Ali Katz Kitchen makes a quiche with eggs from Browder’s Bird. | Photograph by David Benthal
Walking into Alison Katz and Fritz Beckmann’s kitchen, the first thing you notice is the vanilla. Not those little 4-ounce bottles they sell at the grocery store, but rows of gallon jars each containing a handful of vanilla beans dipped in several inches of vodka or bourbon.
It’s homemade vanilla extract and Katz says she’ll be going through four jars this summer to flavor birthday cakes, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies and lemon pound cakes coming out. of its highly productive oven.
While the vanilla beans came to Katz from a friend who spent a lot of time in Indonesia, where vanilla grows, Katz and Beckmann are best known for turning relationships with local farmers into magical meal ingredients.
“When Michele, a farmer from Deep Roots, brought us 50 pounds of pork fat, [Fritz] gave it back and turned it into lard,” Katz said. “When Carrie Wood ran the farm stand at Sylvester Manor, we made soups from their extra vegetables.”
Make your own vanilla? Make 50 pounds of leftover pork fat? Katz and Beckmann take the pursuit of flavor as seriously as the pursuit of happiness, and their wholesale and retail customers are also very satisfied.
Katz pursued a career in fashion merchandising, studying at the French Culinary Institute and then in pastry production at New York caterer Abigail Kirsch. She has worked as a private chef for companies and individuals, including 15 years of cooking for the same family. Eleven years ago, Katz married Fritz Beckmann, a classically trained chef who worked in Morimoto NYC, and they began spending time in North Fork, where Katz’s family had long summered.
As Katz and Beckmann spent more and more time in the East, they became involved in the world of food. Ten summers ago, when Katz and Beckmann ran a pop-up restaurant on Shelter Island, she and Holly Browder of Browder’s Birds became friends at the Shelter Island Farmer’s Market, when their stalls sat side by side in a now-legendary row of North Les Fork purveyors included Ira Haspel of KK’s The Farm and the late Ann Marie Borghese of Castello di Borghese Vineyard. Browder was looking for a talented cook to make a quiche from his eggs and soon Katz was on the case. Now Ali Katz Kitchen also makes pies from Browder’s birds and ginger pies from their egg whites, which the Browders sell to customers.
Browder introduced Katz and Beckmann to Claudia Fleming and Gerry Hayden at North Fork Table and Inn and soon Beckmann was running the food truck there while Katz helped Fleming in the kitchen.
“That’s how we met Abra and Chris, [Abra Morawiec and Chris Pinto who own Feisty Acres, a poultry farm] and that’s why we’re now working with them to make their mousseline and broths,” Katz said.
In 2019, Katz and Beckmann had their own retail store and kitchen on Middle Road in Mattituck and made food for retail customers in addition to their wholesale farming business when the pandemic hit and transformed their dishes business. to take to a local lifeline.
They started making more prepared foods, like lasagna bolognese. They started offering a bowl of noodles on Thursday nights and for three years now have customers coming every Thursday night and coming back for fried chicken on Saturdays.
They went from a bakery with a few salads to a gourmet food store, with chicken pozole and veggie chili and beef stew.
“People needed it,” Katz said. “We learned that not many people really cook.”
On a recent Wednesday, Beckmann was using a cleaver to grind bunches of fresh thyme into a pile of fragrant greens to get enough salty, herbaceous, garlicky brine to soak the chickens before Saturday’s fried chicken dinner.
Ali Katz Kitchen feeds hundreds of people a week. The small staff of two is a considerable challenge, especially in pastry, where time and temperature are critical.
“A good birthday cake needs a good buttercream,” Katz said. “There’s no substitute, so when I tell Fritz I’m taking the butter out of the fridge, at that point he has to take over the counter (in the store) so I can work with the butter. .”
Since COVID-19, Ali Katz Kitchen remains open year-round, with three two-week closings per year.
“We had a loyal customer base at the start of COVID and those people didn’t leave,” Katz said. “It was a big change. I never thought this would be my life.
Katz and Beckmann recently purchased a house near the store and it fences off a garden where they will grow salad ingredients as well as kale, cucumbers, butternut squash and tomatoes that are so important to their signature dishes.
It’s a long way for Katz from a city girl in fashion merchandising to rustic tomato patties and Linzer cookies.
“I certainly never thought I would have a garden and grow vegetables,” she said. “It was nowhere on my radar.”