DJ CHEF Heats Up Your Bachelorette

The East End has long been Long Island’s go to destination for all things vacation, and that includes bachelorette parties. It’s a quick ride from NYC and during the cooler months a lot of properties become vacant, making them cost effective options for weekend renters.

But during the summer months renting a house alone can come at a decent cost. Then, factor in the cost of a night out with dinner, drinks, and the responsible Uber ride, it rings up quite the credit card statement. On the opposite end of things, staying in at whatever luxe property the maid-of-honor or bride tribe found may not necessarily be the final hoorah you were looking for.

Luckily, there’s a way to enjoy that weekend stay without the hefty price tag. DJ CHEF is the best of both worlds, bringing quality entertainment DJing and freshly cooked food directly to your East End getaway.

Dubbed “The Chef that rocks”, he is already making headlines in the bridal industry– Winner of The Knot “Best of Weddings” the past three years, LIWeddings “Best Bachelorette Party”, Voted #1 Unconventional Bachelorette Party idea by Elite Daily, and a Food Network Cutthroat Kitchen Champion.
His unique interactive style of cooking and DJing turns all kinds of tables while the bride and her girls let loose in the comfort of their own home. CHEF brings it all. Cooking appliances, flatware, all the ingredients, and all the talent. It’s like having a high energy dance club with a private chef, who happens to be cute too (sorry ladies, he doesn’t strip). All you need is a good group of friends and kitchen space. 


Need a good instagram video? Grab some trendy glasses. Want to spice things up? Peel the banana, for the banana bread pudding dessert, as sexy as you can. Whether it’s bikini’s and shot glasses or pajama’s and wine, DJ CHEF’s master mix of beats will ‘Spice Up Your Life’, take you down those ‘Country Roads,’ or have you feeling like a ‘Move to Miami,’ and pretty much everywhere in between. 

FIN Montauk: A Deeper Side to Jewelry

This article first appeared in the January 28, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper


Bella Ornaf dubs herself not just a jewelry designer but a “shark wrangler.”

Strictly speaking, the term means “someone who takes a string and wraps it around a fish tail or a fish head and then throws it into the water” to try and get a sharks attention, thereby inviting the majestic creature to come closely to a diver’s cage for a personalized experience. Loosely redefined, she is a woman bringing the depths of the wild ocean to customers bold enough to wear her adventurous creations through her jewelry shop FIN Montauk, a jewelry company focusing on creating wearable fossilized shark teeth.

“It was always difficult for me to find and build my own personal jewelry collection,” said Ornaf, who founded FIN in 2013, adding that in her own style she prefers jewelry creations to “be unique, one-of-a-kind and timeless, otherwise I pass right by them, not my style.” Growing up she had a thing for sharks, despite the rougher connotation. “Sharks weren’t the ‘girly’ thing to like but I’ve never been one to follow the pack.”

That same train of thinking has influenced her adventurous jewelry.

It’s FIN’s mission to instill hope, meaning, education, and strength from each of the pieces it makes. It also makes a yearly donation to non-profits supporting shark conservation.

“We’ve seen products made in China, which, again, goes against our values as we care for human beings,” Ornaf empathically explained. “We have no idea who is making the pieces, what their wages and ages are, and what chemicals are going into the product, and thus into our environment.”

Ornaf is a first generation American from Bronxville, New York, which is a stark difference to the surfer town she resides in today. She is a globetrotter with former addresses including Poland and Norway. Inspiration has been all around her from fine Polish artisans to the “organic natural beauty of the fjords,” she says.

“I came to Montauk for the sharks, stayed for the sharks,” Ornaf chuckled. In an ironic contrast, her husband, James Katsipis, who is a photographer, essentially swims with sharks while taking pictures of local surfers. “We’re both water people and creative, so it’s only natural that both our professions are ocean-based, it’s where our hearts lie.”

Most shark jewelry is made with modern shark teeth but FIN takes a unique approach. The company, which is ethically against killing sharks, strictly uses fossilized shark teeth, roughly 30 million years old, and promises no replicas. Each one is found 200 feet down around treacherous, undisclosed locations throughout the Atlantic Ocean by Captain Chuck Wade of the Sea Turtle.

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend. However, a Megalodon fossil tooth is the best friend that takes your hand and promises one heck of an adventure. Ornaf uses fossils of Megalodon teeth from the extinct species of shark that swam the oceans millions of years ago. The Megalodon, which means “big tooth,” had an estimated length of 60 feet. The largest intact tooth found was over seven inches.

Each tooth is placed on a deerskin lace cord, with plans to use alternative material. A less heavy version of the necklace features a gold vermeil chain. The Gold Dipped Charmed FIN comes on a black, waxed, cotton cord, with the cast pieces on a chain.

Maintenance of the jewelry seems contradictory for the average Montauk resident, or visitor in summertime. Keeping anything away from dirt, oils, or salt water in an area surrounded by waves is nearly impossible. To help, the teeth are placed in a reusable, muslin drawstring bag, which is best for absorbing oils. Use it for more than just jewelry — your wallet, coins or any little treasure.

