Robert St. John column
Robert St. John
I receive requests for recipes all of the time.
For the first 10 years I was in business at the Purple Parrot Café and Crescent City Grill, I wouldn’t give out recipes. Early on, Bon Appetit magazine and Food & Wine magazine asked repeatedly for our Corn and Crab Bisque recipe. I wouldn’t give it up. I stood my ground. It was a stupid thing to do.
These days I’ll share every recipe we prepare in our kitchens. I am not worried about other restaurants stealing or using them, that’s been happening for years. Occasionally a chef will leave one of our restaurants, sneak a few recipes out of one of our prep manuals, and go to work for one of our competitors, where our creation magically appears on the menu. It happens.
Today, our business is an open book. I have published most of our popular recipes in cookbooks or on my website. I finally realized that you can have the best recipes in the world, but operating a successful restaurant is much, much more than having an all-star treasure trove of recipes. It’s all about execution.
If it were only about the recipe, every restaurant in the country would be successful. All a restaurant operator would have to do is load their menu with cookbook recipes from the country’s most successful chefs, and customers would be beating a path to their door.
Sure, recipes are important, but one has to have to have the creativity to keep coming up with more appealing, tasteful, and profitable recipes. Also, one has to manage the staff that prepares and serves the recipes. The restaurant business might be the only business where there are more ways to lose money than there are to make money.
It’s all about management. The textbooks might say location, location, location, but in reality, it’s management, management, management. One can have great recipes, but if he can’t manage the 1,000 little things that are needed to operate a successful restaurant, he’ll be hosting a pennies-on-the-dollar used restaurant equipment auction.
Recipe requests are flattering and should be taken as such. If someone appreciates the effort and creativity a chef puts into a new creation, it should be shared. I figure if someone wants to take the time to shop, prep, and cook one of my recipes to share with their friends and family, the least I can do is give them the road map to do so.
That brings me to today’s’ topic. The most requested recipe I have received lately is not for one of my recipes, but for a tuna dip served at Harbor Docks restaurant in Destin, FL.
I wrote about Harbor Docks Smoked Tuna Dip last summer. I received tons of requests for the recipe then, and over the last two months have received even more. I guess with summer quickly approaching, people are searching for beach food.
The problem is that the initial recipe I was given was incorrect. It had enough pepper and seafood seasoning to choke an elephant. Harbor Docks was happy to give up the recipe, but it was way off base from what they’re preparing in the kitchen. Something got lost in translation between the Harbor Docks kitchen staff, Charles Morgan, Harbor Docks’ owner, and me.
Note: As I type, I have just received another request for Harbor Docks Smoked Tuna Dip in my email inbox.
I decided to call Morgan and take another stab at getting the correct recipe. He was happy to oblige and had Art Matthews, his kitchen manager, call me back.
The smoked tuna dip at Harbor docks is, by far, the best in the area. Actually, it’s the best I have ever tasted. A few years ago, I worked up a recipe for smoked crab dip for a cookbook. It’s good, but my wife still prefers Harbor Docks smoked tuna dip.
Harbor Docks Smoked Tuna Dip rocks because the tuna is fresh and only hours old when it is brined and smoked, they make the dip fresh-from-scratch every morning, and— like all good recipes— it is simple and uncomplicated with minimal ingredients.
(Robert St.John is an author, chef, restaurateur, and world-class eater. He is the author of seven books including the newly released New South Grilling. He can be reached at www.robertstjohn.com <http://www.robertstjohn.com/> .)
Harbor Docks Smoked Tuna Dip
1 quart Water
1/4 cup Salt
2 1/2 lbs. Fresh Yellowfin tuna
1 1/2 cups Mayonnaise (use more or less depending on your preferred consistency)
1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Garlic Powder
Hot sauce to taste
Combine salt and water. Soak tuna steaks in a salt water brine for one hour before smoking. Transfer to smoker and smoke until cooked through (do not overcook). Chop smoked tuna steaks to your desired consistency (rough chopped or finely chopped— Harbor Docks chops fine)
In a stainless steel mixing bowl, combine chopped smoked tuna, mayonnaise, pepper, and garlic powder and mix well. Harbor Docks doesn’t use hot sauce in their recipe, but offers it tableside to be added for individual tastes.