10 Questions: Randy Morgan
He grew up in Los Angeles, but his understanding of fish began to emerge further up the coast--in Seattle, where Morgan worked at fish shop.
The chef of Dallas Fish Market learned the cooking side in professional kitchens on each coast, working in New York (including a stint at the famous Russian Tea Room) and Seattle. In this part of the world, he's known for opening Oceanaire...and now for the new downtown restaurant.
Just as at Oceanaire, he's earned 'best seafood' acclaim--which means he knows his way around fish. But how is he with a big hunk of red meat...?
1. Anyone ever walk into your kitchen and say 'something's fishy?' No, not at all. [Laughs] I keep a clean kitchen.
2. So how hungry was the first person to ever eat an octopus? Oh, man--I think about that all the time. Stuff like sea urchin--you have to cut through all those spines. I don't get it, but I'm glad someone did.
3. Is it difficult to get people to eat unfamiliar things? You know, my servers are some of the best. They are real passionate about food and they can convey to guests the qualities of each fish. I try to bring odd things to the menu--not because they are odd, but because I love them and I know people will love them if they just try. The first time I had skate, I thought 'this is the most amazing thing ever.' I arm my servers with information and they try every new dish. Usually, they get people to try new things. That's what it's about.
4. How much does regulation and the threat of overfishing affect your menu? I source from purveyors I've dealt with for six years. I have five different ones and a real close relationship with each one. They know what they will have and they help me with things when I'm putting a menu together. Every now and then I won't have something because they've closed down an area [a fishery]. I think that's great. It allows the fishery to recover and I get to think on the fly.
5. Can you just pour buerre blanc on anything and declare it a great dish? It depends if you love butter or not. There are certain things I wouldn't put buerre blanc on. Really, you sit down with the fish, you taste it, and the fish tells you what sauce it is looking for. Sometimes the fish is so good I won't use a sauce at all.
6. How long does it take to learn fish? It depends on how passionate you are. I depends on how much time you want to invest. It took me a good couple of years--watching, asking questions. There are so many ways and combinations to do fish.
7. Is there one that's still hard for you to cook? I don't know. Monkfish takes a long time. It's a real dense fish. There are certain things like black cod--if you overcook it, it will fall apart. You just gotta know the texture of each fish.
8. How are you with steak? I'm becoming a master. We put it on the menu. I have a whole list of meat dishes on the menu. We've sold a lot of steak in the last four months, so we're getting really good. When I first learned to cook steak, it took me awhile to understand the feel of internal temperature. That's the hardest part--that and getting the right heat on it. I'm doing crazy stuff now: bringing in these 46-ounce steaks. It's fun.
9. Everyone does sea bass. What's wrong with freshwater bass? I get striped bass all the time. There's nothing wrong with it. It's mild, it's OK, but it's not a 'wow factor' thing. I don't know that there's a market for it here.
10. So when you have a day off, I bet you hate to go fishing... Man, you know, I grew up in Los Angeles. My dad would take me fishing off the piers. I used to love that. Lake fishing was never my thing. Deep sea fishing is a blast. I tried fly fishing. That's an art form and I'm no good at it. It's fun and I'd love to learn, but I don't have time now.
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