Zibby is joined by Sybille van Kempen, author of the Loaves & Fishes Farm Series cookbooks and owner of the Loaves & Fishes Foodstore, which Zibby has been visiting for nearly her entire life. Sybille talks about the importance of using local ingredients and why she wanted to create seasonal cookbooks. You can order the self-published series at


Zibby Owens: Welcome to today’s “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” episode where we’re discussing these amazing Loaves & Fishes cookbooks. It’s a farm series cookbook with twelve editions, three for each season. I’m here today with Sybille van Kempen. I am so hungry just looking at these pictures. If you could talk about how you got involved in this project, how you started the project, your relationship to Loaves & Fishes, and all of that.

Sybille van Kempen: It all started, I would say, about two springs ago exactly at this time of year. We’re always planning at Loaves & Fishes, which I own. I own Loaves & Fishes Foodstore and the cookware shop and the Bridgehampton Inn and the restaurant. I’m a busy girl. I’m involved in food from morning until night. The farmers made such an impression on me. Every spring, it happens, but it was just that first time I had a chance to really talk to them and zero in on what they specialize in growing and just stopped for more than a moment to actually celebrate them. I thought, wow, how about we do a book for one farm for every month? Then we just started. Started with June, July, and August, our summer. We’re busy. There’s lots going on. We went right ahead with the photo shoots, did it on a very concise, timely basis so as not to interfere with any of their work or our work. I have a team of three others that are just amazing. The photographer, Conor Harrigan; Maria Lavezzo is our graphic designer. My partner is this book series is Licia Kassim Householder. She’s been my pastry chef for, I can’t count, more than a handful of years. I really couldn’t do without her. She is in an inspiration. Ever since my mother passed five years ago, I’ve always been looking for someone to bounce off of, someone that is excited about food, has a passion for it, definitely has an affinity for it. We can bounce off of each other. She’s that girl, which has really been amazing.

That’s how it started. All the contributions from the farmers, it just pushed us further. We went from one farm to another farm. Then in the winter months, I’m thinking, well, there’s not a lot of farming. There is winter farming, but not so much, which by the way, I’d like to see more of. We focused on the animals, and so the goats from Goodale Farm. Then we went into, what else do you do? They’re making beer all year long. They’re making wine from the October harvest, but we’re drinking it in January and February and March. I thought, let’s bring that correlation back together. Marilee Foster grows these amazing heirloom tomatoes. I had the East End Kitchen preserve hundreds, like a thousand pounds of them, from the summer. You really want those ingredients from the summer in the winter. Now if you open one of my jars of those tomatoes, it literally smells like summer in January. What are we now? In April, not a tomato in sight. That’s a little bit of the backstory.

Zibby: I loved how, unlike any other cookbooks I’ve seen, just the design of how every cover is a different color. Of course, this is a podcast, so people can’t see. It’s a pink and a pretty green and a pale blue and then a teal.

Sybille: Actually, mine is right here. I can show that.

Zibby: They’re beautiful.

Sybille: I’m being very informal about this, but there they are. It starts with Loaves & Fishes in January and goes all the way to December where we have the Goodale Farm and their goats and their goat cheese and all the other stuff that farmers do. Licia and I quickly realized that we had to wear our gardening boots, every time, to a photo shoot because that’s what you need. Major equipment number one to walk on the farm.

Zibby: I know that you mentioned the photographer. Honestly, the photography in this book is insane. It’s gorgeous. I’m holding a double-page spread of a whole bunch of bulls and cows.

Sybille: Those are Jersey cows.

Zibby: Even the bread, the , the pigs, and the stuffing, gorgeous. Plus, of course, the shoutouts to all the different local venues in each book, which is really wonderful.

Sybille: We just had a ball. Going straight through pandemic, everything shut down, but we were photographing outside on the picnic table. What we did was we took six ingredients from every farm, brought them in our kitchen, and photographed those dishes. That’s what’s in the book. Super, super fun. Loaves & Fishes has been open throughout the pandemic. Our customers are extremely loyal. Of course, we had an influx of new customers last spring, which was so welcome. Out here in the Hamptons in the winter, you’re usually kind of sleepy. We always say, summer’s coming. Get ready for it. Here it was March 16th, and I felt like I had a store in Manhattan. I saw all our customers back again. I thought, wow, this is interesting. With everybody cooking at home, the timing was so perfect for the books to come out. Because there are just twenty recipes in each book, they’re not overwhelming. You can start in the season that you’re in with one little book. Then as the month progresses, look in the next one. It just fills your year. I think seasonally, a lot of the United States can use this as a guide for what is available when to go to.

