Curious foodies get up close and personal at Big Fish Grill
If I’ve learned anything in my years of using up ink and newsprint, it’s that you never know what’s going to hit a nerve. Last week’s column is a good example: My mention of the Rehoboth Beach Museum’s screening of two episodes of Julia Child’s “The French Chef” generated a flurry of emails (they travel in flurries, you know), all of which expounded on how the interest in cooking she helped to create had changed peoples’ lives.
Julia’s show was presented like a classroom lecture, complete with lists and instructions appearing on the screen while she paused for the viewer to take notes. So many years later, there is no shortage of that sort of thing right here in Rehoboth Beach, in the form of cooking classes. And one of the best is Norm Sugrue’s three-and-a-half-hour Saturday extravaganza at Big Fish Grill. The black-and-white TV cameras have been replaced with flashing iPhones, and the only thing missing is Julia’s fabled wall oven with the squeaking door.
At $75, Norm’s class is an investment. But, as a recent graduate (summa cum hungry), I’m here to tell you that it’s worth every penny. Big Fish Grill is one of the largest and busiest restaurants here in Rehoboth Beach, sporting three dining rooms, a bar, a market and one of the biggest kitchens I’ve seen locally. The “line” - where the individual orders are cooked, assembled and checked before being whisked out to the tables - is almost 40 feet long!
Adjacent to all this is a wholesale division that provides fresh fish (including sushi-grade products) to some of the most prominent eateries here at the beach.
The festivities begin as catering and market operations manager Susan Sokowski guides her students through the maze of walk-ins, coolers, prep and assembly areas that support the kitchen as it feeds the hordes of hungry diners who often wait for over an hour to be rewarded with a table. The group is then ushered into the separate kitchen/prep area that serves the Big Fish Market. On this particular tour, Fidel, the market manager, introduced us to an almost 16-pound rockfish. After a short talk about the laws that support sustainability, he and his trusty fileting knife expertly removed the meat from one-half of the creature. He (Fidel, not the creature) then enlisted a volunteer to filet the other half of the fish.
A short trek across the back parking lot brought us to the Big Fish Wholesale division. The first thing you notice about the refrigerated prep and storage rooms (and also the market) is that they don’t smell even the slightest bit fishy. Surrounded by stacks of rosy-red tuna, glistening filets and generously cut steaks, Big Fish Wholesale Director Bob Moyer said that fresh fish “smells like the sea - and nothing else.” The second thing I noticed is how sparklingly clean the rooms are. Rubber boots and aprons are the standard uniform as even the remotest nooks and crannies are hosed down multiple times every day.
Adjacent to the frosty warehouse is yet another kitchen/prep area where Big Fish Restaurant Group co-owner Norm Sugrue greeted us in his dress-whites. Assisted by sous chef Joe Lopez, Norm proceeded to take us through the preparation of six dishes from the Big Fish Grill and Summer House menus. As Norm and Joe prepared each item (often enlisting the help of the students), Mike Ohr from Bin 66 Fine Wine & Spirits paired a specific wine with each course. From a bright and delicious two-bean salad to the shrimp and veggie spring rolls (we even got to roll them - wearing gloves, of course!); from melt-in-your-mouth tuna tartare (topped with crab and avocado), to seared scallops with tobacco onions; from oven-roasted beef tenderloin and sautéed mushrooms on a bed of Big Fish Mashers, to banana mocha mousse (the secret? Nutella, of course!) - we watched, ate and drank it all. Julia would have been proud as Sugrue’s knowledgeable patter kept us smiling and taking notes.
It you’ve waded through my ramblings this far, then you certainly qualify as a foodie (either that or you’re just really bored). Either way, treat yourself to the cooking class at Big Fish Grill. You’ll leave full of food, tasty wines and lots of insider information. Visit BigFishGrill.com for more info.