An Interview with Chef James Tchinnis of Swallow East

I am honored to introduce my readers to Chef James Tchinnis, The Executive Chef and Owner of Swallow Restaurant in Huntington and Swallow East in Montauk. Chef Tchinnis’s cuisine focuses on casual, sophisticated new American fare with a dash of decadence and an emphasis on local ingredients. A Long Island Native, he has been around great food all his life. His mother cooked regularly at home, exposing Tchinnis to a range of eclectic cuisines and opening his eyes to new flavors and techniques. He is a French Culinary Institute graduate (now The International Culinary Center) and has since worked in some of the finest restaurants in New York, including Le Cirque, The Grand Havana Room and Aliah.

In October 2010, he and his wife, Julie, opened Swallow Restaurant (Little Swallow) in Huntington Village, which was instantly met with rave reviews. At the time, it was a cozy 20-seat restaurant with an open kitchen and an eclectic menu of New American small plates. The popularity grew so quickly, that an expansion was inevitable. In 2013, Swallow completed a renovation that tripled its size. It was in 2012 that Chef Tchinnis opened Swallow East. The restaurant quickly earned a reputation as one of Montauk’s best. Many with whom I have spoken to highly recommended I come to Swallow East. It truly is one of the best spots to dine not only in Montauk but on the East End and for many reasons: family-friendly, fresh local cuisine, and an exceptionally dedicated waitstaff.

Swallow East Montauk

Credit: Doug Young

“I chose the name Swallow East because it is all about the bird. The swallow chooses a mate for life and returns home every year,” explains Tchinnis. “A double entendre: swallowing your food, and swallows are family oriented birds. The restaurant is about returning home every year. I also wanted a new tattoo and wanted a good excuse to get one.”

The restaurant is very spacious and with the addition of plenty of indoor seating, there is also seating outside and in the sunroom overlooking the wharf. “The concept is about hanging out together in the kitchen. I wanted an open kitchen so people can sit and talk with the chef and watch them cook with lots of interaction.”

The menu consists of a variety of small plates and hosts several (mostly local) bands throughout the season. “It is an opportunity to create your own tasting menu,” says Tchinnis. ‘When my wife and I eat out, we only order appetizers so we can sit and try different things. We take our time and talk and we wanted to give that experience to everyone. As opposed to committing to a large chicken dish with mashed potatoes and string beans, for example, we wanted our customers to choose something a little different every time they come in.”

As the restaurant celebrates its 6th successful summer on the East End, we look to his very strong business formula. Swallow East is a place for everybody. Diners come in off the boats, and walk in from a day out on the town. “It’s about kicking up our feet and having fun.”

Swallow Restaurant James

Chef at Swallow Restaurant in Huntington, Credit: Doug Young

In regards to Swallow East’s unique menu approach: “Every season we change the menu. Some staples that stay include the mac and cheese, asparagus, fries, and calamari. The menu depends on the fisherman catch and what the local markets and farms are carrying. We have a great Summer Salad on the menu now, and our lobster roll. We cook the lobsters fresh every single morning, the bread and rolls are homemade and are toasted and buttery. It is not an over-complicated menu, each dish incorporates less [but very flavorful] ingredients. The raw bar is all local and fresh.”

Over forty Montauk bands come to play, some rotate from Brooklyn and Manhattan. Swallow East has Reggae Sunday when the whole town comes to watch starting at 6:30pm. Friday and Saturday the music starts between 9-9:30pm. “People eat and find their way on to the deck, and dance all night.”

Swallow East is a very laid-back restaurant. “There are kids running around on the back deck, corn hole games are set up, and some get on stage and play the tambourine. We are very casual that way.” For the kids, they make French fries from scratch, homemade chicken fingers, and mac and cheese anyway they want. “We made it that way on purpose.”

The staff is the heart and soul of the restaurant. “Our staff has been with us since 2012. We are lucky to retain our same staff since 2012. They believe in what we are doing.”

The fun does not stop on Labor Day! Swallow East has grown to host some of the most elegant weddings and events on Long Island. “We do a lot of weddings in the fall, for those who would rather not opt for the cookie cutter catering halls. People are getting a lot more casual with weddings.”

Swallow was voted a top Long Island Restaurant and one of Long Island’s Best Restaurants for Small Plates by Newsday 2015 as well as Best Small Plates by the Long Islander (2014 & 2015).

Most recently, Tchinnis and his partners opened Organic Krush in Amagansett and Woodbury, NY, serving healthy food that is 100% organic.

*Photo credit: Doug Young, @dyoungphoto

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