I cook simple food. I often return to the same flavor profile: lemon, olive oil, herbs, hint of spice—these Mediterranean flavors are what I swoon, crave, desire at all times. Sometimes I wonder if my family or friends will grow bored of my staple flavors, but most often the quality ingredients speak for themselves. I once heard a chef I admire say that he liked to challenge himself to create an incredible recipe (or as I would say, swoon-worthy) with as few quality ingredients as possible. This struck a cord with me and forever shifted my approach to cooking. I began to focus on quality local purveyors and rather than buying the largest, least expensive tub of olive oil, I began to purchase smaller batches that were perfectly nuanced for a particular dish.
When I first ate at Moby Dick’s 3 years ago, I knew immediately that the chef shared the same philosophy. While painstakingly simple, the food at Moby’s is still flavorful and complex. Chef Gary King, formerly of Il Buco and Cookshop, is intensely committed to keeping his food as un-manipulated as possible. I remember the first time I devoured his spaghettini—it touched upon every point within my palette—the sting of heat, just the right amount of acid from lemons, gently cooked farm-fresh tomatoes brightened with herbs, and finally, the most succulent rock shrimp—I have never dined at Moby’s without ordering it. Apparently, I am not alone: Gary tells me that it is the most popular dish on the menu.
I stepped into the kitchen at Moby’s a complete stranger to Gary. However, peeling fava beans and chopping asparagus together got us chatting and there was a playful, relaxed and inviting energy that mirrored the unpretentious and unfussy food we were preparing. Gary dressed our farro salad oh-so-simply—with just vinegar, EVOO, and sea salt. His less-is-more approach to cooking is steeped in his core values about food—emphasizing quality and where food comes from. Everything is sourced from the bounty of local Amagansett farms: Balsam Farms, Amber Waves, Quail Hill, or even right off the docks in Montauk. As he says, “the quality is the part that’s most important, after that nothing matters.”
Next we moved on to pizza making. Everything is made in-house for the pizza—the dough, the mozzarella, and the sauce. Gary’s secret to Moby’s swoon-worthy sauce is a little trick he picked up in Italy: DO NOTHING to the tomatoes—use simply ground tomatoes for an über delish and pure taste.
After my day in the kitchen at Moby’s, I felt inspired by my simple style, which is not dissimilar from Gary’s. When I worry that my flavors are too pared down, I’ll remember that even this highly trained chef has an ultra-simple execution and that makes me feel like I’m onto something. No more apologizing, Athena! One thing I know for certain: my family will continue to frequent Moby’s for the rest of the season. Gary, and his purist approach to food and quality local ingredients are very refreshing indeed.