4 Palm Beach County Chefs Open Up About Working In South Florida And Share Their Favorite Recipes

by Heather Carney Apr 2016 Also on Digital Edition

​From renowned resort chefs to culinary masterminds at local hot spots, these four chefs know how to make a good meal great. Their creative takes on classic staples will impress even the most discerning critic.

 

Josh Thomsen

Executive Chef, Eau Palm Beach

The award-winning chef and cookbook author moved from Princeton, New Jersey, to Palm Beach eight months ago for a few reasons—the weather, no state income taxes, family. But his main motivation? An offer he couldn't resist: a job at AAA Five Diamond resort Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa. As the executive chef, Thomsen oversees all of the resort's culinary operations. He has the resume for the job, having worked alongside renowned chefs Thomas Keller, Joachim Splichal and Michael Mina. The chef, who focuses on local and seasonal ingredients, recently released his own book, Agricola Cookbook.

What attracted you to cooking?

My love of food emanates from my dad.

What was the biggest lesson you learned starting out?

Do your best to out-work everyone if you want to get ahead.

Who are your culinary mentors?

George Mahaffey—my first hotel chef (Hotel Bel-Air); Jeff Jake—a true team leader (Lodge at Pebble Beach); Thomas Keller (The French Laundry); and Alice Waters (Chez Panisse).

What's the most underrated ingredient?

Salt. Every single recipe has salt, but we never talk about how amazing it really is. Ninety percent of the time when there is a dish that is not quite right, an extra pinch of salt is all it needs to bring it to life.

 

FAVORITE DISH: Crispy Local Pompano

(Serves 2)

Chef's comment: Pompano has amazing tasty white meat. Before cooking the fish, make sure that it is cleaned with the gills, innards and scales removed.

 

Fish Ingredients

1 (2-lb.) Pompano fish

10 cups cooking oil

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup wondra flour

2 tbsp. garlic powder

2 tbsp. cayenne pepper

1 lemon, cut in half and grilled till caramelized (garnish)

 

Salsa Verde Ingredients

(makes about 1.5 cups)

3 anchovy fillets, finely chopped

2 tbsp. minced shallots

1 tbsp. capers, rinsed and finely chopped

1 tbsp. finely grated lemon zest

1/2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/4 cup finely chopped mint leaves

1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves

2 tbsp. finely chopped oregano leaves

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

 

Directions

Using a mortar and pestle, pound the anchovies, shallots and capers to a paste. (If you don't have a mortar, chop and mash them together with the side of a heavy knife.) Stir in the lemon zest. Stir in the chopped herbs and the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let the salsa sit for 30 minutes or so for the flavors to develop. Just before serving, stir in the lemon juice, then taste again and adjust the seasonings.

Heat the cooking oil to 350 degrees. Make diagonal incisions on both sides of the fish using a sharp knife. This will open the fish to absorb the seasonings. Rub the seasoned flour all over the fish. Make sure to dust inside the incisions as well. The flour will absorb the oil, preventing it from splattering. When the oil becomes hot, lower the fish into the clean oil. Fry for about 8 to 10 minutes or until the color turns golden brown and the texture becomes crisp. Remove the fish from the fryer while letting excess oil drip. Place it on a plate lined with paper towels so that the oil will be absorbed.

Mix a salad of blanched beans, shaved fennel and blood oranges with salsa verde.

 

Erik Pettersen

Chef and owner, Evo Italian Ristorante

When Erik Pettersen's mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, he sold his partnership for his two restaurants on Long Island and moved to Florida to be with her. She passed away nine months later, but today her photo hangs on the door of his Jupiter restaurant, Evo. “During my nine months of caring for my mom I fell in love with South Florida, like my mother did before me,” Pettersen says. “Evo is a result of many late-night talks and brainstorming between the two of us.” From a Sicilian family, Pettersen was influenced at an early age watching his grandmother cook. “Over the years I became my grandmother's go-to person to help cook on family day,” he says. Today, the chef adds a contemporary twist to traditional Italian recipes using fresh, local ingredients.

What was the biggest lesson you learned when you started?

