Humility, a word that I have known all along, but have just recently understood in my life. As a young chef working in high-end, fine-dining establishments, I was full of “piss and vinegar” as they say. No one could tell me anything and I knew it all. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. I should have listened to mom. Life is funny that way isn’t it?
I was once told by another chef “Don’t let the business run you.” I never entirely understood what it meant. Now, at the helm of this beloved, iconic restaurant, after years of doing what I thought was right (and some grey hairs later), I know what he was saying… Slow down. Assess the situation. React based on what is most necessary at the given time. It is integral to take the moment to listen and obtain a basic understanding of what is going on around you. And while delegating tasks has always been a challenge. I now realize what a team effort cooking really is.
Why reinvent the wheel when the wheel is already turning?
Over the years, trends in the culinary world continue to ebb and flow. (Current trends include: Fermenting, pickling, sustainable seafood, restaurant gardens, molecular gastronomy, tasting menus, food trucks and sous vide to name a few.) They have each earned their place in the professional kitchen, but in the end, it all comes back to the basics. I have come to realize that pure ingredients, passion and desire drive great food. For example, the skill of cooking a piece of meat to its proper temperature or cutting mirepoix to uniform exactness seriously outweighs making caviar spheres out of strawberry juice. Food is meant to be enjoyed without the confusion of what utensil to use.
Now I understand the basic yet vital importance that wholesome local food plays in a community. Food helps develop relationships and nurture friendships, making you feel good about what you eat. I also believe strongly in the therapeutic properties of food and its vital role in our health. And sourcing local products supports the community in which my staff and my family work and live.
At The Seafood Shack we use locally-grown certified organic produce from Geraldson Community Farm, Greenway Farm Stone Ground Organic Grits grown and milled in Florida, fresh fish from local fisherman, and honey produced from bees rescued from our own property. We strive to teach The Shack staff the importance of knowing and respecting the product. And understanding the work it took to produce (that radish) or to raise (that pig sizzling in the pan) is key to becoming a great cook.
When you look at the big picture the culinary trends mimic my life. Keep trying something different to reach success, just to turn around and go back to the basics that everyone knows and loves. If culinary trends were a real human being I would have one tip for them: Listen to your mom.
The French poet Léon-Paul Fargue said eating an oyster was “like kissing the sea on the lips.” There’s nothing better than a freshly-shucked oyster eaten as is, but if you prefer, here are some of my most favorite sauces to serve with these briny beauties.
Fresh-Shucked Oysters With 3 Sauces
3 dozen oysters, opened and on the half shell.
½ cup minced shallots (about 2 ½ ounces)
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup rice vinegar
1 ¼ teaspoon finely crushed peppercorns
Pinch brown sugar
Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit for at least 1 hour for shallots to marinate before serving.
Kicked-up Cocktail Sauce
¼ cup ketchup
½ teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 tablespoons grated fresh horseradish
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Stir all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl. Taste and season with more pepper as needed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill until ready to serve.
Asian Dipping Sauce
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon finely minced scallions
1 ½ teaspoon light soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
Combine all ingredients and allow to marinate for 1 hour.