At Shou Sugi Ban House in Water Mill, you are immersed in the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi, or the art of impermanence. Known for its spa, nutrition, and lodging facilities, Shou Sugi Ban House was designed by New York and Hamptons architect Debbie Kropf, who artfully chose to infuse elements of the local Hamptons landscape with Japanese principals similar to that of the “ryokan” or a traditional Japanese inn. Aside from its serene and upscale spa services, Shou Sugi Ban House is set apart by its on-property greenhouse, gardens, berry patch, and orchard, all of which are used to make meals for guests of SSBH.
Hunter Mangano, Southampton Local, serves as Shou Sugi Ban House’s in-house/local Horticulturalist. After studying Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of New Hampshire, Mangano started with SSBH as a server in 2018 before taking over managing the culinary gardens in 2023. Mangano told me, “Coming into 2023 I left the kitchen so I could focus solely on the garden, as well as the berry patch and apple orchard on the property. I learned a lot, from kitchen skills to fruit/vegetable varieties to the science and chemistry behind cooking.”
So, what does a day in the life of SSBH in-house horticulturist look like? Hunter mapped out how he works collaboratively with SSBH chefs to ensure he’s well-prepared come harvest season. “Before the season starts, I sit down with the chefs to discuss what they would like to use in the garden for that year (the menu changes every year, and so do the herbs and veggies grown in the garden). Then comes planting,” Mangano continued, “I start all the seeds I can in my greenhouse to be transplanted at SSBH.” He aims to harvest twice a week for the kitchen, ensuring that each guest’s meal is prepared with only the freshest ingredients. In some cases, if SSBH’s chefs decide they need a last-minute ingredient or something that is too tricky for Mangano to grow, he says, “I’ll buy those plants from another local farm (Green Thumb, because they grow a lot of specialty greens and herbs).” Another example of the distances Shou Sugi Ban House goes to to bring fresh farm produce to the plate.
Outside of SSBH, Hunter also runs his own personal garden and custom harvest business under the name “Alewife Gardens” which provides a varying batch of fresh and locally grown produce and veggies for its clients weekly. Mangano jokes, “So if I’m not in the garden at SSBH, you’ll probably find me in another garden!”