On any given Wednesday or Saturday, the Villani family wakes up at 3:45 a.m., packs their truck with hundreds of pounds of ice and fresh fish and makes the two-hour drive into New York City to set up their Blue Moon Fish booth at the Greenmarkets.
Alex and Stephanie Villani of Mattituck have been running Blue Moon Fish for almost 30 years, and they’ve just released their new cookbook-memoir hybrid, “The Fisherman’s Wife.”
They keep their boat in Mattituck Inlet, where Mr. Villani goes out to catch fresh fish while Ms. Villani takes care of the books and paperwork.
“There are so many good fish recipes and I’ve been standing there telling people how to cook fish for 25 years,” Ms. Villani explained. “So I was finally able to do this book, which is kind of a combination cookbook and memoir about our life in commercial fishing, and some of our stories.”
Ms. Villani co-wrote the self-published book with Kevin Bay, who is originally from Arkansas, but now lives in Brooklyn and was their fishmonger for eight years. It includes recipes for all types of fish they catch and sell, even those that are considered “throw-away fish” like sea robins and sharks.
“I think what I like about this book is that we set out to do something honest,” Mr. Bay said. “What their life is like and what the outlook of that industry is in the future. We wanted to create something that’ll get people into cooking fish.”
The Villanis actually met at the Greenmarkets nearly 30 years ago. In 1990, Ms. Villani was working for an apple farmer on the weekends at the Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn to make extra money. Next door was Mr. Villani at the fish stand, and they got to know each other over the years. Eventually, Ms. Villani started working at the fish stand, too. Mr. Villani followed his father out to Copiague, bought a clam boat and never returned to the city. The couple moved out to Mattituck in 1995.
They started in the markets as a way to make extra money on weekends, but they did so well, it turned into a full-time job. The markets have very strict rules and, with a few exceptions, they must catch everything they sell themselves. Ms. Villani said people are starting to care more about where their food is coming from and want to know that it is fresh. About 90 percent of the fish eaten in this country is imported, according to the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County.
“If you’re getting it from a fisherman in Southold, it’s gotta be pretty fresh, but if you’re getting it from a fisherman in Thailand how fresh can it be?” Ms. Villani said.
The family loves living in Mattituck because of the tight-knit community feel, without the crowds of the city and western Long Island. They hope the book will help promote eating local fish.
“It helps us, it helps the public, helps the whole industry — and it needs a little help. It’s tough to make a living doing this,” she added.
“A lot of the farmers, the people we know from the market, we’ve known a really long time,” Mr. Villani said. “It’s a really nice community. We have a lot of loyal customers that we’ve known for decades.”
The book took about three years to finish. Mr. Bay is responsible for the art and photos, with the help of the Villanis’ 10-year-old daughter Ruby. Mr. Bay said Ruby came up with great suggestions and used her talents to make the photo shoots better.
“It is incredible to be around people like Alex and Steph, to work every day so hard and believe in what they’re doing,” he said. “Wearing themselves out and enjoying doing it for people.”
Blue Moon Fish can be found at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays and the Tribeca and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets on Saturdays.
Book signings will be held at Little Creek Oysters in Greenport Sunday, Aug. 6, at 4 p.m.; Castello di Borghese Vineyard in Cutchogue Saturday, Aug. 12, at 2 p.m.; and North Fork Real Estate in Cutchogue Thursday, Aug. 17, at 6 p.m. Country Corner Café in Southold will be preparing some fish dishes from the book on Thursday, Aug. 10, at 4 p.m. “The Fisherman’s Wife” is available at Phoebe & Belle in Cutchogue and at bluemoonfish.com.
Photo caption: Alex and Stephanie Villani on their fishing boat in the Mattituck Inlet. (Credit: Rachel Siford)