Right now there are necklaces, cufflinks, rings and ear bites, ranging in price from $100 and up. However, after an insightful discussion with a Costa Rican artisan, new designs are on the way. “You’ll have to wait and see, but it’s going to be killer!” Ornaf said. Yet, nothing brings pride like seeing a piece being worn.

“[I feel] like I’ve done something good, and I always wonder how [the person’s] feeling wearing it, and hoping it’s empowered, magical, and unstoppable.”

There are plans for popups in West Palm Beach in February and Costa Rica in March. Other notable colleagues assisting in FIN Montauk are Rebekah Harris of Silverella, Jose Gomez Davidson of J.A.G.D. Jewels, and Annie Gutheridge of Bimini Shark Lab. Other colleagues include Memory Motel, Amanda Beckmann from Montauk Beach House and Navy Beach, Girl Tauk, Gloria Jewel, The Golden Eagle, and Montauk Hard Label.

FIN Montauk is located at 692 Montauk Highway during high season. Follow them on social media @finmontauk, tag them using #finmontauk. Want to learn more? Visit or email


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The Cold, Bitter End

This article first appeared as the cover story in the January 17, 2018 issue of The Independent Newspaper



Self-taught photographer James Katsipis braves the harshest winters in a location iconically praised during the summer months. He is an ambassador for Montauk Hard Label Whiskey and part of the East Coast Vision Team for A Walk on Water, a foundation that offers surf therapy to special needs children.

His newly released book, The Cold, Bitter End, captures Montauk’s desolate beauty. What others view as “The End” is only this man’s beginning.

Seven years ago, a picturesque series emerged using the hashtag #ColdWaterSurferSeries, showcasing winter surfers from Montauk to Ireland. In 2013 the series landed its own exhibition, which was curated by Scott Bluedorn, at Neoteric Fine Art.

Over four years later, originally published in November 2017, The Cold, Bitter End makes an icy splash as Katsipis’s debut in the publishing world. Portraying cold-water surfers and seemingly abandoned storefronts, these images are making their way from Ditch Plains into the homes, and hearts, of eager page turners.

“This project didn’t start out as a book. It was just me and my camera doing what I do,” Katsipis modestly explained. Admiring the likes of Tom Colla and Matt Clark, the whole book was shot with Canons and AquaTech Water Housings, though he’s recently switched over to Sony mirrorless.


“It’s a fine line between passion and obsession. My mind just always seems to be taking pictures even when I don’t have my camera.”


Each picture promises 100-percent originality with a few minor color enhancements. This may come as a surprise upon flipping to the scene of, what appears to be, someone skinny-dipping into the ocean. “That wasn’t even planned. I happened to be in the ‘wrong’ place at the right time,” Katsipis jocularly noted.

All the people seen throughout the book are the boys from Whalebone magazine, whom he’s known for most of his life. While he tended to reach out a day prior to catch them in action, half of the time the snaps are purely spontaneous.

Clad in a winter suit, 5mm gloves, and locking up the camera, Katsipis swims out to sea for the perfect shot. He situates himself right in the impact zone, ready. In a moment, he captures a single image of exemplary complexity. The full face of a wave, from trough to crest, at a stand-still.


A shot of pure precision, it requires a double-take before realizing it’s not the infamous sandy cliffs but rather their aquatic neighbor. Katsipis recalls, “With a keen eye you can catch brief moments of reprieve from all the beatings.”


Katsipis has remained a lifelong resident of the 11954 zip code. Together with his wife, Bella Ornaf, founder of jewelry line FIN Montauk, their dog Samson and little pig, Mako, the four happily call Montauk home — a place of ever-changing seasons.

As locals, they’re the first to admit some things outsiders simply won’t understand. The most underrated thing about Montauk? Winter, clearly. The most overrated? “Range Rovers, sorry Dylan,” Katsipis laughed. And you’re definitely not from the area if “you don’t know what the green bench is.” As for his personal favorite pathway to explore, Camp Hero.

The 146-page “photographic winter journey in Montauk” is currently sold on Amazon with plans to become available to the local East End community soon. Though there are no expectations for a parallel summer photography series, another book in the works is Mermaids of Montauk, to be released at a later time.

Visit or follow him on @Letstaukgrams and @mermaidsofmontauk for upcoming signings, in addition to some stellar photography.

Follow me on Instagram & Facebook @NikkiOnTheDaily


Check back soon for a story on his wife’s endeavor, FIN Montauk

Tipsy Tastes: Montauk Hard Whiskey

(This article was originally published in the November 15, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper as part of my Tipsy Tastes series)


Montauk’s downtown watering hole 668 The Gig Shack has a harder side to it many may not know about — whiskey production. Montauk Hard Label is produced right in the back of the restaurant, where oftentimes in summer you’ll hear customers ordering the flavorful blueberry whiskey over the aluminum-sided bar. Masterminded by Skylar Gardell in 2014, whose family owns the restaurant, with fellow locals Tommy “Chicky” Ciccariello and Mike Demasco, a liquor business began — eventually adding on Tom Loncar, director of sales, and Abby Gawronski, director of marketing.

