The Cantankerous Chef

Hi, there:

Let me introduce myself and give you a little introduction to my new job. My name is Cheffy and I have 18 years’ experience in the restaurant business in Cape May and nobody really wants to know how many years before that. This column is a biased point of view of food, recipes, restaurant critique, gossip and the occasional alcohol report: usually about wine, but I can’t leave out other items like beer, hard liquor and other imbibeables.

I hope you read my column, but those of you who think you know who I am, realize the points of view are mine. Like them or dislike them but if you are ambivalent about them, I’d like to hear from you. Thanks for your support and for supporting

The food thing:

Conscientious chefs and fish mongers like Samuels and Son Seafood concur that early April is the beginning of wild salmon season. Available from April 1st for about 6 weeks is Columbia River Salmon. Although not as cold a river as The Copper River, Columbia River Salmon is simply one of the best flavored fish, known for its fat content and clean environment. It can be prepared in many ways. Obviously some restaurants know how to use it and some don’t. Here’s a sampling of recipes in and around town. Chef Eric Hegyi of The Peter Shields Inn (which recently or soon will change hands; see gossip below) is presenting Wild Columbia River Salmon with a Fennel-Mandarin Orange Salsa, Chile Oil, Wilted Radicchio and Basmati Rice.

Kudos to Eric, who is well aware of the affinity salmon has with orange, orange with fennel, and everything with a drizzle of heat. Wakes up those flavors.

Another wild fish available as of March 15th is Wild West Coast Halibut: light and clean this low calorie, high protein, rich in vitamin B12 and B6 fish can weigh over 500 pounds (yo, a little too big for my cutting table).

Mimi Wood, much heralded chef of The Washington Inn, will offer Wild Halibut with a vanilla-hazelnut crust, a coconut vinaigrette and a mash of ginger infused purple Peruvian potatoes. (no veg.?)

I like the sound of this; Caribbean-inspired cuisine was one of my favorite influences during my tenure as a chef (not quite over yet). I didn’t talk with Mimi directly, but rather with owner Michael Craig, who said that March business was just standard March. The Inn will open 2 extra days beginning April 1st. expanding their schedule to Thursday thru Sunday.

Down at the bottom of the mall,
Olde Congress Hall,
responded promptly to my call,
Chef Jeffery Klova commutes past the big mall,
yet has he dropped the ball?
No wild salmon or halibut yet; maybe this fall.

Truthfully, this was my first chat with Jeffery, (yes, that is the correct spelling) who seems like a determined, positive and upbeat dude. Long commute to town, but it appears that he is giving the Pig its long-due stability. His late spring-summer menu offers such labor-intensive and thought-provoking dishes such as: Pork Oso Buco and Braised Short Ribs. We chefs love those short ribs. Yours truly even served them at a wine dinner recently as the main meat course with a fabulous Wild Horse Syrah: big, meaty, bold and spicy.

Calls to Daniels, Union Park and The Black Duck yielded answering machines during the week, and since I’m now Mr. Mom, when the kids are at school is when I write. Next month, guys.

What would I have done with wild west coast halibut?

Here’s an item from an old menu. Clearly still a fabulous dish, so some of us were ahead of our time.

Recipe of the Month

Porcini Crusted Roast Wild Halibut, Preserved Lemon Broth with Shiitake Mushrooms, Red Peppers & White Beans, Crisp Roasted Garlic Polenta Cake

Do you really want to try this at home? Its a little involved, but its not as if we open a can and presto/chango you have this dish. Well if you’re brave; It’s not easy and with luck everything will work out.

If not, let me know. Ok, here we go.

Total List of Ingredients
(to feed four as a main course with some extra stuff, and it has to be
started at least 3 weeks and preferably 6 weeks in advance):

  • 4 – six ounce fat center cut pieces Wild Halibut
  • 2 T Dried Pulverized Porcini Mushrooms (or the powder available in specialty stores)
  • Kosher Salt
  • Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
  • melted butter
  • 1/2 cup decent quality white wine (we cook with good chardonnay)
  • 4 cups quality homemade fish stock or bottled clam juice (watch the salt)
  • 4 sprigs thyme, 4 sprigs parsley
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 t whole black peppercorns
  • the remains of two preserved lemons, cut julienne (info to follow)
  • 1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 cup julienne red peppers
  • 1 cup cooked white beans (or canned, rinse well)
  • Fresh Lemon Juice
  • 4 oz. (T) whole butter (unsalted, of course; that’s why they make salt, so you can decide how much to add)
  • Kosher Salt (or did I already say that)
  • snipped fresh chives or minced scallions for garnish
  • 1 cup stone cut yellow cornmeal or (Aunt Jemimas)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 heads of roasted garlic (cloves removed, skins discarded; I have to assume that you know how to roast garlic)


For the lemons:

  • 6 nice unblemished perfect lemons
  • kosher salt
  • fresh lemon juice (preferably: bottled if necessary)
  • a very clean jar with a tight fitting lid

Wash and dry the lemons, cut into quarters lengthwise, put in a bowl and toss with about 1/4 cup kosher salt. Put in the jar, add another 2 T of salt, and fill to top with lemon juice. Put the lid on the jar. Leave at room temperature. Shake once a day for at least three weeks; (six weeks would be better). When you are ready to use the lemons, take out what you are going to use and remove the flesh and the pith from the peel. SAVE THE PEELS and discard the flesh and the pith. Julienne the peels and set aside for the recipe.

