An “Iron Chef” winner is set to open a restaurant in Oyster Bay this spring. Jesse Schenker, who is also a James Beard nominated chef, will bring his expertise to 2 Spring, a “coastal new-American” restaurant. The eatery will be located where Café Al Dente once was, on the corner of Spring Street and Audrey Avenue. Schenker’s partners, owners Michael and Claudia Taglich, moved to Oyster Bay four years ago. It is the couple’s first venture in owning a restaurant, and they are excited.
“We wanted to bring more quality dining to Oyster Bay,” Michael Taglich said. “It was depressing with Café Al Dente closed. We really wanted to do something for the community.”
Café Al Dente was shuttered in 2013 by the town. Its owner and the town have been embroiled in the legality of the closure in court.
“2 Spring will be at a critically important location, across the street from Town Hall, a premier location to dine out,” Michael said. “We are committed to great food.”
That’s where Schenker comes in. The owner of two successful NYC restaurants — the Gander, which is still open, and the closed Recette in the West Village — is committed to bringing his talents to Oyster Bay.
“Our goal is to accommodate everyone,” Schenker said. “The restaurant will be comfortable, but have our native New York flair. But the restaurant will be its own brand, not like the Gander or Recette. It will a fun place where you’ll want to be.”
It was quite an honor for Schenker to appear on “Iron Chef” in 2012 — a culinary game show on the Food Network — but even more of an accolade to win it. As the challenger, he competed against Jeffrey Gackarian, a celebrity chef from New York City, in a one-hour cooking class based on a secret ingredient — plantains. And Schenker said that what made winning even harder was that the chefs weren’t aware of the secret ingredient until the start of the show.
“I was the young no-name chef from a tiny restaurant in the West Village,” said Schenker, 34. “Gackarian worked in some of the best restaurants in New York City and France. Winning was a notch in my belt.”
“Being on the show was definitely surreal, and a lot of pressure,” Schenker recalled. “You are in a big kitchen, but what people don’t see is all of the cameras and lights above your head, which makes things pretty frantic. And that clock is legit. Being on ‘Iron Chef’ is an experience I will never forget.”
Furthering Schenker’s reputation was a nomination as a James Beard chef on Feb. 17, 2011, the day his son was born. “I was nominated as a semifinalist and a Rising Star Chef for the best new restaurant,” he said. “Making it to the top like that, well, that’s huge on a national scale. It’s like being struck by lightning.”
He hopes 2 Spring will be nominated in the future. “The judges are anonymous and come eat at the restaurant, and then cast their votes,” he explained. “Restaurants in Westchester and the North Fork have won in the past.”
Schenker met the Tagliches through friends who were regular customers at his West Village restaurant. They mentioned that the Tagliches wanted to open a restaurant. At first, Schenker offered advice to the couple. He came to Oyster Bay to decide what type of restaurant would be most successful in the area. But before he knew it, he was invested.
“I fell in love with them as a family and Oyster Bay,” he said. “In Oyster Bay you might as well be in a different state from Manhattan. I started getting excited about designing the kitchen, and got that giddy feeling I had when I opened my first restaurant. By September I knew I wanted to be a partner.”
The soon-to-open restaurant is undergoing a major renovation. The kitchen, which was on the main floor, is being moved to the basement. The first floor will have a bar and a dining room and the second floor, formerly apartments, will also be a dining room. Claudia Taglich is at the helm, adding her expertise to the ambiance.
“We’ll have a zinc bar, exposed brick and leather banquettes,” she said, finding it hard to contain her excitement. “The second floor will be intimate — a cozy spot. All our windows are being replaced so they are floor-to- ceiling. The restaurant will have a light, airy feeling.”
Claudia added that the restaurant would give a nod to the seaside, but would have more of an urban look. There will be an outdoor patio, too.
There have been challenges, the biggest being the kitchen. Moving it to the basement required proper venting. “It was tough, and took a long time to figure out,” Claudia said.
They’ve also purchased 4 Spring Street to create a retail shop and bakery where people can “grab and go during the day,” Schenker explained.
The food will be moderately priced and locally sourced. “I only source the best,” Schenker said. “I want to use as much local fish as possible, and would like to have a close relationship with the farms close to Oyster Bay.”
Schenker has lived in Westchester for years, and is looking to move to Oyster Bay with his wife and two small children. “When you come from the craziness of New York City and get off the train in Oyster Bay, it’s so peaceful,” he said. “You can’t say that about a lot of Long Island towns. It’s not pretentious here, either. I could picture raising my children here.”
What a diner can expect at 2 Spring is a variety of food, including offerings from other cultures. “Everything on the menu, people will have seen, like shrimp cocktail, but there will also be my version of a burger — it will be a custom grind, not just a patty. And mine will have ground short ribs in it, giving it more depth than just any burger.”