There’s an art to fishing. For Colin Ambrose — the highly-successful chef and restaurateur known out here for the original Estia in Amagansett and Estia’s Little Kitchen in Sag Harbor — that ART stands for American Rivers Tour, the company Ambrose founded in 2017.
As the website, www.AmericanRiversTour.com, states, “Travel across the rivers of America’s heartland with Colin Ambrose: chef, hospitality maven, avid fisherman, and raconteur. Roaming the country in his vintage camper, Colin will meet up with top local fishing guides and guest chefs who share his passion for fishing and the lore of the river.”
But how did this chef, this roundsman, this busiest of busy people, get to a place where he is becoming well-known for his fishing tours and videos, and his accompanying blog, which is as much about truth as trout?
“My frustration with the confines of the stainless-steel rooms reached a point in January 2017 where I was looking at my life, thinking, ‘What else is there for me?’” Ambrose acknowledged on a recent sweltering day in his camper behind the restaurant on Sag Turnpike.
He had already established himself at the top of his kitchen career. One of the founders on the East End of the Slow Food movement, back in the early 1990s, Ambrose was growing vegetables and herbs for his restaurant — planting them himself on land behind John Alexander’s Amagansett art studio — and then composting the kitchen waste at the restaurant to put in the garden to grow more vegetables. No one else out here was doing that. Not back then.
He opened another restaurant, Estia’s Back Porch, in Darien, CT, and ran it for six or seven years, winning numerous awards and recognitions along the way, but he recently closed up shop there, and is back on the East End full time with his wife, Jessica Mansell Ambrose. “In order for new doors to open, we have to clean house,” Ambrose said. “That’s what was going on in Connecticut; it had served its purpose. My kids had graduated from high school. There was nothing holding me there.”
And Ambrose really wasn’t sure what was going to come out of his mouth when a friend asked him, only last year, what he really wanted to do with his life. This friend, an acquaintance really, turned to Ambrose and seemingly out of nowhere said, “What do you really want to do?” Ambrose’s answer came very quickly, and almost unexpectedly, to him. “I want to go fishing.”
But since this is Colin Ambrose, a born entrepreneur, simply going fishing wouldn’t be enough. He wanted to bring an appreciative audience along for the ride — to share his adventures and his life lessons with other willing, wandering souls.
And that’s how we get to American Rivers Tour, a winning recipe of traveling and fishing videos in some of the country’s best — and least-known — angling gems, recipes for cooking around the fire (and this is Colin Ambrose, people, so we ain’t talking about franks and beans here), socializing with the locals, including fellow chefs, plus an endearing and historical snapshot of the small towns near these waterways.
The subjects range from gorgeous fishing jewels on rivers in Idaho or Wyoming, up through the Pacific Northwest, or in our own backyard in “Zen Fishing and Cooking with Anito Lo on Moriches Bay.” Even more eye-opening, Ambrose traveled on Jamaica Bay near the John F. Kennedy International Airport, fishing for striped bass with chef Kerry Heffernan and guide Brendan McCarthy, jets zooming overhead.
But on to more pressing subjects — this week’s upcoming Food Lab conference at Stony Brook Southampton, a dream come true for chefs, foodies, and localism fans, which starts on Friday, September 14. Ambrose is featured as the Saturday morning speaker, in conversation with EAST founder and writer Biddle Duke, on the subject (the theme of the conference) “Eat Global, Cook Local.”
The hivemind behind this burgeoning project includes a most impressive team, including food series producer and executive director Geoffrey Drummond, author and editor-in-chief Brian Halweil of the Edible publications, Kate Fullam, executive director of the Amagansett Food Institute, Stony Brook Southampton’s Associate Provost Robert Reeves, and podcast producer Kathleen Russo.
“I have been involved in The Food Lab for a couple of years. The first time I got involved I was asked to produce a dinner event for about 300 people, which I enjoyed very much,” Ambrose said. “It was my first foray into working with Geoffrey. It was fun and it got me tuned in, and Geoffrey and I became better friends,” said Ambrose, who also knew Drummond through Drummond’s wife, artist Barbara Thomas.
“Geoffrey is a player in the food world,” Ambrose said respectfully. “He has his own niche. He speaks of people that he has known, that were his friends, that he’s worked with, that I could only ever dream of meeting. So, when Geoffrey pays attention to me, I do whatever I can to follow up. This year he wanted to have someone speak to the connectivity between creative programming and localism.”
Ambrose continued passionately, “I mean, what is American food? American food is connectivity. American food is the result of grandmas and grandpas teaching us how to hunt and fish and eat.” Which brings us back, full circle, to what Ambrose loves most: cooking food and catching fish.
“It’s all connected,” Ambrose said. “That’s the heart of localism, that feeling of connection.”