Interview: Celebrating 80 Years With Montauk Yacht Club's Executive Chef Michael Domitrovich

by KENDRA SEAY · June 9, 2009

[Michael Domitrovich. Photo via PaperMag] The Montauk Yacht Club is celebrating their 80th anniversary this year with a jam-packed weekend from start to finish including a Friday night Brooklyn Brewery BBQ, an activity-filled "Swinging Saturday Lunch" followed by live jazz, dancing, and a 1920's faux casino on the Yacht Club's waterfront Great Lawn for their Roaring 20's bash. We had a chance to interview the yacht club's new executive chef Michael Domitrovich who introduced a new Southern flavor to the yacht club's Gulf Coast Kitchen, Hurricane Alley, Barracuda Bar, and Turtle Lounge this summer. The young and talented Domitrovich is not only an executive chef but also a professional multi-tasker with a published cookbook and a few successful plays under his belt. Domitrovich talks Montauk, what his mom (also a chef) thinks of his food, his other life as a successful New York City playwright, and his favorite item on the Gulf Coast Kitchen menu. Click below for full interview and 80th Anniversary ticket info.

You've taken dining at MYC South in a deliciously good way. Besides the coastal southern influences of your menu, how much is influenced also by what the local East End vendors have to offer? I created the GCK to combine the best of the southern coast with the best of the east end. I cook food that is familiar and inspiring to me, traditional southern coastal cuisine, but I do it using fresh Long Island protein and produce. So I make a really traditional french Cajun dish like sole meuniere, but I do it with local flounder. I may want to stir things up with my melting pot style of cooking, but I would be an idiot if I didn't use the bounty of long island to make my menu. In creating the menu I wanted to be adventurous and have fun while keeping in mind that I am in montauk and at a yacht club. So we have traditional seaside dining ingredients prepared with southern coastal twists. For instance steamed little necks with chorizo sausage, shrimp cocktail with grilled Habanero cocktail sauce, or a steamed lobster with saffron mashed potatoes.

We hear this season at MYC is going to be the best yet with your Gulf Coast Kitchen menu having a lot to do with it. Are you excited to introduce the new restaurant to everyone heading East this summer? At first I was concerned that being so far east would pose a problem in attracting guests. But now I see that Gulf Coast Kitchen and the Montauk Yacht Club are true destinations. They are totally worth the schlep because once you are here, you don't have to go anywhere else. I tried to craft menus that would be conducive to that experience so that whatever you crave is waiting for you when you arrive. We've got breakfast and lunch in Hurricane Alley, dinner and dessert at Gulf Coast Kitchen, killer cocktails and snacks at Barracuda Bar, and a laid back casual/elegant vibe throughout. At MYC You can walk in, sit down, and chill out completely, and I am thoroughly excited that my food is what will fill your belly after that.

Since you worked for your mother at Lola's Southern Seafood for several years, I'm assuming she is probably one of your toughest critics. What does she think of the Gulf Coast Kitchen menu? I'll admit, mama lola thinks my cooking style is a little out there. She doesn't always share my tastes. But she is the best sounding board for my ideas. I like to have fun with my food, but she helps me and my menu stay grounded in what is both fun AND practical. And any issues she might have had with the menu were promptly dismissed when I named the fried chicken after her.

Being a playwright and a chef, what ways do you use one to influence the other? I actually treat the two roles interchangeably because they are both about bringing people together and communicating something essential to them. This is a gamble as you not only have to be very specific when deciding exactly what you want to achieve in the 90 minutes that an audience or diner is yours, but you have to rely on a wide array of personalities to communicate that. The original vision can change in so many ways as others contribute, and the stakes are so high because you are in a public forum and subject to relentless scrutiny. But I suppose I have accepted that to be the nature of the beast. So I try to keep it simple. In my plays I want to challenge and question. In my cooking I want to satisfy and stimulate. I hope that both of my mediums promote the individual experience of pleasure and entertainment and a communal desire to share and converse. When I go to the theater, I consider a great play to be one that inspires me to write. When I go out to eat, I think of a great meal as one that makes me want to cook. Both food and theater should provoke inspiration and conversation. Art should always beget more art. If people are lucky enough to be passionate about what they do, I think they have a responsibility to share their passion with others. I try to communicate my passion through the words I write and the food I cook. In the end, that's all I can really count on.

You're most recent play "On Island" is about a restaurant family on Martha's Vineyard. Can we expect a play about your adventures as a chef in Montauk coming soon? I think it's safe to say that this whole experience will color my creative output for some time to come. I can also say that I have never been so exhausted in my life and that the theater is going to have to wait for me until after labor day because I doubt that I will have the time or the energy to write a word before then. My next production is in February 2010 and it's a play that has nothing to do with food which will be just fine with me. After that? Who knows... I'll probably write another food book, maybe a tell-all.

If you ever manage to find time off, where do you love to eat? I haven't been able to eat out here much at all! It's crazy to say but when I have a spare moment I like to cook at home. Simple food- grilled fish or meat, rice, fresh vegetables. I also love the Colombian and Ecuadorian lunch counters in Montauk. I can polish off a tamale from Nelly's deli in 30 seconds. When I make it to the city, I gotta get sushi at a place called Marumi near my apartment. But my first stop is always Taim in the west village for a mixed falafel platter and a date lime banana smoothie.

Besides your own restaurant, who do you think is offering up the best competition in the kitchen out East? The east end is like Manhattan in that there are always new restaurants, but the stiffest competition comes from the places that have been around forever. I don't want to be the hot shot flash in the pan new kid on the block. I am working in a place that is 80 years old!! So my goal is to feel like the kind of restaurant that has always been there and will always be there. I'm all about creating new traditions.

Were you at all intimidated about taking over the kitchen of not just one, but all four dining venues within MYC? It is a project that still boggles my mind from time to time. The key is to have the best team possible and to set clear goals. I don't want to reinvent the wheel. I want diners to have an experience that is recognizable, but surprising.

The Gulf Coast Kitchen menu looks amazing! What's the one thing we HAVE to try?...Permission to brag absolutely granted. Just one??? Gads. Duck sliders with caramelized onions and house made tangerine marmelade on mini sweet potato biscuits baked by my homegirl/pastry chef Briana Holt.

For Montauk Yacht Club 80th Anniversary Ticket info call (631) 668-3100 or email 80thanniversary@montaukyachtclub.com