Friday, May 30, 2008


The next half-hour is precious down time, when Chase isn’t frantic. He picks a round table in the dining room and talks with a couple lunch servers and the hostess. They recount Friday night: 16 Japanese ambassadors came in and ordered lobster sashimi, or raw lobster, a Japanese delicacy. They came to Sea Catch because it is one of the few places that serves lobster sashimi, albeit for a steep price: anywhere from $80 (2-pounder) to more than $120 (4-pounder). The group of 16’s bill came to more than $2,000, and the server made $400 in tip from that one table. The two lobster tanks at the entrance were empty.

The group cleans its own dishes, re-sets the table, and heads to its different places in the restaurant. It’s 11:17 a.m., 13 minutes before Sea Catch opens for lunch.

Chase heads back to the kitchen and returns to his big pot. He adds the diced onion and garlic, gives it a quick stir, listens to the sizzle, and grabs another pot. He’ll make the sweet corn broth too: frozen corn—he’d prefer fresh, but there’s none around—onions, garlic and herbs. There’s no recipe, he makes it up as he goes, adding what he feels like, constantly tasting. “Cooking’s pretty spontaneous for me,” Chase says.

The controlled bustle of the kitchen staff is all around Chase, and the constant clanking of metal and the thump of knives coming down on a cutting board is drowned out by the sounds coming from the boom box in the corner, covered by a white towel. What music comes out of this boom box is a daily—no, hourly—struggle. Chase’s staff prefers fast-paced Spanish music, Chase prefers hip-hop, particularly that of his friends’ group. So he’ll swap CDs, leave for 20 minutes, and come back to the sounds of a fiesta.

Chase reluctantly grabs a metal spoon hanging above him, and stirs in the uncooked risotto. A chef in France will get shot if he is seen making risotto with anything but a wooden spoon, but Chase isn’t French, and there isn’t a wooden spoon in sight. He’ll go on with a metal spoon. He adds white wine to the risotto, cream to the sweet corn broth (officially no longer a broth since he added cream, so it is now a sauce), and stands over his two pots, tasting every so often to make sure the seasoning his just right. If not, he adds salt and pepper, but nothing else—he keeps it simple.

With the risotto at a dense, lava-like consistency, he pours it onto a sheet pan and stashes it in the refrigerator to harden. He’ll come in an hour or so and cut circles, douse them in flour, and send them to the deep fryer. He blends the sweet corn sauce, and runs it through a chinoise—a fine mesh strainer—to make it as smooth as possible. He tastes it once more, approves, and sets it aside.

Chase enters the walk-in refrigerator and grabs a two-foot hunk of tuna and some of the smoked salmon. He sharpens his knife and attacks the salmon, cutting it into 8-ounce filets. He weighs each one, but he doesn’t have to, since it’s second nature by now. Almost all are right on the dot. He hacks into the tuna, slices away the bitter blood line, and adds more filets to the pile. It takes him less than 10 minutes.

At 12:11 p.m., the first lunch ticket emerges from the receipt machine, a small, worn, black printer of white and yellow paper, which will drive precisely what goes down in the kitchen for the next 10 hours. And it spits out order No. 1: jumbo lump crab cake entrée, Sea Catch’s most popular dish. About two inches thick, two inches in diameter, two to a serving, cooked to a golden brown and served over a medley of sweet corn, strips of tomato, English peas, the crab cakes fly out of the kitchen—about 30-35 orders a day. The lunch cook, just one this early, completes the dish in about 10 minutes, and it’s whisked out of the kitchen. One down, more than 300 to go.

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