When I got my first opportunity to work as a line chef at a four-star restaurant in New York City, I was so excited and confident about my skills. I thought I was going to knock them dead. Just the opposite—it was a large, fast-paced, fine-dining establishment that I wasn't ready for, but I did my best to shut my mouth, bow my head and listen. I was humbled to say the least. Nobody knows everything, and we are always being taught something from somebody every day, learning even from the dishwasher. Let the ego go.

Culinary mentors?

My grandmother. She showed me about passion. She taught me no matter what problems were going on in [our] lives, food meant family when we sat at the dinner table—to set all things aside. That is powerful to me. ... [I admire] executive chef Brendan Walsh. He taught me how to fine tune my skills in the culinary arts, from kitchen verbiage to knife skills and everything in between. He wasn't just a chef; he was a brilliant business man. He taught me to strive for perfection and to respect the art of cooking. He also taught me not to be afraid and to use my creativity. Nicholas Scotto—he showed me what an Italian chef truly is. Respecting your ingredients, timing and procedure. He taught me about the best Italian imported products, where they came from, how to buy and what to look out for.

Favorite local spots?

Buccan, Palm Beach; Café Sapori, West Palm Beach; Nitrogen Bar, Grill and Sushi, Jupiter; Coolinary Cafe, Palm Beach Gardens

What's your go-to kitchen tool?

The sharpest chef knife I can find.

 

FAVORITE DISH: Salsa di Domenica, “Sunday Gravy”

 

Ingredients

1 lb. all-natural pork butt (cut into 2-inch cubes)

1 lb. homemade sweet Italian sausage links

1 lb. Angus beef chuck roast or beef short ribs (cut into 2-inch cubes)

1 lb. pork belly or fat back of pork

8 whole peeled and cleaned garlic cloves (on a cutting board, place the side of knife on top and crack garlic)

2 large sweet Spanish onions (cut into large 1/2-inch pieces)

12 oz. of quality chardonnay

6 28-oz. cans of certified Italian D.O.P San Marzano tomatoes (open cans into a large bowl and crush tomatoes by hand)

1 lb. garden fresh sweet basil

3 tbsp. sea salt

3 tbsp. red crushed pepper

8 oz. extra-virgin olive oil

8 oz. pecorino Romano cheese

8 oz. whipped ricotta for topping

2 lb. mezza rigatoni

Directions

In a large sauce pan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil to medium–high. Add pork belly (or fat back if available) to oil. Sear pork to release the juices. Then add beef chuck or short rib to pan and sweet Italian sausage. Brown meats to seal in flavor (about 15 minutes). Add onions and cracked garlic to pan. Caramelize and brown them, but don't burn them. Then, add 1 tablespoon of salt and pour in chardonnay to deglaze the pan. This will bring all of the flavors together. Reduce wine by half, then add the hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes. Cover pot, set stove to low and simmer for 6.5 to 8 hours. Taste a piece of pork for tenderness. If it falls apart, it's ready.

Then add the remaining salt and red pepper. When sauce is ready, bring salted water to boil, add the rigatoni and cook until it's al dente. Pour pasta onto large platter, place the tender chunks of meat around the surface of the pasta then pour the sauce over the top. Dust the top with plenty of pecorino Romano. Place the whipped ricotta in the middle. Then tear the basil into pieces over the entire dish.

 

Sean McKee

Executive Chef, PGA National Resort & Spa

Chef Sean McKee started cooking as a child before he could read. “One of my favorite memories is standing on a chair so I could reach the counter and my grandma reading a recipe for goulash to me as I chopped and measured the ingredients,” he says. In high school, he got a job as a dishwasher at a beachside Mexican Cantina. “[I] realized I better get good at cooking so I could get out of the dish pit. I never looked back,” he says. McKee attended Disney's Culinary Institute and since, has earned top spots at resorts from Tucson, Arizona, to Manchester, Vermont. In between, he opened two restaurants. Today, the Homestead, Florida, native is happy to return to his roots as the executive chef at PGA National Resort & Spa. “... I have closed the geographical loop that took 26 years, thousands of miles and countless long hours,” he says. “I'm so glad to be home.”