Zibby: It’s so important, too, to eat the things that are in season at the time. My husband is an amazing cook.

Sybille: Lucky you.

Zibby: I know. I’m so lucky. Before we even got together, we were chatting one day about, what would our perfect meal be? He had been to culinary school and this and that. He was talking about his favorite meal. Then he asked me my favorite meal. I said, “I think it really depends on the season.” He thought that was the greatest thing. I think that’s why he started dating me. I’m like, “You have to see what’s available. If it’s summer, I might want blah, blah, blah.” Just speaks to the importance of seasonal ingredients.

Sybille: Did you grow up with a mother who cooked as well, or a father who cooked? Was there a lot of cooking going on?

Zibby: He did. His family cooked nonstop. I did not. My mother shops at your store.

Sybille: There you go.

Zibby: So does my dad.

Sybille: We like to help when we can.

Zibby: Yes, there is cooking from cookbooks. Kyle’s family was much more — they come from a family of restaurant owners and chefs. They’re Italian.

Sybille: Oh, and they’re Italian, wow. That’s where the passion is.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, all the pasta this pandemic, I don’t even know. I can barely stand up. I’m really interested, when did Loaves & Fishes start? How have you managed to keep it current although still physically very reminiscent of its origins? How do you keep a business in business for so long throughout all of the things just like this past year? How are you able to do that?

Sybille: Loaves & Fishes is in its forty-second year. We started in 1980. My mother bought it from two gals who had it for five years. Then they were done. Lovely gals. Two years after that, I joined. My mother and I, we were partners for thirty-eight years, something like that. The way to stay current is to always have conversations. Keep the conversations going with your staff, with your customers. I think they are the ones that motivate me the most. They literally come in and say, “You know, that coconut-crusted fluke, you haven’t had it on the menu for a while. I’m really craving it. I have some people coming for the weekend in two weeks. Can you put it on the menu?” That’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from. Of course, we are totally driven menu-wise by what’s available. What’s available locally made so much sense. You don’t have to pay for it. The transportation, the truck pulls up at the back door, and there are the apples from the Milk Pail farm. There’s Jen Halsey. There she is. I’m like, okay, great. It makes so much sense. I know we love fresh raspberries in February, but sometimes there’s something better that tastes more authentic. I do think that.

Zibby: What about at the Bridgehampton Inn, about that restaurant and being a restaurant owner in today’s world with all these restrictions? How has that been going?

Sybille: Really great. I helped the staff through the first two months when we were closed with a pandemic loan from the bank, which was brilliant. It did exactly what it needed to do, support everyone so that when we reopened in June, my staff was there. Everybody was ready to go, ready to dig in for the summer. The restaurant is really pretty fabulous. It’s the same kind of conversation we have with our customers. They’re so important. What I also find is that we love to change things up. I change the menu every week at the Foodstore. I would say about seventy percent of that menu is new. At the restaurant, we have a foundation of favorites. Then we pepper that up constantly, every other day, whenever Chef feels motivated. That’s really how it works. It works the same way, same motivation from the inside. I can tell you one thing, if your staff isn’t tasting it and saying yummy, if they’re bored with it, you need to move on. My staff, in all locations, they drive us forward, even the girls in the cookware shop. We’ve been selling this white wear forever, but you know, Rosenthal has a new collection. Why don’t we go look at it? Customers will ask for a certain wine glass. We all get together and say, hey, you know what, we like this too. Let’s bring it in. They’ll bring customers with them. That’s how to retain your brand, retain your message, but always edit it forward a little bit. You have to be a little bit ahead of the pack so that when everybody wants what they’re looking for, you already have it.

Zibby: By the way, I know when I first started chatting with you that my mother has been coming to your store forever. We started going to the Hamptons in 1979 when I was three years old. You opened the next year. I think she must have started going right then. That’s why when I got the cookbooks, I’m like, this is part of my — it was just so exciting to have it. Anyway, so what are some of your favorite go-to things? In the food containers in those glass cases, what are some of your favorite recipes but also prepared foods?

Sybille: The January book, it starts out in Loaves & Fishes. We celebrate all the farmers that have a book of the month in a collage format. I love them all, even the ziti salad which has been there for forty-two years. The chicken curry salad is also — we have customers like your mother who started. They started with the chicken curry and the ziti salad. They still come. Their kids come. Their kids’ kids come. They still, when the family gets together, come for the chicken curry and the ziti salad. I tried to motivate them to try something a little different. We’ve now started sesame noodles, which are exciting, but we’ve had those for years already. I had a recipe for a scallion capellini, literally making a puree of raw scallions and a little salt and pepper on the very thin spaghettini. That just flew. It was just one of those things. Those recipes of my favorites are all in the Loaves & Fishes book. They are all in the menu at some point during the season. That’s how it works. Pretty straightforward, really.

