My first executive chef position came about quite accidentally. My friend, Sonny Tanksley had taken a bartending job on the isle of St. Thomas in the U.S.V.I. Sonny was a handsome southern boy and a charming young man. He was an excellent bartender and made outstanding tips. The chef at his restaurant had walked out during a busy dinner shift and Sonny was pressed into kitchen duty when the owner found out he had some culinary experience. Sonny, the dandy, hated the hot, dirty, food handling job. He immediately started lobbying for a return to his cushy bar position. The owner finally agreed if Sonny would find a qualified chef to run the kitchen. That’s when I got the call. I was managing a pizza joint during the day and working at a small restaurant in the evening trying to hone my culinary skills. My girlfriend had just dumped me and I was living with Sonny’s worthless ex-roommates. I was not a happy camper. When Sonny called I jumped. I packed up my crap and took a Grumman Goose to St. Thomas the next afternoon. By 4 o’clock the next day I was standing in the kitchen of ‘The Fish Market’ restaurant with my duffle bag in hand and not a clue in my head. Sonny and the head cook, a Creole man from the island of Antigua, Joe Papios took me under their protective wings. Within two weeks Sonny was back behind the bar and Papios and I had formed a winning kitchen team and a dear friendship.
Our food was simple and delicious. Only seafood came out of the main kitchen. The boss grilled some steaks and some ribs out front. We had the simplest of equipment; an old pizza oven, a leaky fry-o-later and an open Bain Marie. We served a wide variety of seafood prepared in all the simplest ways. The only sauce used was a simple veloute made from the simmering fumet in the Bain Marie, Creole vegetables were scooped from the fumet on each plate along with a portion of confetti rice and a beautiful portion of fish. I was proud of every plate that left the kitchen.
Our most popular menu item was the stuffed fish filet. I don’t know why. As an insider I preferred poached whole reef fish or whole fish quickly baked in the pizza oven.
Stuffed fish filets:
To make the fish stuffing accumulate 6 cups of fresh bread cubes, preferably whole grain bread. Poach a portion of flaky fish meat like Pollack or Cod along with some scallops and shrimps at he end. I suppose you could even use bacalao (salt cod) in the right sequence. Saut√© an onion, a cup of diced celery and add the flaked and chopped seafood to the bread crumbs, then cool, add a splash of fish stock or clam juice to soften and there you are. I would not over season this mix but add a bit of salt and pepper and maybe flavor the poaching broth with a few bay leaves and a bouquet garni.
To assemble the stuffed fish have equal sized filets of fish such as flounder, sole or snapper, arrange the skinned side out and spread a few ounces of stuffing on one side of a filet, cover with the opposing filet then brush the outside with olive oil or clarified butter, season with sea salt and white pepper.Heat a baking sheet under the oven broiler then toss the stuffed filets onto the hot surface and cook under the broiler for 10 hot minutes. Both sides of the stuffed fish will be done and flaky and the stuffing will be heated through. Serve with a squeeze of lemon or lime or make a simple citrus buerre blanc. Now I know why this was such a big seller. For more additional information and tips in cooking, you can click here.