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: Hi, I am Barton Seaver of Hook Restaurant in Washington D.
C. Now, that we have our fish fillet for the Pan-Seared Rockfish, I am going to show you how to make the Picante Sauce and then we will get into cooking the vegetables and the fish. For the picante sauce, just starting off with olive oil. Dont be afraid of olive oil; it is good for you, it is delicious. So, we are going to add in a good amount of olive oil, probably about a; it is about three quarters of a cup or so. Now, we are going to start off, I got a little bit of chopped onion here; add that in and I have also got some garlic. That is going to be the flavor base that we are using here. So, the garlic is going to go in second as the onion takes a little bit longer to cook. So, on moderately high heat saut your onion in there. You want a good amount of olive oil; you do not want just, do not be afraid of it, because as I said, the olive oil is going to be the base and sort of the liquid for this sauce. So, once those onions get going; it shouldnt take much more than about a minute or so; you are going to add in your garlic. You can add in whole cloves of garlic or sliced garlic. I happen to have some chopped garlic here. Again, dont be afraid of garlic; it is delicious; so, I am going to add that in. Now, what we are looking for on the garlic is to actually toast it. So, you want to get it a nice, nutty, golden brown color. That just adds so much depth and flavor and sort of character to the sauce. What we are looking for here is a nice, autumnal, nutty, aromatic sauce; so, the more that you cook that garlic, obviously until it is burnet, the better. So, you can see now, onions and garlic are getting brown here. So, it will probably be another 30-45 seconds or so, before the garlic gets a little bit brown. Swirl it around. Now, I have got some picantes here; these are halved picantes. You can get these in any grocery store anywhere around. So, what we are going to do is just throw these whole in and we are going to toast them in the olive oil. Now, when you use nuts, it's really important to toast them. So, you get the aromatic oils inside of them to bloom and sort of to come out. You get a lot more flavor that way. You get a lot more of the character of the nuts. So, our onions and garlic are going here. Now, careful with this, because when oil is boiling hot like this, it's very dangerous. So, you want to make sure you have a high sided pan so that it is not going to slush around and cause the fire. So, once your garlic begins to brown, just slightly throw in our picantes and you can see that picantes are still submerged in that olive oil; just toss them around and let them sit. Now, those picantes will take about a minute, two minutes to really toast. You dont really want to see a color change in them. That is a little bit too much color. It is going to be a little too aromatic. So, you just want to be able to smell them. So, every 30 seconds or so, sort of wave some of that smell into your nostrils and go from there. So, about a minute and a half later, what we are going to do is, we are going to stop the cooking process. Now, I have a little bit of lemon juice and I have a little bit of maple syrup which we are going to finish out with sauce. As soon as we add liquid to this, the oil is going to stop cooking and stop toasting both the garlic, the onion and the picantes. Now, this could be kind of dangerous when you are adding liquid to hot oil. Be very careful, so, we are going to pull this off of the heat. So, this is starting to look pretty good right now, smell it one second, smell those picantes. It has got a very sweet, soft, nutty, aromatic flavor to it. So, we are just going to add the juice of the lemon here. You can see the bubbles are starting to die. Nothing on how acidic you want the sauce, I think about two pieces of lemon like that is good enough or maybe up to about a half a lemon. So, at this point we are going to transfer the sauce over to a blender. From here, we are probably going to have to add, maybe about a half cup or so of water to enable it to turn. So, you can take your water, get out the last little bits from your pan, add your water in. So, you have something, looks about like that. Now, we are going to puree that. Now, with everything in cooking, you have to add salt. It is not enough to salt just one part of your dish. So, we are going to add some salt to this before we begin. This is coastal salt. This is what most chefs use to season, meaning, to season with before the cooking process begins. So, we will add the coastal salt in here and we will take it over to the blender and we will finish it up. Now, when you are blending something that is hot, it is important to do it on a very low speed and gradually add RPMs. So, put this on the blender here. Make sure we have our top on and the top is covered. Set it on low speed, turn it on, gradually increase the speed. Now, it will seems kind of thin right now, but as we go it will get thicker as more as that picante need. Let us puree it though. Now, once it is smooth, we are going to have to add the last component of the dish; of the sauce, which is going to be the maple syrup. Now, I add this last, because I want to make sure that we are seasoning it properly. The lemons could be sweeter than some other lemons, the picantes could be a little sweeter as well as the onions. So, I dont know exactly how much to add. So, we are just going to taste our sauce. Now, this is fairly sweet; so, I am not going to add a whole lot of maple to it, because we do not want a sweet candy like sauce. This is a Grade A maple syrup. I will probably add about a tablespoon of syrup to it and then we will finish the pureeing of it to blend that in. When you are done with it, the sauce is going to look similar to this. It tends to be some what thick and spreadable almost, a little bit thinner than a peanut butter would be or so; about like that and that will plate very nicely and have a nice texture on the plate. So, now that our picante sauce is done and sitting here ready to be plated, I am going to show you how to cook the fish and the pumpkins.