The pandemic this past year sent shockwaves throughout the restaurant industry, including right here in Central Florida. Restaurants had to adjust, shift sails, and make things work for the new reality.
In 2020, Big Fin Seafood Kitchen underwent ownership changes, and with that there were a new Executive Chef brought on board – Chef Eric Enrique, formerly of Eddie V’s Seafood and Steaks down the street. We spoke with Chef Eric about his background from cleaning 50 lb boxes of veal bones to his plans for Big Fin in 2021.
Interview with Big Fin Seafood Kitchen’s Chef Eric Enrique
Tell us about your background – where did you grow up and how did you get started into food?
I was born in Hawaii and spent my first five years there. Growing up in Hawaii you just learn to respect the Ocean and all the beautiful bounty that those waters have to offer. Your typical grocery store in Hawaii will offer the highest quality seafood that you would come to expect from our higher end purveyors on the main land.
After my father retired from the Navy, we moved Northern California ( The San Francisco Bay Area). My first job kitchen job was making sandwiches, salads and espressos at a small café.
I then graduated from The California Culinary Academy in 1997. One of the requirements before graduating was to intern in a restaurant for 6 months (full time) so I knocked on the backdoor of every nice restaurant in town until I was finally accepted by a Chef to let me do my internship.
I was persistent. I must have knocked on a dozen doors until I was told by the Sous Chef of Massimo’s Restaurant to come back to the restaurant the next morning to start.
The first thing the Chef did was hand me a 50 pound box of bloody veal bones and told me to wash them under the sink so that the stock would not be cloudy. I was hooked.
Cooking in Northern California you come to appreciate a deep cultural mix of cuisines. The rich diversity in agriculture and micro climates makes Northern California famous for some of the best wines in the World. It is impossible to deny that California has left an impression on my Culinary Mind.
What is the moment that you realized you wanted to become a chef?
The moment I was able to cook in 5 different pans and manage all the tickets coming in without stress and actually have fun.
The biggest lessons you’ve learned so far as a Chef:
- Start with the best ingredients.
- Integrity is Everything.
- “Mise en Place” is a state of mind – it means that the way you organize your work and your life will guide you to success or failure.
What are some childhood memories around food that sticks with you to this day?
Eating my Grandma’s perfect Garlic Fried Rice. She could toast the garlic so perfect. It was toasted without being burnt. A very difficult thing to accomplish.
As the new executive chef of Big Fin Seafood Kitchen, what are some upcoming plans that you have for the menu and restaurant? What are some changes that guests might see? What are some goals you have for Big Fin in 2021?
The changes to menu are subtle, including some new additions to the bar menu. The goal for 2021 is to continue Big Fin Seafood’s mission to have the freshest and best quality seafood in Orlando.
Scallop Ceviche – Thinly Sliced, Marinated in Coconut Milk and Lime Juice
One of the new dishes is the scallop ceviche. The dish tastes well-balanced with the perfect amount of acidity and tastes very different because we add fresh coconut milk.
Another new popular dish is the whole fried snapper. The presentation of the fish just looks amazing and it is very unique to Big Fin.
Whole Fried Snapper – Coconut Jasmine Rice, Red Bell Pepper, Scallions, Thai Chili Glaze
What are the most popular dishes right now at Big Fin?
Our Swordfish! The freshest available and it’s a huge 14 oz steak cut.
What are some lessons you have learned during 2020?
One of the biggest lessons I have learned during 2020 is that you cannot run a restaurant from a place of fear. If you have the right protocols in place to protect the guests and workers you need to push forward and operate a restaurant from a place of integrity.
What are some personal resolutions you have for 2021?
Be relentless in our approach to providing the highest quality seafood and steaks to our Guests.
Your best tips for picking the best seafood?
- The nose never lies. Good seafood or fish should smell like the ocean or have little to no smell at all.
- If you can check the under the gills of the whole fish the color should be bright red.
- Also check the eyes of the fish. The eyes of the fish should look clear and not cloudy.
- The best tip is to build a good relationship with your fish/seafood purveyors.