“Ciccariello is the excitement behind the company, actually he’s the excitement behind life! Every time you see Chicky he’s got the biggest grin on his face,” Gawronski enthusiastically explained. “Mikey Demasco is the Montauk Hard Label researching genius, he’s always out in the field and is also a great face for the company. Skylar Gardell is the creative brain behind the blueberry whiskey. He can sell blueberry whiskey to just about anyone,” she said.

The trio’s love for the liquor and the personality behind such a taste confidently ignited a business. Inspired by Irish whiskey brands, they unleashed an American bourbon-style spirit featuring the shark jaw label created by local artist and jewelry designer Erin Boyle.

Montauk Hard Label has two flavors — the original, made up of 100 percent yellow sweet corn, and blueberry-infused with natural extract. Both are distilled four times. Working with a boutique distillery, the company utilizes existing recipes as a jumping-off point to experiment with its own. Over the tried and true maple or cinnamon flavors, blueberry may come as a shock to some whiskey aficionados.

Ciccariello, who’s been in the food and service industry for over a decade, realized the potential for such a unique flavor and the creative cocktails he could concoct, like the Blueberry Old-Fashioned, made with the label’s blueberry whiskey, bitters, and a sugar cube over ice. And new for the season is the House Mulled Cider with blueberry whiskey to release those warm and fuzzy feelings inside.

As the bitter cold months blanket The End, the business is focused on building brand awareness. “A few weekends ago we attended the 20th annual October Ball at the New York Public Library in NYC. It was incredible to see our whiskey on the shelves and to have some of the elite young entrepreneurs sip on blueberry whiskey. As far as community we love to align ourselves with causes and events of interest. Golf, surfing, dinner parties, winter sports — you invite us, we’ll be there with a bottle of whiskey (or five),” Gawronski noted.

Whether you’re a local or crossing the stretch, as you enter the doors of The Shack and take a seat at a table or bar stool, look out for one of the owners’ friendly faces. Sip or savor, but whatever you do, make sure you “Go Hard.”

Montauk Yacht Club Food Review

(This article first appeared in the August 9, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)

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It’s another warm, summer night as the sun begins to set over Lake Montauk. Coast Kitchen at Montauk Yacht Club is surprisingly quiet at 6 PM on a Friday, but with the crowded streets in town it’s a welcome change of atmosphere. As I sit in the white wicker chair overlooking the pool and deck area, I inhale the salty air flowing from the outside — indicative of The End.

Before beginning a long-awaited evening of fresh catches I order a Rosie from the cocktail menu — cucumber vodka, watermelon, Aperol, crisp white wine, and fresh mint, each sip lingering on my palate like dew on fresh morning grass.

First course, the seafood platter. A salty spread of Blue Point oysters, Little Neck clams, peel and eat shrimp, one pound of king crab claws, with horseradish mignonette, onions pickled in red wine vinegar, cocktail sauce, and lemon on the side. As I learned the proper way to eat a crab claw (break it apart like a wish bone, dip and eat), my mouth filled with freshness. The shrimp was thick and meaty, likely one of the thickest shrimps I had eaten on Long Island, as I dipped it in the delectably spicy horseradish sauce.

Up next was the Montauk cioppino — clams, shrimp, squid, market fish, and mussels all swimming in a light tomato broth, drizzled with garlic aioli. Minus the market fish, which was underwhelming, the tastes and textures of this dish was exquisitely executed. Unlike the seafood platter, the shrimp in this dish were smaller to better scoop up. The broth opened up the flavors individually while seamlessly blending them together. A touch of the aioli sauce completed each spoonful with a hint of garlic. Save the bread for last, as dipping does wonders after it’s had the chance to soak in each ingredient.

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Finally, the four-pound lobster with drawn butter and lemon. Cut, dip, drizzle, repeat. On the sides, a cauliflower-creamed spinach, roasted cremini mushrooms, and parmesan mashed potatoes, all three served in cast iron pots, ideal for sharing. Guests would be remiss to leave out the parmesan potatoes as part of their order. With crunchy fries on top, each mouthwatering forkful is in anticipation of the next.

No meal would be complete without dessert. A chocolate croissant bread pudding is served in a cast iron pot with dark chocolate pearls on top, whipped cream, and salted caramel ice cream. In addition, a key lime pie with a raspberry puree, whipped cream, lime garnish, and raspberry sorbet on the side is a wonderful choice. The sorbet is a welcome tie-in to the lime richness of the pie and the overall plate, an ideal end to a satisfying meal.

A consistent piece throughout the dishes were florals, edible of course. Whether you decide to eat them or simply admire their colorful beauty (I admit, I tried a few), it’s a unique touch to the restaurant.

As the restaurant began to fill up a bit more it still retained an undisturbed essence, which can likely be attributed to its off-the-main-road location.

With a menu featuring a variety of items, not just the seafood I eagerly devoured, Montauk Yacht Club’s Coast Kitchen will be serving their summer menu through the end of September.

Coast Kitchen is located at 32 Star Island Road. Call 631-668-3100 for reservations.