John Fischer first learned to cook in a kitchen in North Babylon, but not at any particular restaurant you might know.
It was with the lady next door.
“It was an Italian woman that did catering,” recalled Fischer, now 37. “And I would go over there and roll meatballs. Or I would slice garlic, peel onions, blanch pasta … I was intrigued with how much fun she was having.
“I remember thinking then, I could do this for a living.”
His cooking would later take him to London for culinary school, and the start of his career. He then cooked at top restaurants in San Francisco. Fischer came back to Long Island about a decade ago and has since served as a chef at Tellers in Islip and, more recently, Left Coast Kitchen in Merrick.
Soon he’ll be taking charge of the kitchen at Henley’s Village Tavern in Brightwaters, which is being built in the former Toddler House at 184 Orinoco Drive.
The much-anticipated Henley’s opening is expected to happen sometime in February or March. Right out of the gate, owner Dan Kitson wants his intimate, 46-seat tavern to be known first for great food.
That’s where his longtime friend Fischer comes in.
The two actually worked together before, at a restaurant Kitson used to own and operate in downtown Bay Shore called Declan Quinn’s (now Connelly Station).
In a prior interview with greaterbayshore.com, Kitson spoke highly of Fischer’s food at Declan’s, which operated from 2006-2011. But he theorized the elevated menu might have been ahead of its time for an Irish bar crowd.
Kitson firmly believes the time is now for everyone to enjoy top-notch food in a cozy, pub-like atmosphere.
“The emphasis on the menu is absolutely about seasonal and fresh,” Kitson said. “From my perspective, it’s all about taking advantage of what this man can do in the kitchen. Of course we’ll have those dishes that aren’t exactly outside of the box, but they will be better quality.”
The idea is to be edgy and modern, yet still appealing for a wide audience, said Fischer, who attributes his simple and seasonal approach to his years in California.
“I told Dan I don’t want to drop wings in a fryer and have this be a dime-a-dozen kind of place, and he agreed,” he said. “This will be a chef-driven, ingredient-driven tavern. It’s all about the ingredients. I don’t have to do much to my food if I’m using asparagus in the summer, or heirloom tomatoes.”
The Henley’s menu will consist of five sections:
Apps, Crocks, Greens, Cast Iron and Scratch Kitchen.
Even though Fischer studied at Le Cordon Bleu London and worked at restaurants elsewhere in the U.K., his approach in the kitchen is much more American in style and tone. That means emboldened cooks who will be encouraged to participate on a creative level.
People will be able to find many of those creations on the scratch kitchen section of the menu, which will change daily based on what’s available.
“Say my fish purveyor calls me up and says we got this beautiful striped bass,” Fischer explained, “then from there we’ll consider what’s in season. Maybe we’ll do a pan roasted striped bass with butternut squash and beets that day.”
Fischer is also known for his alcohol-based sauces, Kitson said in a joint interview last week in Brightwaters.
“That’s where he hooks people,” he said. “I didn’t eat fish before him.”
“It’s classical training,” added Fischer. “It’s all about the sauces.”
Top photo: This example of a John Fischer-prepared plate is an Asian-style John Dory (fish) on soba cake and a tamari emulsion.