Describe your style of cooking.

I am very global. The biggest influence of my dishes are the people that are eating them. I've been cooking professionally for a very long time, and I do it without ego. So it is not about what I want to cook. It is about what folks want to eat. I find the pinnacle of professional satisfaction when I cook a dish exactly how a friend or guest likes to eat it.

What's the most underrated ingredient?

Salt is so very underrated. Modern medicine has scared most people into not using enough of it. Most food is under-seasoned. Not enough, compared to the perfect amount of salt in a dish is like the difference between a 3-year-old child plinking a few notes on an out-of-tune piano compared to Mozart in his prime playing the “Turkish March” to a full concert hall on the best piano ever made.

What are you most excited about for the South Florida food scene?

[South Florida] drives great cultural culinary diversity. Food trucks are becoming the popular way for chefs to cast their nets further into places they normally would never be. At PGA we have our own food truck that we utilize to do the same. It proves great food can and does happen everywhere and does not always need to be prepared in a commercial kitchen.

 

Favorite Dish:

Smoking Scallop served on Jalapeño-Applewood Smoked Bacon Creamed Corn

 

Creamed Corn Ingredients

6 ears corn (kernels stripped and pulp scraped)

4 each strips applewood smoked bacon

1/2 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt

Black pepper

1 each jalapeño, minced (seeded if desired)

Directions

In a large pot, simmer corn kernels and pulp with 1/2 cup water until creamy, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium-low heat, cook bacon until crispy, 5 minutes, then transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Once cool enough to handle, chop. Stir heavy cream into corn and continue to simmer, 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in chopped bacon and jalapeño, reserving some for garnish. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with bacon and corn.

 

Scallop Ingredients

12 each U-8 scallops (abductor muscle removed)

Kosher salt

Black pepper

Vegetable oil

Directions

Sprinkle kosher salt and black pepper on entire scallop. Heat oil in sauté pan until almost smoking hot. Place scallops flat-side down in pan and let sear without moving until golden brown. Turn heat off, flip scallop and let sit in pan until pan cools off (scallop is perfect to eat at this point).

 

Presentation

Line the inside of cigar box with a dish that fits without hindering the lid from closing completely. Place a heaping tablespoon of the finished cream corn mixture in the center of the plate and top with two scallops. With the cigar box lid almost closed, point the end of the “smoking gun” (It can be bought at Sur la Table for $99. It is a tool that literally burns fine wood chips and blows the smoke through a tube.) in the box and fill with smoke, quickly closing the lid to capture the smoke inside.

 

Isaac Cerny

Chef de Cuisine, Pistache

During the two years Isaac Cerny spent working under chef Zach Bell at Cafe Boulud, he learned the stamina needed to make it as a chef. “He taught me discipline, technique, a sense of urgency and to be a professional,” Cerny says. But the chef didn't immediately jump into the culinary world. After a few years in the retail business, at age 24 Cerny decided to pursue his passion—cooking. He enrolled in the Florida Culinary Institute, and his career took off from there. He worked for Bell, and then as a personal chef on a private yacht. When he returned to West Palm Beach, he quickly worked his way up the ranks at Pistache, becoming chef de cuisine in one year.

Describe your style of cooking.

Modern French. What's available in season. Anything that's new and exciting.

What was the biggest lesson you learned starting out?

You must have a sense of urgency. If you don't, you're not going to make it.

What's the most underrated ingredient?

Vinegar, any kind. There's a depth you can achieve with it when you balance a dish correctly with vinegar.

Most overrated?

Bacon. I love bacon, but I don't want to eat it dipped in chocolate.

What are you most excited about for the South Florida food scene?

The growing respect it's getting. There's a lot of great food coming out of South Florida right now and people are starting to realize that.

 

Favorite Dish: Crispy Braised Pork Shank Aigre-Doux

 

Pork Ingredients

24 pork shanks (rubbed with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast the pork shanks in a 450-degree oven until golden, reserve)

5 cups red wine vinegar

1 pint balsamic vinegar

1 pint orange juice (strained)

1 bottle red port

1 cup honey

4 cups sugar

Combine all of the above ingredients and bring to a boil, reserve.

