Top Chefs: Katherine DeWitt See
Seeing seafood from many perspectives
What are the essential elements of a great chef? As this week’s snapshots of five great chefs illustrate, the answers run from soup to nuts, or when it comes to fields of study, from education to graphic arts. The common ingredient: Boston University, which has been cooking up culinary talent for decades, sometimes in unexpected corners. The culinary arts program, started with help from America’s first top chef, Julia Child (Hon.’76), has delivered many successes, and the School of Hospitality Administration has prepared many more for rewarding careers in the big leagues of the restaurant business.
How does it work? Every day this week, one of BU’s best-known chefs tells us about getting from here to there.
In Boston’s tourist-trafficked Faneuil Hall, the seafood restaurant Kingfish Hall has earned a reputation that sets it apart from the madding crowd. The restaurant is the brainchild of Boston-based celebrity chef Todd English, who is known for his surprising twists on traditional dishes, such as flatbread pizza with prosciutto and figs. While a guest teacher at Boston University, English met Katherine DeWitt See, whose broad experience in the seafood industry (from working a crab boat off the Alabama coast to upgrading technology in a shellfish processing plant in Maine) won her a Future Leader award from the National Fisheries Institute.
See had already earned a master’s degree from Tufts University, where she studied agriculture and food, by the time she decided to meld her professional interests and her passion for cooking. In 2000, she enrolled in BU’s Certificate Program in the Culinary Arts.
“I was part of the last class that got to cook at Julia Child’s house with Jacques Pépin,” she recalls. “And I was one of three chosen to cook. Jacques Pépin designed and illustrated the menus and gave me the signed original — that was special.”
After graduating, See capitalized on the English connection she’d made at BU, applying for a job in the chef’s expanding empire and swapping her substantial business salary for a $10-an-hour job as a line cook at Olives, his restaurant in Charlestown. She was quickly promoted to sous-chef, and in 2005 became executive chef at Kingfish Hall, a position that made good use of her knowledge of reputable seafood purveyors.
See’s knowledge of international cuisine and use of adventurous flavor combinations paid off in the creation of Kingfish specialties such as Thai bouillabaisse, which offers an Asian spin on a French standard. Her favorite dish? See says it may be her sous-vide of lobster meat, something she created for a James Beard dinner. “Imagine,” she says, “biting into a lobster tail that was fully cooked, but tender as sole.”
In 2007, See became culinary director for Todd English Enterprises, overseeing the menus in English’s seafood restaurants and traveling with him to large events, where she serves as his sous-chef. She credits her success to her experience looking at the fishing industry from every angle, including from the deck of that Alabama crab boat.
“The fish business has a lot of unique characters in it,” she says. “Now I’m on the other end.”
Katherine See’s Thai Bouillabaisse
2 1½-pound lobsters, reserve lobster bodies
2 pounds Prince Edward Island mussels
2 pounds littleneck clams
1 pound (26-30) shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 pounds red snapper
Mise en place
1 pound Chinese eggplant, sliced on the bias
1 pound carrots, julienned
1 pound diced tomato
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch scallions
Lobster curry broth (you may substitute a store-bought red curry sauce)
24 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces red curry paste
64 ounces lobster stock
4 ounces chopped lemongrass
4 ounces chopped ginger
4 ounces chopped garlic
For the lobster curry broth
Add olive oil to a large sauté pan and place over medium heat. Sauté lemongrass, ginger, and garlic until translucent. Add red curry paste and cook for 2 minutes. Whisk in coconut milk and lobster stock. Reduce for 1 hour.
For the seafood
Add olive oil to a large sauté pan and place over medium heat. Season fish with salt and pepper. When pan is hot, add eggplant, red snapper, mussels, and littlenecks. Cook for 2 minutes and add remaining shrimp, julienned carrots, and reduced lobster curry broth. Place in preheated 350 degree oven for 6 minutes, until mussels and littlenecks open. Remove from oven and top with chopped tomato and fresh lobster meat.
Assemble four paella pans or large shallow bowls. Evenly divide shellfish and top with extra broth, eggplant, carrots, tomato, and fresh-shucked lobster meat. Garnish with scallions, cilantro, and lobster bodies.
This article originally appeared in the summer 2009 Bostonia.2 Comments