By Nigel Spence
Many years ago, back in Culinary school, I can never forget this particularly hardcore instructor who trained me in fish fabrication and cooking. Every day upon arrival at 6am for class, he would add just a little bit more to the prep schedule, but require the tasks to be completed in less time. The tasks also became more complex and exacting each day, and he equally more demanding of perfection. There were always unconfirmed rumors among students that he was a retired Navy Seal. However, true or not, every morning in his kitchen certainly did feel like the first day of boot camp.
As with any top-notch training, I came out on the other end with excellent fish fabrication and preparation techniques, and my knife skills, although already pretty remarkable, were fine tuned even more.
However, the most important lessons learned from this Kitchen Dictator could never otherwise be realized even from the best self-help book. His teaching style required the strictest adherence to time management, working under pressure and adversity to the point where it became carved into your psyche. There is nothing that has helped me more with my career than those priceless skills I learned from Chef Corky Clark.
Outside of the classroom he was the kindest, most gentle man you could meet. We had many deep conversations after moving on from his kitchen and remained in contact for the entire time I was at school and had a few interactions after graduation as well.
When I mentioned I was opening a Caribbean restaurant, he had only two things to impart to me from his vast industry knowledge. The first was that people take as much time as you give them to get a task done. The second was that salted codfish was one of the most underutilized low-cost seafood ingredients that could make your menu more interesting, your bottom line healthier, and set you apart from the competition if used creatively.
As with everything else I learned from this mentor, I took it to the bank!
The stuffed ripe plantain boats I serve at the restaurant has a codfish medley as the filling and is one of the best selling and longest running appetizers I have had on the menu. I have developed many other menu items utilizing codfish and all have been great for my guest experience and the bottom line.
Also, my staff is quite familiar with the concept that people take as much time as you give them to get a task done!
Cheers to Chef Corky Clark, you have and continue to be an inspiration to me and my career.
It’s the month for the ultimate date night so I decided to share the plantain boat recipe because I think it best reflects what long lasting relationships are made of. Salty and sweet.
RIPE’S PLANTAIN BOAT
For the Plantains
4 very ripe whole Plantains, peeled (skin must be partially black)
1 teaspoon of Salt
1 tablespoon Sugar (optional for plantains not yet black)
Fill a pot with just enough water to cover plantains. Add salt (and optional sugar). Bring to boil over medium heat and add plantains. Boil plantains until slightly softened, but not waterlogged, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Remove plantains from the water to cool. Slice the plantains lengthwise from end to end without cutting through the bottom or the ends so as to create a pocket for the filling.
For the Filling
4 tablespoons Coconut oil
½ pound salted Codfish, soaked overnight and shredded
2 plum Tomatoes, medium dice
1 large Onion, medium dice
½ red Bell pepper, small dice
2 stalks Scallions, rough chopped
3 cloves of Garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper, minced
½ teaspoon fresh Thyme leaves, fine chopped
¼ cup Coconut milk
1 tablespoon Honey
Heat coconut oil over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook stirring until they turn translucent. Add codfish, garlic, bell pepper, tomatoes, scotch bonnet pepper and scallions. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring together to incorporate. Add coconut milk, thyme and honey and continue to stir for another 5 minutes. Remove from the fire and set aside for assembly.
Plantain Boat Assembly and Cooking
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the plantains on a lightly greased baking sheet.
Divide the filling between the plantains that were split open. Fill the pockets evenly.
Bake until the plantains start to turn golden brown (about 20 mins.) Remove from the oven to individual plates or one large serving tray.
Garnish with sour cream, and chives.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavor.