Five consecutive 15-hour days standing in a cramped space, presiding over borderline pandemonium at temperatures approaching Dante's inferno. Two lazy weekend days at a cool, airy beach house, relaxing by the pool and picnicking on the beach.
It may be schizophrenic, but that's life in the summer for four New York City restaurant pros: Matthew Kenney, whose restaurant, Matthew's, has won acclaim; Bobby Flay, the powerhouse chef and co-owner of two hot Manhattan spots, Mesa Grill and Bolo; Wayne Brachman, who masterminds the desserts at Mesa Grill and Bolo; and Laurence Kretchmer, Flay's partner and the overseer of the wine lists at both restaurants.
Their retreat, near a peaceful beach on Long Island, is the antithesis of their high-pressure restaurants--a big, open house set in a tranquil wooded setting with a pool and a big deck so that they can grill outside. "We want to get away," says Kenney, "but eating and cooking are still a big part of our weekends."
At the beach they can unwind and enjoy the foods they like most. "We work on something like a guest-chef program," says Kretchmer. "One person is pretty much in charge at each meal, and the rest help out."
Although the three cooks are known for their distinct styles--Flay takes on the bold flavors of the American Southwest and Spain, Kenney adapts the seasonings of Morocco and Asia, and Brachman invents rich, multi-textured desserts like cornmeal-crusted apple tart--they all want the weekend fare to be fairly simple and straightforward. "We want it to be good," says Brachman, "but we're not here to show off for each other or re-create a restaurant. This is for us."
Here are two of the crew's great weekend menus, both of which take advantage of the grill. "It's easy and it's outdoors," says Flay, "so we can all be together, drinking margaritas and helping out." Flay grills fish fillets, then tops them with a spicy relish. Kenney rubs a boneless leg of lamb with an intriguing mix of spices--cardamom, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon--before putting it on the fire. Brachman reinvents s'mores. And Kretchmer experiments with summer cocktails and auditions wines for his restaurants.
"And then, when everything's done," says Flay, "we'll sometimes just sit down and eat with our feet in the water."