This season Major Food Group owner and top toque Mario Carbone transports his coveted Carbone cuisine—and his passion for fresh, local food—to the Hamptons.
"All of my memories of my grandfather were of him in an apron,” explains top toque Mario Carbone of his childhood and what first sparked his culinary passion. “Basically my grandparents were my babysitters and they were perpetually in the kitchen. He was constantly in the act of cooking, even though he wasn’t a professional cook. It was a passion of his. So, in order for me to spend time with my grandparents, I had to be in the kitchen. As I got slightly older, I would be given little jobs along the way and I would help them. That grew into a fascination for restaurants,” says Carbone, who started working in kitchens as a young teenager. “I caught that bug, the adrenaline of working in a restaurant.”
Today Carbone helms the Major Food Group empire along with fellow managing partners Rich Torrisi and Jeff Zalaznick. The MFG empire counts Carbone’s eponymous epicurean homage to Italian cooking, Carbone (with locations in Little Italy as well as Las Vegas and Hong Kong), as well as ZZ’s Clam Bar, Dirty French, Santina, Parm (Soho, Upper West Side, Battery Park, Brooklyn), Sadelle’s (New York, Las Vegas), the Polynesian, Don Camillo, Golda’s and MAJOR GOOD/Torrisi—and, of course, their latest coup: the iconic power spots of The Grill, The Pool, The Pool Lounge and The Lobster Club in the Seagram Building. Next, Carbone will debut the historical renovation of the Ritz Hotel in Boston that will restore the landmark space to its original grandeur. “It’s the renovation of the first Ritz Hotel that was opened in the 1920s on the corner of Newbury and Arlington streets in Boston, right on the park,” Carbone says. “It’s very much similar to the project we did at the Seagram Building—a historical restoration.” From his signature style to his traditional dishes, Carbone has always been a fan of the classics. “I think that I’ve always been a really old soul,” he explains of his penchant for the past. “Even as a kid, I had a really old spirit. I think that it’s sort of the movies that I like, and history that I like,” he says. “My father is a big history buff. We are sort of both rooted in the past.”
To satisfy Hamptonites hungry for his signature dishes this summer, Carbone popped up out East this season. “We saw it as a great opportunity to engage with our customers who can’t access the restaurant in Manhattan,” Carbone says. “We are offering curbside pickup five days a week (closed Monday and Tuesday) and delivery to East Hampton as well,” he says. “We’ve also started an outdoor seated service with most of the Carbone menu available along our patio in Southampton. All summer the chefs will be doing nightly specials in tandem with the team on Thompson Street. You can expect dishes like lasagna Bianco, pork chop with vinegar peppers and sweet corn with summer black truffles.”
For Carbone, his time out East is all about recharging and—no surprise—great food. “I have an amazing house in Montauk that is a real gift to be able to exit the city and go there,” he says. “I find it very inspiring to be turned off—and then be really connected to small businesses there. It’s such a pleasure to go shopping—and go to the farm stands and buy fish that I can obviously tell has been caught within the last 24 hours. You know when you have those ingredients you can’t help but be inspired to cook and have people over,” he continues. “Just having a little bit of space and getting to look at the water. It’s very cathartic.” When he is not whipping up delicious meals, you can find Carbone surf-casting in Montauk. “That’s equal parts drinking and fishing at the same time,” he says. “I try not to bring any work out here. It’s a moment of reprieve.”
“It’s always super, super local stuff,” Carbone shares when asked what he usually likes to prepare when cooking at home in the Hamptons. “I eat a ton of raw clams over the summer—like, a ton.” Carbone also keeps it fresh with striped bass, black bass, swordfish, local squid—and other finds sourced from Gosman’s or Amber Waves. Like a true toque, Carbone’s pantry is always stocked. “I do a pretty good job of buying my favorite ingredients in bulk. If you go to my cabinets or my storage, it’s stocked like a restaurant,” he says. “All of my favorite things are there in tremendous quantities. All labeled and lined in rows and boxes, and there’s backups downstairs. I run a restaurant, basically.” Although most nights he cooks at home, Carbone also likes to hit the Clam Shack on Route 27 in Amagansett. “It’s low-tide, fried food and beer,” he says.
As for if any of his grandfather’s dishes will pop up on menus this summer, one can only hope. “He made some really amazing things,” Carbone says. “He made incredible potato gnocchi that I still make from time to time.”