The acclaimed, newlywed chef opens her Palm Beach Gardens kitchen to share her love of simple ingredients, life’s blessings and her recipe for tomato pie.
By Rebecca Cahilly-Taranto
City & Shore Magazine
“Some women have a shoe-buying problem … I have a tomato-buying problem.” It’s mid-morning and the sunlight filtering in through the kitchen window of Chef Lindsay Autry and David Sabin’s Palm Beach Gardens townhome dances atop a tray of oven-roasted tomatoes cooling on the stove.
The young chef opens the oven to retrieve a perfectly browned, flaky pie crust baked in a bright blue Staub ceramic pie dish – a wedding gift, she notes, never before used – before turning back to a spread of vine-ripened yellow and succulent Roma tomatoes set among mason jars overflowing with fresh dill and parsley.
“Tomato pie is something I love, it’s very southern,” she says. “And it’s the height of the tomato season right now.” Having grown up on a farm outside of Fayetteville, N.C., Autry says her favorite comfort food remains a simple tomato sandwich. “Our harvest was during the summer – melons, field peas, tomatoes…” A break in the shade would include fresh tomatoes on “cheap white bread with mayo and salt” shared with her brother and sister. “I got spoiled because I had never had a refrigerated tomato.”
Tomato pie features prominently on the menu of Autry and Sabin’s newly opened Palm Beach restaurant – The Regional Kitchen & Public House – where the focus is on simple ingredients and time-honored traditions. “When creating the menu, I wanted to find a way to highlight my love of tomato pie,” she says. “Typically it has a lot of mayonnaise and cheese and can be a bit too heavy. I created a more balanced version and threw it on the menu – thinking, ‘maybe no one will like it.’”
The Regional has been open six months and has sold over 6,000 individual-sized tomato pies to date, much to Autry’s delight. “It’s very simple and features really great ingredients – it defines the way I cook, actually.”
Those days spent on the farm and in the family’s peach orchard shaped Autry’s career and set her on the path that would lead to sharing a kitchen with Brickhouse public relations president David Sabin in the burgeoning culinary community of Palm Beach. Autry won her first cooking competition when she was just nine years old. Twenty years later, she put the nation on notice as a finalist for Bravo’s 9th season of Top Chef.
Trained in traditional fine dining and working her way up alongside such celebrated chefs as Michelle Bernstein, the idea to open her own restaurant was never far from Autry’s mind. So, when she and Sabin teamed up with restaurateur Thierry Beaud and found the 287-seat, 10,000-square-foot commercial space that now houses The Regional Kitchen & Public House, Autry set to work, quickly gaining praise from critics and foodies for her simplistic and balanced approach.
“Local is the way it should be,” Autry says as she slices a pink watermelon radish. But, while The Regional celebrates fresh and local, Autry is clear about how much can actually be sourced regionally. “To say we were local, all we would have in the summer would be mangoes and star fruit!” she laughs. “We get our tomatoes 15 miles from the restaurant now, but in the summer we go out further. Our growing season is opposite from everyone else.”
Fish on the menu at The Regional is local and wild caught, of course. The salmon is wild caught when in season or organic farm raised. The Florida blue crab comes from fisheries in the panhandle that clean and save the shells for the restaurant to use. The all-natural, free-range, organic chicken comes from farms in central Florida and Georgia, and Autry has selected Creekstone Farms in Kansas City for her beef. “I grew up in 4H showing animals so I’m really picky about where the cattle come from and how they are treated. The beef – and the olive oil from California – is the furthest-sourced thing. I spend as much time sourcing as I spend cooking so that we know where everything is coming from.”
Running a 300-seat restaurant with a staff of 85 doesn’t seem to faze Autry and Sabin, who tied the knot this past summer in Charleston, S.C. – a mere three months before opening The Regional. The two met in 2012, when Autry was the executive chef of Sundy House in Delray Beach and resident chef for Swank Farm. Sabin asked Lindsay to work with him on a farm-to-table lunch for the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, an event he has organized for the past 10 years. The two ended up collaborating on a series of chef-driven events over the next few years and quickly realized they shared more than a passion for good food. “He called me ‘boss lady’,” Autry laughs. “I got to boss him around and he didn’t seem to mind so I guess it worked out!”
