Abby Weingarten | Herald Tribune | December 26, 2016
The Seafood Shack, on the Intracoastal Waterway in Cortez, has been a local favorite since 1971.
Gerard Jesse, the executive chef at The Seafood Shack on the Intracoastal Waterway in Cortez, has been cooking professionally for the past 15 years. Originally from Hamburg, Germany, he studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and worked in Louisiana before making a name for himself in Sarasota-Manatee’s restaurant scene. Now he charms Cortez patrons with everything from New Orleans-style cuisine to fresh-caught Southwest Florida fare.
Q: What inspired you to become a chef?
A: I did not choose a culinary path as much as it chose me. In college, I was a music major (violin) with hopes of joining a big symphony, and then I realized it was not my passion. I had always cooked on the side, and this is what enlivens my senses and my spirit. Once I learned to trust my instincts, everything made sense to me.
Q: What have been some of your career highlights so far?
A: After I graduated in 2009 from the Culinary Institute of America, I continued my studies by working in New Orleans at Stella and The Ritz-Carlton. Locally, I have held positions such as culinary supervisor at The Ritz-Carlton Members Golf Club in Lakewood Ranch, sous chef at Jack Dusty, and executive sous chef at Michael’s On East. I was honored to be selected to represent The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, by cooking at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City in 2013. It was life-changing.
Q: What are a few of your current signature dishes?
A: I try to take full advantage of our fresh, local bounty while making humble, simple ingredients shine. Our shrimp and grits is a New Orleans-style preparation with a shrimp-butter sauce. We use Greenway stone-ground organic grits (a Florida product that is also gluten-free) and real Vermont cheddar. The Gulf shrimp are cold-smoked, and they marry so well with the smoked bacon and andouille sausage. For my ratatouille, I roast and layer a combination of fresh Geraldson Community Farm vegetables that have marinated in basil pesto (sometimes tomatoes, squash, zucchini and eggplant, or whatever is harvested that day). The beautiful, colorful veggies are presented with a house-made marinara of garden tomatoes and fresh herbs. The pacu ribs, “grits and grunts,” and the grouper collar are special to me because pacu, grunt and grouper collar are all considered “trash” but have been eaten and enjoyed for decades. I pride myself in taking these so-called “poor man’s food” dishes and transforming them into something that will allow our guests to truly appreciate the necessities of the basics.
Q: What makes The Seafood Shack a standout in the local dining scene?
A: We serve the highest-quality, fresh, local seafood and beef available. The Seafood Shack is not only a humble business but also a huge advocate of supporting local fishermen and the surrounding communities.
Q: What was one of the most memorable experiences you had at your restaurant?
A: In the past two years since Jed (our chief operating officer), Liza (our marketing and events director) and myself took over the management of the legendary Shack, there have been a crazy number of memorable occasions. There was the completing of the marina enhancements, the renovating and launching of the upstairs banquet space, the executing of the “coastal collaboration dinner” with fellow area chefs, and the building and installing of the new bar. But my most enjoyable experience here was actually a very inconspicuous one. As silly as it sounds, our brand-new coolers make me happy. Never in my career have I experienced the joy that the installation of brand new walk-in coolers provides.
Farmer’s Market Gulf Shrimp Ceviche
1 generous pound Gulf shrimp, unpeeled
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
2 green onions, thinly sliced
2 cucumbers (stripped, quartered, seeded and chopped)
1 purple daikon radish, thinly sliced
1 fresh jalapeno, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped into Â¼-inch pieces
2 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra virgin)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Salt, to taste
Tostadas or tortilla chips, for serving
Cut the shrimp into 1/4-to-1/2-inch pieces and set them aside. Mix the juices together with all of the remaining ingredients (except for the salt). Add the shrimp and let it stand for 30 minutes to “cook” in the citrus juices. Season the ceviche with salt, and cover and refrigerate it. To serve, spoon the ceviche into sundae or martini glasses, or small bowls. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and lime slices. Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.