2 white onions, medium diced

1 fennel, medium diced

3 celery ribs, medium diced

2 carrots, medium diced

10 garlic cloves, crushed

2 large shallots, medium diced

2 leeks, washed and medium diced

Sweat the above ingredients in canola oil until caramelized.

2 gallons hot veal stock

1 pig trotter

1 smoked ham hock

3 tbsp. fennel seed

2 tbsp. clove

2 tbsp. pink peppercorn

1 tbsp. black peppercorn

4 bay leaves

1 bunch thyme

Peel from two oranges

Directions

Toast the fennel, pink and black peppercorn, and clove until fragrant. Place the roasted pork shanks in the pot. Add the vinegar mixture and two gallons of hot veal stock. Add one pig trotter and one ham hock and the spices. Braise at 250 degrees until tender (about 2 hours). Let shanks cool in the liquid. Remove the shanks and strain the liquid. Return the liquid to a large stock pot and reduce by half, skimming the fat during the process.

 

Wild Rice Pilaf Ingredients

4 cups wild rice

12 cups chicken stock (warm)

3 tbsp. olive oil

3 medium carrots (brunoise)

3 celery rib (brunoise)

1 large white onion (brunoise)

1 tbsp. garlic (minced)

2 tbsp. herbes de Provence

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Dry toast the wild rice in a large shallow rondeau until fragrant. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook until rice is tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed (about 45 minutes). In a sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, carrots, onion, celery, garlic and herbes de Provence. Season with salt and pepper and slowly cook until tender. When the rice is done combine it with the cooked vegetables.

 

New Foodie Hot Spots

Add these restaurants to your bucket list.

Grato

Chef Clay Conley, known for his innovative restaurant Buccan, branches out into rustic Italian cuisine with his latest restaurant, Grato, in West Palm Beach. Enjoy classic Italian dishes with a twist like the beef carpaccio crostini ($4.50) and the paccheri with “Sunday gravy” meat sauce and ricotta ($18).

1901 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach; gratowpb.com

Craft Bar Kitchen

With Asian hot pots and dumplings to butternut squash soup, this restaurant and cocktail bar blends small plates and appetizers with eclectic new American entrees.

1061 E. Indiantown Road, No. 110, Jupiter; craftbarkitchen.com

The Parisian

Owned by a native Parisian, this restaurant and wine bar offers a modern take on French classics with dishes such as the mussels mariniere ($22) and coq au vin ($26).

201 U.S. Highway 1, No. 9, Jupiter; facebook.com/theparisianrestaurant

The Woods

An upscale take on the traditional sports bar, The Woods boasts 42 TVs, 1,500 bottles of wine and even a pro shop. Try The Woods prime burger ($16) or the mahi mahi fish tacos (two for $14).

Harbourside Place, 129 Soundings Ave., Jupiter; woodsjupiter.com

Salute Market

A restaurant, bar and boutique wine shop combined into one concept, Salute merges Napa Valley with Palm Beach to offer dishes such as sausage and polenta ($16) and shrimp risotto ($24).

5530 PGA Blvd., Ste. 101, Palm Beach Gardens, salute2u.com

Jardin

Slated to open this month on Clematis Street, Jardin will feature modern American cuisine with global influences with dishes such as the duck choripan and the whole roasted Cornish hen.

330 Clematis St., West Palm Beach; jardinrestaurant.com

Breeze Ocean Kitchen

The latest addition to the dining scene at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, Breeze offers a laid-back oceanfront oasis with a flavorful menu that features Cubano tacos ($15), mojo Florida pink shrimp skewers ($15) and more.

100 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, eaupalmbeach.com/dining

Cucina Pizza By Design

Craft your own pizza starting from the dough and sauce to the tasty toppings, such as ripped mozzarella, crumbled Maytag blue cheese, herbed ricotta, housemade smashed meatballs, smoked corn husk bacon, prosciutto, fresh veggies and more.

1855 Palm Beach Lakes Blvd., Ste. B09, West Palm Beach, cucinapizza.com


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