Hooked on seafood
Q. How did you get from the kitchen to television?
A. I walked into the Food Network many years ago and said, “Hey, do you guys want to do a show about this and that and the other thing?’’ And they said “No!’’ [laughs]. From there, it just kind of was me knocking on their door a lot.
Q. What’s the show like?
A. It’s very authentic. It’s a real road trip. I have this old BMW motorcycle that I drive around. There are times when we actually don’t catch fish, and we tell you that. It’s like, “womp womp,’’ this episode’s going to suck, we didn’t catch any fish. In terms of restaurants, it’s very real, too. We go in during the busiest time and cook with the chef. It’s really insane at times. Plates are breaking, people are burning themselves. It’s a new perspective.
Q. What is the best part of doing this show?
A. Getting out there with these guys, seeing how they live and what their day-to-day is like. It’s always been a dream since I was a little boy to get on a boat and experience that.
Q. It seems like the right time for a show like this. People are thinking hard about sustainability and where and how fish is caught.
A. The show has empowered me to realize that as consumers we have quite a bit of power. Our job is to educate ourselves on fish and come in and tell the chef or tell the restaurant owner, “Hey, why do you have this fish on the menu? It’s not supposed to be.’’ I don’t think people quite realize the power they have. It does start with the consumer and trickle down to the chef and, ultimately, the fishermen. If the demand is not there, the fishermen are not going to go after the fish.
Q. Did you get your taste for seafood growing up in New England?
A. I was born in Cambridge and pretty much grew up my whole life in the Cambridge area. My time was split between there and the Cape in the summers. My grandparents had a hunting cabin in Cape Cod. They bought it very early on, when hunting was allowed. They were big into goose and duck hunting, as well as fishing. I grew up fishing, from as young as I can remember. My grandfather was head of fisheries, so it was no joke when we would go out. Everybody was saluting him. You didn’t mess around. He was writing the laws.
Q. New York isn’t usually a destination for people obsessed with fishing and surfing.
A. I’m out fishing or surfing most of the week here in New York. For the past three years, I’ve been fishing seriously in the East River — striped bass, bluefish. I started the Brooklyn Fishing Derby here.
Q. How did you become interested in cooking?
A. It almost happened accidentally. I moved to New York to apprentice with an artist. I was studying figurative sculpture, but I got a waiter position, because I was broke at the time and realizing art was not going to get me paid. I had a horrible experience at my first restaurant, but it set the tone for me. The guy thought I was about the worst waiter he’d ever met, so it became a “damn it, I can do this’’ kind of thing. After that I opened my first restaurant in Williamsburg, called Hurricane Hopeful. All I had was chowder and lobster rolls. I had five chowder pots on all the time. That’s always been my thing, really simple New England seafood, getting the proper shack going.
Q. Even if the proper shack is an underground restaurant in a Brooklyn basement?
A. I started making lobster rolls in my basement because there were no good lobster rolls locally. It really caught on. There were three levels of security. A lot of Boston folks were getting hold of my number. It spread so quickly, I didn’t even know it was happening.
Q. What makes a good lobster roll?
A. For me, it’s very simple. A lot of lobster, a Pepperidge Farm top-loaded bun, a lot of butter, and not too much mayonnaise. No celery. I don’t put any greens in there. I don’t know how that started, with the leaf of lettuce.
Interview has been condensed and edited. Devra First can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.