For the polenta:

Butter an 8″ by 8″ glass baking dish (like you would use for brownies).

In a heavy pot, heat up one cup of milk with 3/4 cup water, the roasted garlic and 2 T butter. 

In a bowl, mix the cornmeal, parmesan, 1/2 t salt and 20 grinds black pepper.
When the liquids boil add the cornmeal mix to the pot using a wooden spoon and whisk until smooth: then stir with wooden spoon constantly until the polenta (it has now changed from cornmeal to polenta, or as my mom used to call it mamaligga) pulls away from the side of the pot.

Turn out into the buttered baking dish, smooth over, cover with saran wrap, let sit at room temp for 30 minutes, while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Remove saran wrap and bake in oven 20 minutes, then remove from oven and refrigerate until cold. (can be done in the morning for that evening).

For the broth (if you want to get fancy you can call it a “nage”):

Bring 4 cups of fish stock to a boil, add thyme, parsley, lightly squeeze a half lemon in, add a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns, turn off the heat and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve and set aside.

NOW Lets set the fish up to roast.

Preheat oven to 400 or maybe 425.

Place the halibut on a lightly greased cookie sheet, sprinkle lightly with salt and freshly cracked black pepper, lightly cover with porcini powder. Roast at 400 until it’s done. If the fish is an inch thick it will take between 9 and 10 minutes. Don’t keep checking it because every time you open the oven door the temperature goes down and it will take longer to cook.

Cut the polenta into whatever shape you like (I usually cut it into 3 or 3 1/2 inch rounds). Heat up a frying pan that will fit 4 cakes, heat the pan and then add some vegetable oil and a little butter; brown the polenta cakes on both sides and then put them in the oven to heat all the way through.

Make the broth with the veg:

In a pot, heat up some butter, add shiitakes and red peppers, wilt lightly. Add the cooked beans, preserved lemons and maybe a little salt and pepper; when hot, in about 45 seconds add the white wine (carefully; it may flame up). Add the strained stock and bring to a boil. turn down to a simmer and add 2 T whole butter (cut the butter into chunks first).

OK, we’re almost done.

In 4 beautiful bowls, ladle in equal amounts of broth with the veg in it. Place a polenta cake in the middle of the bowl and place the halibut on top of the polenta cake. Sprinkle with snipped chives. Eat! Serve a really good, fat, buttery, rich chardonnay with this because you deserve it.

If you wanted an easy recipe, you’ll have to ask someone else.
This is why you pay more for a dish like this when you eat out. Its involved but not boring, very tasty and worth every penny a good chef will charge.

So. . .everyone’s different.

That’s why there are so many interesting and a few great restaurants in Cape May.


What’s the latest, newest gossip, I’ll give a taste of what I’ve heard lately. I don’t get to hear everything of course. . .


Neil Elsohn of The Waters Edge acclaim is back in business. Neil will be opening his new eatery – Restaurant 1919 – at the location of the former Anchorage Restaurant, across the street from the Lobster House and at the foot of the bridge coming into town. Watch this site for grand opening details.

Has the Peter Shields changed hands yet? Well as of this writing, Chef Eric says yes, and the new owners take over on April 1st and will spend a small fortune redoing the place since they clearly have the bucks. Others involved in the deal say nothing is signed yet. Well, lets go: either announce it or not; we’re not going to sit around and play diddle here, now are we?

The Waters Edge is closed. Property owner Gus Andy would not accept phone calls from me (so what’s new). The grapevine say that its going to be another diner. As soon as I heard that a friend of mine called and said that The Waters Edge was advertising itself for rent. Most recently the grapevine says that the guys who used to run The Lampost Diner in North Wildwood and then The Captains Table are taking over???

I hope the Chew and View doesn’t get hurt. The former Waters Edge staff has dissipated and can now be found at: The Shields, Martini Beach, Cabanas, Union Park, and other places around town all waiting for former chef/owner Neil Elsohn to get off his lazy tush and find them a place to work together again. Elsohn did not return our phone calls either.

In other Cape May news, The Mansion house is changing hands, soon, very soon, more on that soon. Bad word. Union Park, Union Park, Union Park, What’s with the name already. I remember when it first opened with that name. They compared themselves to Union Street in San Francisco, a bastion of fine, upscale shops, Union Bay for clothes, and Union something else for something else, remember that? I didn’t get it then and it still sticks in my mind. The dining room is a little uptight for me, but I haven’t been there for dinner since it’s been under the direction of Chef John Schatz, formerly of the Peter Shields, and I haven’t talked to him yet either, but I hear that the other owner is waiting tables in addition to being the owner, Hello.

Well, I do hope you felt something about my column, I honestly don’t mean to offend anyone ever. Will you still respond to my phone calls, e-mails and other means of communication? Finally, in the words of one of my favorite newscasters, “I’ll see you on the radio.”