Chef Spotlight: Peter Van Der Mije of OSTERIA LEANA in Oyster Bay
Osteria Leana (www.osterialeana.com) is a mixture of everything Peter Van Der Mije loves about restaurants - an intimate restaurant setting with an approachable cuisine that remains true to seasonality and freshness. Peter has always wanted a restaurant to call his own. He and his wife Heather moved to Long Island with a goal to open a farm to table restaurant focused on sustainable dining and highlighting the purity of simple clean Italian flavors. With extensive culinary experience in the hospitality industry, Peter is excited to fulfill his dream in Oyster Bay. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 2003, he began working in New York City for well known chefs, Marcus Samuelsson, Jean Georges, and Dan Kluger. Peter enrolled in Cornell's Hotel School earning a MBA in Hospitality Management. Peter has spent his time in some of the finest kitchens in the world, cooked as a private chef for high profile clients, and consulted for local restaurants on Long Island. It is within Osteria Leana where his industry tenure and passion for creativity has led to the perfect pairing of simple chic interiors and sophisticated modern Italian cuisine. Peter is passionate about partnering with local businesses including food and beverage vendors to support the community and enhance the experience for his guests. He lives in Long Island with his wife Heather and their two sons.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Peter Van Der Mije about his career and Osteria Leana.
What was your earliest interest in cooking?
I've been somewhat fearless about cooking, even from an early age. I learned how to make eggs and spaghetti, so I knew I'd never go hungry. I probably inherited the "Hospitality gene" from my mother. She has a great passion for cooking and entertaining. Also, my Italian grandmother encouraged me to cook professionally and taught me a lot of cooking techniques in the kitchen. So I have always had tremendous support and encouragement to follow my passion, which has been extremely helpful to my career.
I remember one time, when I was 12, I was cooking bacon for breakfast and the pan got too hot. So I shut off the burner and raised the smoking pan to the fan above the stove. Unfortunately, the grease ran down the pan and onto my hand, giving me a serious burn and a scar. That scar became a reminder to me that when a pan gets too hot, just turn off the burner and walk away.
Who were some of your career mentors?
My career has been influenced by many great chefs. I've worked for Jean Georges, Marcus Samuelsson and Dan Kluger, who have all taught me valuable lessons. The biggest influence on me has been two Michelin star chef Phil Howard of The Square and Elysian Street in London. Chef Howard taught me that you should be able to taste every ingredient in a dish. If you cannot taste it, then it doesn't need to be in the dish. This leads to tremendously clean flavors, which is something I strive for when I cook. Chef Howard also taught me "what goes together, grows together." This simple principle leads to a very disciplined and seasonal approach when I create new dishes. It also helps me focus on the flavor combinations used, so my dishes tend to be straightforward and simple.
What culinary styles have influenced your career
Nouvelle cuisine is probably the culinary style that has influenced me the most. Phil Howard, Jean Georges and Dan Kluger all have a distinct "nouvelle" style. Most of my work comes in the form of sourcing the finest ingredients available on Long Island and presenting them in a manner that brings out their freshness and flavor. Long Island has tremendous potential as a culinary destination. There are many passionate farmers, fishermen, baymen, winemakers, and apiarists on Long Island who are pushing the quality of local products to new heights. I'm hopeful that the area will soon gain the recognition it deserves.
What do you consider the most distinguishing features of your work as a chef?
I think my desire for simplicity is my distinguishing feature. When you strive for simple flavors and dishes, there is nothing to hide or cover up. You are very exposed. The ingredients must be at the peak of their freshness and the cooking technique must be executed to perfection, or the dish will be lackluster.
What is your favorite meal?
I 've eaten at a lot of great restaurants in the city, but only at Esca have I had the same meal a dozen times. Esca, just outside the theater district, has a crudo tasting and a chitarra made from uni and crab that is out of this world. I took my wife there on our first date. I recommended the crudo and the pasta to her - and instead, she got a salad and the branzino. When she asked me for a bite of my crudo, I said I wouldn't share with her. Why she didn't leave is beyond me! But she has been understanding about my passion and life ever since, and I am extremely grateful to have her by my side.
Tell me a little bit about your restaurant for our readers.
Osteria Leana is in Oyster Bay, on Long Island. It's a 42 seat hidden gem where we focus on new Italian cuisine. It's named after my grandmother. We have an open kitchen with a simple chic décor, and I enjoy being out in the open in front of our guests. We serve Italian and New York wines and spirits. We're open 7 nights a week and have become a local favorite. And we've just introduced our signature 5-course pasta tasting menu, for $55. It's available Sunday- Thursday.
In Italy, an osteria was originally a place serving wine and simple food. Osteria Leana honors that heritage by offering a select menu of modern Italian fare prepared with seasonally available ingredients from area farmers and vendors. We proudly support and partner with local farms and purveyors on the North Shore of Long Island to assure the best seasonal ingredients are used; the menu changes monthly as a result. Osteria Leana is also one of two certified Green restaurants on Long Island by the Green Restaurant Association. We are committed to sustainability and community enhancement. Our bar offers a distinct wine list with over thirty bottles of white, red, and sparkling Italian wines and craft beers. With an open dining room that looks out to the kitchen, Osteria Leana is the perfect place for a light snack, an intimate meal, or simply a glass of wine.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Peter Van Der Mije