarian Indian dishes in a bowl, served over a mix of basmati and black rice, topped with a raita made with Culture yogurt and local cucumbers. The bluefish salads uses bluefish caught and smoked on the North Fork, which we break down with olive oil, lemon juice and local herbs. Very mild, meaty, and perfect on toast or with crackers.
Kitchen or healthy tricks you can offer to home cooks that’s guaranteed to pack flavor and vitality?
Don’t be afraid of olive oil and salt. These two ingredients are what most vegetables demand…using them freely will make your vegetables taste delicious, which means you’ll eat more of them, and eating more vegetables is probably the single best thing any of us can do to improve our health. That’s something almost all dietary philosophies seem to agree on.
Five ingredients you couldn’t live without
Strong fine mustard – Pommery’s Fireman’s Mustard (Moutarde des Pompiérs), or Grey Poupon (not the one made by kraft by the real French one, with the beautiful font) would be ideal. Essential for salad dressings, amazing in chicken marinades, and perfect on grilled meat.
Anchovies – ideally Cantabrian, but almost anything would do in a pinch. We love them in tomato sauce, we love them in salad dressings, …we even put them on avocado toast.
Deeva: Cumin. Love it on eggs, love it on rice…every time I taste it it brings me back to India, and for me that’s never a bad thing.
Dark chocolate: there is no better way to close the palette than dark chocolate. Because it’s both bitter, sweet, and sometimes a bit savory, it helps you escape the flavor pendulum that sometimes keep people eating long after they’ve stopped being hungry: doritos→ice cream→salty pop corn→soda→etc.
Toasted Sesame Oil: very complex flavor…nutty, sweet, savory. A very distinct flavor that nevertheless seems to make friends with a lot of different ingredients.
What’s always in your fridge?
Alex: sliced lemons, grass-fed butter/ghee
5 local go to restos in hamptons
We’ve recently gotten really into Momi. Our friend jane recommended it. it’s never busy but it should be…very good ramen.
The truth is we’ve only had maybe three dinners out this entire summer! We spend our evenings cooking, tasting, cooking tasting…We’re looking forward to exploring more when the season quiets down.
Favorite city for food outside NYC?
Dee: San Sebastian
Lee: My ideal meal would be a variety of preserved seafood (sardines, anchovies, mackerel, etc.) alongside a bunch of garlicky, olive oily toast, roasted red peppers, some artichoke hearts, some raw sheep cheese, and some spicy peppery greens. it’s like the Iberian version of a bagels and lox spread. As long as Deeva were there, the rest of the company would just be icing on the cake.
Al: any meal prepared and shared with close friends and family over a delicious bottle of wine…and finishes with a few bites of rich dark chocolate!
Dee: Everything Alex and Lee describe. I grew up eating a lot of brown rice with soy sauce and vegetables, so sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than a big bowl of just that.
Food Trend you partake in? One you wish would go away?
Lee: We definitely partake in the trend of veg-centric cooking and eating. It’s one we’re proud to participate in and one that will transcend trendiness and become the new normal.
The fetishization of kale should probably come to an end. Kale is an excellent ingredient but there are a million amazing vegetables, and variety is the spice of life and the basis for health.
Alex, as a yogi, how has that inspired the food you create?
The kitchen and sharing food with others is an integral part of my spiritual practice. I started practicing yoga before cooking became such an important part of my life. Mindful eating came naturally out of my practice – specifically as I developed a greater sense of connection to myself and the world around me. I started to see how food, conscious movement and breath are some of our greatest sources of nourishment and healing. I realized that choosing where our food comes from, how it’s prepared, and how we share that experience with others is an important part of caring for ourselves, as well as the health of our land and our communities.
All of you have this beautifully holistic and spiritual energy—what would you equate that to? Is this what bonds you together?
For the three of us, food is very much a spiritual matter. It’s a pathway to a deeper connection to the earth, and a pathway to joy. That belief drives everything we do, and it is the glue that holds us together.