Chef Spotlight: Joseph Realmuto

Executive Chef of Honest Man Restaurant Group, Joseph Realmuto, takes a moment to explain what it takes to make La Fondita a perennial favorite

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 4.24.14 PMServing traditional Mexican food, La Fondita has been a must-stop for many who frequent the Hamptons, with a menu of reasonably priced items that include tacos that are known for their praise almost as much as their taste. Hamptons Monthly checked in with Joseph Realmuto, the Executive Chef of Honest Man Restaurant Group, which includes La Fondita, to find out how to really explore the Amagansett restaurant from the man who knows it best.

La Fondita is closing in on double decades in age, yet it’s not uncommon for restaurants to disappear after a year or two in the Hamptons. What is the secret to your longevity?

We are always looking to reinvent ourselves and keep things fresh, but with La Fondita we have kept the core menu items the same and change our weekly specials seasonally. We have such a core customer base that comes for specific items they enjoy, so changing up the menu would really stir things up. At La Fondita, using fresh ingredients and keeping the food consistent is the key.

Your tacos are practically legendary. What is the most shareable secret you can espouse about the recipe?

I think the fact that we hand press our tortillas is the game changer but also using high quality fresh ingredients helps. When making really simple food it is really important to make sure the few ingredients you are using are spot on. Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 3.39.56 PM

If we’re looking to get a bit adventurous with the La Fondita menu and explore beyond tacos, what would you recommend?

Juan [La Fondita Chef de Cuisine Juan Geronimo] makes a killer menudo (spicy soup) which is their hangover cure for after a big night of drinking. It is made with tripe which freaks people out but it is really delicious.

Pairing drinks with food is always a pleasure— can you give us an example of what you consider to be the best match between plate and potion at La Fondita?

I think it depends on the heat of your meal. I like to drink horchata when I am using salsa habanero because the rice milk cools the heat and sandia (watermelon) when I am not in the mood for any heat.

A different sort of pairing: we’re dining outside, and it’s the hottest, sunniest Sunday afternoon of the summer. What is THE perfect dish to enjoy while soaking up some rays?

For me in the summer it is all about fish tacos and a cold Modelo.

Screen Shot 2016-07-18 at 4.25.15 PMHow about late in the season, late on a Saturday, when there’s a light chill about—is there a spicy dish we should order that can combat such a scenario?

When it gets cold out I usually turn to tortilla soup or a torta. In cold weather I turn to carbs, it is my happy food.

That leads us to start wondering about the season’s effect on the food served at your spot. If we come back out east for the Film Festival, will we find La Fondita’s menu has changed for the fall?

The menu stays the same except for a few items. We take off the items with summer corn and add a few items with autumn squash. We try not to use items that are out of season. Our specials will change out
as well. In the summer we like to do lighter specialty taco dishes as they are the summer favorite and going into colder weather we like to add more composed dishes.

If we’re not mistaken, you live in East Hampton year-round, correct? Does fully residing in the Hamptons give a chef in an East End kitchen an advantage versus one who checks out by Tumbleweed Tuesday?

I do live in the Hamptons year-round. I really enjoy the fall because the local bounty is at its peak and things start to slow down so it allows us to feature food that we might not be able to when we are at 100% capacity. Also being a year-round restaurant allows us to keep a core staff which is an advantage because staffing is so difficult out here and this helps with consistency. Trying to hire and train an entire new staff is not easy when you are trying to execute the food at the level we are.

Finally, as a local and a man who knows his food, any closing advice on what Hamptons Summer Dining 2016 should be all about? What do we need to eat before the season is over?

I see the local farms getting better and better so I think more restaurants will buy locally because there is more available. Not to mention the farms are getting better at marketing and getting their items to the restaurants.