In their own kitchen, Sabin and Autry say they do take time to cook – although they will admit they’re a bit distracted at the moment with the process of closing on a new house. “At home it’s much different from the restaurant,” Autry says. “It’s OK if I’m barefoot, if I taste with my finger.”
As The Regional has taken off, so too has Sabin’s PR firm, which recently orchestrated a restaurant opening in the Pentagon. An upcoming event in Arizona has the two traveling a bit more than normal.
“When I travel he sits at home and doesn’t know what to eat,” she chides as she places the last dollop of herb aioli on the finished pie.
“I can’t even heat up her tomato pie.”
“Bless his heart,” she says, “he tries but he’s not a very good cook.”
At last, a slice of tomato pie sits on the plate, accompanied by a refreshing side salad. As the sweetness of the fresh tomatoes melts with the flaky crust and savory, tangy aioli, it’s suddenly a perfect summer day on the farm, and we’re lounging in the shade, the air buzzing with summer cicadas.
“The last 12 months have been incredible,” Autry says. “It’s been such a blessing. The Palm Beach community is wonderful and the love and support we get from other chefs and restaurants has been tremendous.
“I would like to get more serious about doing a book, although I am a little busy with the restaurant,” she says, laughing. “I still dream of having some tiny little fried chicken kind of place, something fun and casual. Or a store – I grew up with a roadside stand and my job was to arrange the peaches – it would be cool to have a general store.
“But for now I’m happy,” she smiles. “I can’t possibly think of anything else.”
Contact: The Regional Kitchen & Public House, CityPlace, 651 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-557-6460, eatregional.com
Lindsay Autry’s TOMATO PIE
For the pie crust
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1⁄2 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. cold butter cut into
2 tbsp. plus 1 tsp.
1⁄2 tsp. white vinegar
For the filling and topping
2 lb. vine-ripe tomatoes (about 8), cored, seeded
and cut into 1⁄2-inch dice, divided
2 tsp. salt, divided
1 tsp. sugar, divided
1 tbsp. butter
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced with the grain
1 tsp. picked thyme
2 tbsp. extra-virgin
1⁄4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1⁄3 cup packed whole basil leaves
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
1⁄3 cup grated fontina
1⁄3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 large Roma or heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced and blotted dry with paper towels
Make the pie crust: Place the flour, sugar and salt in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium for a few seconds. Begin adding the butter one cube at a time. Continue until the flour is speckled and crumbly, about 4 minutes. With the mixer still running, add the water and vinegar until just combined. Do not overmix. Press the dough into a 6-inch disk, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator overnight.
Bring the crust to room temperature and lightly butter a 9-inch metal pie pan. Preheat the oven to 400°. Dust your counter and rolling pin lightly with flour and roll the crust slightly larger than your pan. Lay the crust in the pan and press gently into its edges. Cut off the edges that hang over and discard. Freeze for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to blind-bake (without the filling).
Lay foil or parchment paper on top of the crust and weigh that down with dried beans or rice. Blind-bake the shell for 30 minutes. Remove the pie weights and foil or parchment and bake 5 minutes more. Set the cooked crust aside as you prepare the filling.
Make the filling: Toss half of the diced tomatoes with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄2 teaspoon sugar. Set them over a colander to drain while you get everything else ready.
Lower your oven to 375°. In a medium sauté pan or skillet, melt the butter and then add the onion and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium-low heat until deeply caramelized. This will take about 45 minutes. If the onion gets away from you and burns a little, add 1⁄4 cup of water to the pan, scrape up the overbrowned bits, and keep going. In the end, you have a scant 2⁄3 cup caramelized onion.
Toss the remaining diced tomatoes with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt, thyme and olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a sheet tray with as much room separating the individual pieces as possible. Slide the tray onto the middle rack of your oven and roast for 30-35 minutes. You’re looking for the tomatoes to dry out and brown slightly.
Once all the individual components are done, stir together the onion, the fresh and roasted diced tomatoes, the remaining salt, sugar, black pepper and basil.
Make the topping and finish the pie: In a separate, smaller bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, fontina and Parmigiano. Spoon the filling into your blind-baked crust. Top with the cheese mixture and tomato slices. Bake in the middle of your oven for 30 minutes. You can serve this warm or at room temperature.