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What's Cooking? Tiffany Sammataro, executive chef of Wine Thyme Wine Bar and Restaurant in North Conway

March 10, 2011
"The biotech industry didn't make my heart sing," says Sammataro. She decided to take some time to see what did play her song.

It was a walk in the woods that helped clear the path. Well, it was actually a six-month hike on the Appalachian Trail that did the trick and led Sammataro to the culinary life.

"On the trail, I kept thinking about grandma's clam chowder," says Sammataro. "Food has always been lingering in the background," she adds.

During her hike, she existed on canned tuna, salmon, salt, sodium and salivated when she saw others eating dehydrated asparagus. Sammataro says if she does the trail again she would purchase a food dehydrator and make her own meals.

Funny what foods you crave after a six-month hike. "After hiking the trail I ate a hamburger and French fries, you really crave fat," she says. The food that Sammataro creates is anything but fatty and greasy.

You see she graduated Le Cordon Bleu North America culinary school and did an externship for the Omni Mount Washington Hotel for about 10 months.

"I decided I didn't want to travel the notch [Crawford Notch] any more," says Sammataro, who resides in Bartlett.

She moved to become executive chef of Wine Thyme in North Conway, a wine bar and restaurant which prides itself in serving healthy and flavorful food, explained owner Cathy Smith in a previous interview with the Mountain Ear.

Sammataro supports the Slow Food movement. Thought there aren't any local chapters in the Valley, Sammataro would like to expand the movement here. She works at Flatbreads Pizza part-time. "There is nothing more grassroots than pizza," she says.

So what is Slow Food?

Slow Food is a way of living and eating: A global, grassroots movement that supports good clean food that doesn't harm the environment, animal welfare or human health. Slow Food helps people rediscover the joys of eating and caring where the food comes from.

"It is about taking care of what you eat, taking care of your body. People go out and spend $100,000 on a Mercedes Benz and then eat mac and cheese," says Sammataro.

Sourcing food locally and organically is important to Sammataro, "I try to buy locally and organically, keeping it in the community when I can. I hope to grow our own herbs and vegetables on the patio at the restaurant soon," she says.

Just wait until berry season. Sammataro sees culinary trends and says last year it was cupcakes and predicts this year will be the year of the pie. "I can't wait for berry season, pies are going to be big this year."

Big creations come from the small kitchen and small staff at Wine Thyme. Just this past New Year, the kitchen served 40 guests at two seatings, while dishing out tapas and appetizers to those guests on the patio reveling 2011. During the winter season Sammataro works with two cooks. In the busier summer and fall seasons Sammataro may work with five to seven cooks.

"The biggest challenge is getting good help, you know, people who are responsible and will show up on time," she says. Sammataro hires primarily for kitchen but has a say in servers, too. "We are one cohesive unit here," she adds.

The Smiths, owners of Wine Thyme give Sammataro independence. I am truly blessed, Cathy and Rick give me give me freedom to play," she adds. She is playing with the idea of a dessert sushi. "I run specials each week. Popcorn scallops with a cilantro avocado crema for example. If something inspires me, I go for it, ideas kinda come to me, they keep me up at night," she says. Like the dessert sushi perhaps?

Cooking began at an early age for Sammataro. "My family is big on eating and cooking. When I was younger we'd have food festivals. Once it was Germany and I cooked German food. Food is fun," she says with a twinkle in her eye.

Being a chef offers mobility. Sammataro says after a biotech career she was looking for something that didn't set to one spot. "When you cook you can cook any where that's what brought me to the Valley." She does admit she misses the regular hours of her former career. Everything has its trade off, she says.

Passion plays a big part for chef Sammataro. "Being a chef is more of a passion industry, you don't do it for the money. I love to cook. I don't feel like this is a job. I like to cook for people," she says.

To sample Sammataro's cuisine, visit Wine Thyme Restaurant Wine Bar and Wine Shop located at 2697 White Mountain Highway (Main Street) in North Conway, call 356-8463 or at www.winethymeonline.com.

Martin Lord & Osman
Salmon Press
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