He is 28, but his culinary resume reads like a seasoned 40-something. Washington, D.C. native Executive Chef Barton Seaver, a StarChefs.com Rising Star of 2006 and recently nominated as a Rising Star Chef by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, of Hook was taught at an early age about the importance of food.
Dinner in the Seaver home was a seven nights a week family affair. Eating dinner with his family was a communal celebration and involved shopping for the freshest ingredients at local markets, instilling this value in him at a young age. Mac and Cheese was never just out of the box, but prepared with a homemade bamel cheese sauce and pasta made from scratch. Summers spent at a family friends hog farm on the Chesapeake Bay, along with crabbing and going with his father to buy fresh seafood from local fisherman, taught Seaver the importance of supporting local purveyors and using quality and fresh ingredients.
According to Seaver, "Seasonality and locality made sense to me early on." Seaver began his professional career working for popular D.C. restaurants such as Ardeo, Felix, and Greenwood. After years of invaluable kitchen experience, Seaver made his way to Hyde Park, New York, where he trained at the renowned Culinary Institute of America. During his schooling, he spent time in the kitchens of Tru restaurant and The Dining Room at the Ritz Carlton under Sarah Stegner in Chicago.
Upon graduating with honors, he immediately took a fellowship position at C.I.A. as a graduate teacher in both the meat and fish classes. Working in this hands-on environment taught Seaver the importance of proper handling and techniques of exceptionally fresh products, all the while giving him direct access to sources of fish through the eastern seaboard ports. Under the guidance of Chef Corky Clark, he learned to appreciate underutilized species of fish and became a proponent of sustainable ocean products.
Seaver is a certified sommelier through the Sommelier Society of America and is continuing his studies with Wine and Spirits Educational Trust in London. Recently, he was asked to join the Board of Directors of DC Central Kitchen as the culinary force behind the non-profits educational programs. Additionally, he is also active in the Slow Food movement, and recently cooked at the bi-annual Slow Food Terra Madre conference in October 2006 in Italy. Other organization involvements include the Chefs Collaborative, the James Beard Foundation, the National Restaurant Association, the International Seafood Conference, Chefs Congress, a culinary resource to the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Seafood Alliance. As a firm believer in the idea that chefs are the keepers of food culture, he is publishing a monthly article for the online newsletter for StarChefs.com.
In an effort to educate fellow industry members, Chef Seaver will address the issue of sustainability from the perspective of a chef offering solutions to common problems they face in their profession such as buying decisions and their responsibility as the definers of what is fashionable eating. Monthly columns are archived on the StarChefs.com website with new articles posting on the 15th of each month.
Barton Seaver: I am Barton Seaver of Hook Restaurant in Washington DC. Now, that we have our Pan-Seared Rockfish Fillet cooking, I am going to show how to prepare the sides, which is the pumpkin with mint. So, for the seared pumpkin, we are going to start off in the same style of pan; this is the black cast steel. So, this has been well seasoned throughout the years and so it has a very good, non-stick surface here. Let us start off with again, with a little bit of olive oil. I like to use a mixture of olive oil and butter when doing this. We are not going to use nearly as much olive oil this time as we did with the rockfish, just to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Now, one of my favorite starting ingredients is a batutta, I call it and number of cultures saut at, but it is, a garlic, shallot and chilly mixed together with a little bit of olive oil. We are going to start off the dish with a little bit of this to just add the complexity and depth of flavor to everything that really gives it a really nice characteristic to it. So, add the garlic in there, get it nice and brown. We then have pumpkin; this is actually, is a Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, that we have diced up and then blanched in salt and sugar water. So, once the garlic is nice and golden brown, we will put this in here. This is blanched just to the point where, you can see it is just soft, you can just begin to crush it with the back of the spoon, but it is not mushy or mealy at all. So, you see there is not an access fat in the bottom of the pan. What we are really trying to do is, to caramelize the natural sugars that are in this pumpkin; so, you let that go just a little bit. When you are sauting something, the key to it is, being patient; you do not want to juggle it around the whole time and then cause to disturb. The point of sauting is that you have the direct contact of the heat between the pan and the ingredient itself. So, the more you toss it about, the less effective the sauting actually is. So, at this point we will just take one or two pieces and just flip them over to see if we are getting any color. Now, we are just starting to get some colors, so I will turn the heat up just a little bit. Now, do not worry about that garlic burning too much. You see it getting a little bit golden brown; that is beautiful, that is the color that we are looking for; it add that nutty, aromatic hint that we are looking for.
So, next step to this is that we have a little bit of mint and we have a little bit of white wine and little bit of whole butter. Now, the white wine is just going to act as sort of the liquid for the sauce, the mint is going to aromatize the dish and then the butter is going to bind everything together. So, the pumpkin is just beginning to color; so, I will give it one good, little, you see they are getting beautiful color on there. So, I am going to add the white wine. I am going to season this heavily with salt and then we are immediately going to throw in just a part or two of whole butter. Now, that butter and that wine are going to mix together in a reduction sauce and this form a beautiful glaze on the outside of this pumpkin. So, you can do this over the heat and you can see this is just forming a beautiful, beautiful sauce. You do not want it to be too runny; so, you want to take it off just before it reduces down to dry, but just so that, when it sits on the plate, it sits in a pool of its sauce, but the pool does not run. To finish this off, we have a little bit of mint. Mint is best when it's chopped fresh and it does not matter that it looks pretty, because it is just going in there, you do not need a whole lot of it. So, just add a few mint leaves chopped up, toss that in there and then I like to finish it out with a little bit of very thinly sliced red onions. Red onion adds a really nice textural appeal to it. You want to add it in just at the very end. So, you are not cooking it, but just sort of wilting it down. So, it still maintains just a little bit of crunch. There you go! It looks beautiful, it has got a great taste to it, nice and acidic, but it has got a little bit of fat to it from the butter and that nice depth and nutty aroma, aromatic qualities from the garlic that we toasted to begin with. So, now that we have the pumpkin and the fish cooked and the picante sauce done, I am going to show you how to plate all three of them.