Zibby: What did you learn from producing this series? At this point in your career, what did you not expect when you produced all these cookbooks? What are you most excited to have gotten out of this project?

Sybille: I can compare in hindsight. The first book about the inn and the restaurant took me three years to write and produce. These books take about less than a year. I would say we were about six to eight months from the original photographs on the farm to a book on this shelf. That taught me something. I think it’s happening throughout the world. There are a lot of steps that have put in between, in other words, a publisher. I’m self-published. I looked at that when I decided how to produce these books. I thought, wait, there’s a publisher out there that knows nothing about me or my ambition or my mission or my message. I have a very dear friend who shared his production team and said, “Well, Sybille, why don’t you do it yourself?” That’s what I did. After producing the first book, as it took so long, I thought, how can we get the message out in smaller soundbites that are not so intimidating like a recipe book with 150 recipes in it? That’s the traditional method. A lot of people were walking into the kitchen for the very first time. That’s kind of daunting. Gosh, where do I start?

I thought it was a great introductory method to say, okay, it’s June, this is where you start. Go to a farm like this. Purchase these kinds of ingredients because they’re fresh and local. Then let’s move forward from there. That’s what I learned. I learned how to tone it down, how to bring it all back. We have a lot of distributors that could bring lamb from Australia and New Zealand, but what are our local ingredients? They are less expensive, not always, but in general by the time you pay for the transportation. The wear and tear of the food coming from wherever, it all degrades the actual quality of the ingredient. The product was ingredient driven. I am ingredient driven. Changing the menu every week at the Foodstore allows me that outlet. That’s the fun part, for sure.

Zibby: It just gives me so many ideas. Part of the issue is people’s attention spans too. Do they have time to get involved and invested in a big, heavy book? The way you’ve done this is almost — you’ve taken one cookbook and sliced it almost like a round of cheese into these little segments and put it on a beautiful cracker. It’s more consumable that way. I wonder how other content could be packaged in the same way, not just for cookbooks, but topics and essays. It’s a very clever way of doing it. It’s very neat, very cool.

Sybille: Thank you. Cooking is tangible. You can’t cook on the video, social media. Cooking is a physical activity. I think people were looking for guidance and help in that area. That’s another reason why I self-published. Social media, it was so swamped already. Then we went into the pandemic, and that was the only medium left. There was nothing happening in person anymore. Everything was viewed on a screen. I think our attention span is probably reduced to a nanosecond at this point. That definitely drove the size of the book and the content of all the visual activity, all of the beautiful photographs. You open the book and you say, oh, look at this. You want to share it. Let me show you. Look at the cows. Wow, they really were there on the farm. That is a product of our time now. Social media is now going to have to re-compete with in person. In person is a cookbook in your hand to give as a beautiful gift. I think I got that right.

Zibby: I think you got that right as well.

Sybille: I think it was a matter of timing. The timing was so perfect.

Zibby: What parting advice would you give to aspiring authors, particularly those who are interested in writing about food or cooking or restaurants or cookbooks?

Sybille: I would say if you’re cooking at home or even in a restaurant and you really love your food, I mean really love your food, then start taking photographs of it. See how it looks from that perspective. Then if you really love it enough, you will share like all the grandmothers in the kitchen used to do. You will want to share. They say, too, everybody has at least one book in them. I would encourage it even if it’s a documentation of family recipes. Those can all be made now, even just one book. I would say embrace that technology. The memories are in the tangible. They’re in the solid book. That’s the thing that you can give and share and grow. Grow your own skills. It should be fun. For us, producing these, it was fun, fun to meet the farmers, fun to do the dishes, fun to present them. A lot of times, we’d have the photo shoot right at Loaves & Fishes. We would take the new dish, put it in the case. We’d take pictures of it, and in the case it went. Even during that process, food was evolving. Listening to our customers, so much fun. Welcome to my playground.

Zibby: Amazing. I’m coming in. Thank you so much. This has been so enjoyable. Thank you for these amazing cookbooks. I will be giving them as gifts all summer and beyond.

Sybille: You can order them at, us as in the family. My kids are all working in the business, I have three children, and my husband as well. We’re surrounded. We’re knee-deep in it.

Zibby:, perfect. Amazing.

Sybille: See you all in the Hamptons.

Zibby: See you in the Hamptons. Buh-bye. Thank you.

Sybille: Buh-bye.


LOAVES & FISHES FARM SERIES by Sybille van Kempen

Purchase your copy on here!

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts