Peter Van Der Mije, chef and owner of the Italian restaurant Osteria Leana, had a huge culinary background way before he became the owner of this modern Italian eatery. Peter started cooking at a young age, encouraged by his grandmother, Leana. She taught him a lot of tidbits in culinary skills, but his real love for cooking started much later.
In college, he started working in restaurants. He really loved the aspect of teamwork that is essential when you work in a restaurant, he says. He also liked the fact that he was surrounded by people who cared about cooking as much as he did.
He loved cooking in a restaurant so much that after college he enrolled at the CIA, Culinary Institute of America — not the Central Intelligence Agency — for two years, and became a chef. Later on, he started looking for a restaurant location in the heart of Oyster Bay. It took him more than two years but he finally found the perfect location. He named his new restaurant Osteria Leana for his grandma, for showing him the ways of cooking.
First, he started designing the dining room so that it would have views into the kitchen. Next, you may think that he would make his recipes, but he made most of his recipes up to 10 years before he even opened Osteria Leana.
Surrounded by so many local purveyors on Long Island, Peter is always adding new and interesting farm-fresh ingredients to the seasonal menus, all the while staying true to his grandmother’s culinary traditions. For example, I recently dined there and got the polenta tots. It’s basically creamy Italian polenta breaded and fried to a crispy texture. This recipe is very traditional, but it is also new in its own way.
If I ever want a light snack, a full meal or just an organic cola, I know exactly where to go.
INFO 76 South St., Oyster Bay, osterialeana.com
Christine Arthur’s fifth-grade class, Bayville Intermediate School