When I was signing the lease with my landlord, Thomas Howze, at the new SOMA Creek Side this past year, I mentioned to him that directly across the street from my new restaurant was the preschool I attended. He smiled and explained my teacher and the owner of Little Friends preschool was his mother. Now, 50 years later, I have come full circle and ended up across the street from where I started. I now serve many of my fellow students and their families in my restaurant.
One of the defining moments in my career came while I was 16 and in Manatee High School back in the 1970s. I worked as a bus boy in the kitchen at the Tiffany Lounge, West Bradenton's first disco nightclub and restaurant. One night, the sous chef was incapacitated and they needed a hand in the kitchen. It came naturally to me. I loved the fast pace, and the excitement of working in a kitchen took over. My future was cast.
After graduation at MHS, surfing and skateboarding took me to southern California for a while, but I wanted a culinary diploma. I was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York. One problem, though: I was a Florida boy and it was really cold up there. At the last minute, there was a change of plans and I heard about the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. It was a perfect place for me.
After arriving in the city, I landed a job at the Balboa Cafe where the chef was Jeremiah Tower, who is heralded as one of the founders of California cuisine.
At the academy, the faculty was a who's who of the best chefs in the city, and it was there that
I learned a great deal about fusion cuisine from chef/instructor Ken Hom, who taught me another new concept at the time -- East meets West.
So here I was in a French cooking school, being influenced by a famous Chinese chef and the vanguard of the California nouvelle cuisine revolution. The basic idea was to serve only the highest quality products and only when they were in season, awakening America's palette for what was to come -- regional cuisine. I had taken a knowledge of my "redneck cuisine" to San Francisco and it was what set me apart.
They had never seen hush puppies, shrimp and grits, and okra. I embellished it, fused it and it is what inspires me daily as a chef. My menu is me and my travels, not what I see on other menus around town. It is my history and my memories. That is my cuisine.
I love being a chef in my hometown. I suppose it has something to do with ego, but I love it when one of my guests tell me they love my place because it is me.
SOMA Creek Side has been open about one year, having moved my SOMA Diner to downtown. I changed the name to SOMA Creek Side and we have been thrilled at the results. It's a party every night and all my friends are coming.
Fried green tomato with tomato salata, pesto & goat cheese (serves 6)
1 tomato diced medium
2 cloves garlic diced and smashed
1 teaspoon fine diced basil
2 teaspoons fine diced carrot
Sprinkle of kosher salt
6 tablespoons goat cheese (to sprinkle over the top at end)
Combine ingredients and set aside.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
1 cup buttermilk
1- 1/2 cups even mix of regular flour, cornmeal and wheat flour
Salt and pepper
Bacon fat or vegetable oil for frying
2 pounds green tomato sliced just less than 1/2-inch-thick
Preheat to medium high pan with oil. Double dredge green tomato from buttermilk to flour and again, then fry in the oil until golden brown. Drain on paper towels.
2 tablespoons toasted cashews
4 cloves garlic
Pinch kosher salt
Pinch cracked pepper
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, squeezed
Place all ingredients in food processor until smooth consistency. This is more than you need (about 2 cups) but it will be good covered in the refrigerator for at least a week. Place cooked green tomato down on plate, top with salata, sprinkle goat cheese, then pesto.
Chef Dave Shiplett, chef/owner of SOMA Creek Side, can be reached at 941-567-4001. SOMA Creek Side is at 1401 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton.