At Home with Vita is a monthly interview with artists, designers, and friends who inspire us. Our inaugural Q&A is with our very own Donna Lennard, the owner and founder of il Buco Family. Her unstudied approach to hospitality and style is the heart of il Buco Vita, along with the ethos of careful sourcing and artisanship that defines the restaurant family she's built over the last 26 years.
il Buco Vita: Have you found yourself “hosting” for yourself or for your family during the quarantine?
Donna: This COVID period has provided a unique opportunity to cook and host in my East Hampton cottage. As a single mom living above the restaurant in NYC and working so hard each day, I am usually inclined to order food for my son and myself and the number of cooked meals diminishes. My beach house is my cooking and entertaining haven, so Joaquin and I spent the first several months of the pandemic eating every meal at home, baking bread, playing with whatever ingredients were on hand, enjoying fireside meals in March and April and slowly moving outdoors as the summer arrived. Once the warm weather came we opened our doors first to family and eventually small groups of friends, mostly grilling and enjoying the company. Love using my Vita ware and great farmers market wildflowers, candles and the like to set the mood. A little goes a long way in creating a warm and inviting feeling. Dressing things up a bit feels great after being isolated in sweats for months, though even in the beginning my son and I were sure to make a nice table setting, often in front of the fireplace.
IBV: Has cooking more meals in your home caused you to rethink the design of your kitchen or your home in general?
DL: Yes! Though I live my little cottage kitchen, I’ll be renovating this winter and will have much more space to include friends and family in the cooking fun. A large island to sit around while the prep happens! And more space for all my dish ware and gadgets!!
IBV: Have you used the extra time at home to learn how to make something new in the kitchen?
DL: Had been dreaming of bread baking since we opened Alimentari and finally took the time to make my own bread from Sheena’s wonderful sourdough starter! Grabbed all the wonderful ancient grain flours from NY and had some fun.
IBV: What are your go-to “pantry recipes” for last-minute meals?
DL: Always buckwheat toast with butter and anchovies for starters! Or can substitute any great canned fish. We made a lot of wonderful empty the fridge frittatas, an easy pasta aglio e olio, kale salads and wonderful black rice dishes with Umbrian chickpeas, herbs and diced veggies.
IBV: Favorite pieces to set your table?
DL: I like it simple. La Riccia double handled Pienza pitchers and simple glasses, wildflowers, handmade candles with simple candelabras or wrought iron candle holders, beautiful unpressed linens in earth tones of off white against colored dishware.
IBV: What is the first place you hope to visit when COVID-19 is far behind us?
DL: My restaurant in Ibiza, then keep going through Spain and Portugal.
IBV: What are your favorite purveyors or resources for local produce/provisions?
DL: Love shopping at Amber Waves, Balsam Farms, Stuart’s Seafood Market and all the tiny local farm stands in Springs. S&S in Springs has also been a great resource through COVID!
IBV: Are there any causes or institutions that you are passionate about supporting in light of the pandemic?
DL: Beyond local farmers and fellow restaurateurs, I have been actively supporting COVID related charities in need, such as ROAR and World Central Kitchen, and numerous social justice causes such as grants for land stewardship and the arts.
IBV: What is your favorite meal to serve to guests?
DL: Whole fish under il Buco’s fiore de sale sea salt, scallop crudo, il Buco Alimentari’s buckwheat bread with butter & anchovy, oven roasted vegetables with Cerasuola olive oil, and Venetian black rice.
IBV: Describe your entertaining style overall
DL: Casual, simple, with the best ingredients I can find.
IBV: If you had a destination dinner party, where would it be?
DL: A farmhouse in Portugal.
IBV: Who are the top artists on your cooking playlist?
DL: Marisa Monte, Cesaria Evora, Bebel Gilberto, Silvio Rodriguez.
IBV: To decant or not decant?
DL: Not decant, unless it's a very young, tight wine.
IBV: Whose house would you be the most excited to be invited to for dinner?
DL: Massimo Bottura
IBV: Who keeps you inspired during quarantine?
DL: My son, Joaquin!