Salt Fish restaurant owner, chef finds inspiration overseas for new items in 2020
Chefs have a few fears, and one of them is getting into a rut on their menu and hitting a wall when it comes to finding inspiration.
Kirsten Mitchell, owner and chef of Salt Fish in Carolina Beach, was proactive about this after wrapping up the first year at her new restaurant. In January, she and her sous chef shut down the restaurant and traveled around tasting things in Vietnam for an entire month.
Mitchell, no stranger to travel, said the temporary pause of restaurant life — walking through the streets of Vietnam smelling garlic and incense wafting from the stoves of street vendors — has cured any inspiration hang-up she may have had.
Salt Fish opened last winter serving Polynesian-inspired dishes with Mitchell’s Caribbean flair (she grew up in the Bahamas). Mitchell earned a name for herself over the years at 1900 Lounge and Ceviche’s; years ago she started the Vittles food truck before selling it.
When she opened Salt Fish in Carolina Beach, she knew she wanted to look beyond Latin-fusion, and the more she thought about Bahamian food, she felt limited. The result is a gorgeous blend of her French training, some French Polynesian influence, new-school tiki drinks and local seafood.
Now the restaurant is back open with Mitchell’s return stateside and there are a few dishes influenced from her whirlwind of a trip where she said she had bahn mi, pho, Vietnamese egg coffee and street food nearly every day for just a few dollars.
“In Hanoi, we had the most amazing land snails tossed in lemongrass, garlic and chili oil,” she said last week, sitting in a booth of her 35-seat restaurant. “Well, I knew we couldn’t do land snails here because that would be so hard to find, but we’ve basically taken local clams and treated them the same way.”
Find “Clams Hanoi” with lemongrass, garlic and chilis served with a chili-lime dipping sauce and topped with fresh cilantro. Of course a bahn mi sandwich is on the menu, in the form of a slider and comes with chicken liver mousse, pork belly, pickled vegetables and spicy mayo all on a crispy baguette with fries.
One of the most interesting souvenirs Mitchell brought home in her “chef brain” is the crispy pancake.
Mitchell said there are street vendors selling as snacks savory, eggy pancakes wrapped in butter lettuce and topped with lots of fresh herbs. Mitchell felt creating the same pancake would be tough in her kitchen, but saw in Vietnam how chefs would use the see-through rice paper and heat them up on flattops until they are crispy.
“It never even crossed my mind you could do that,” she said. “So we are doing a delicious crispy pancake on the menu and we stuff it with pork belly, shrimp and cabbage and serve it with a peanut dipping sauce, butter lettuce and fresh herbs.”
These Vietnamese dishes effortlessly pair with whats already on the menu — conch fritters, tuna poke, jerk shrimp skewers, pineapple stuffed shrimp and Polynesian-fried chicken.
I cannot wait to see what else Mitchell comes up with throughout the year until her next travel and R&R session. I know not every chef or restaurant industry worker can shut down and unplug for an entire month, but it seems like a long-term investment in employees, the menu and a chef’s inspiration.
“You have to go and get out there and get out there to really experience new cultures,” she said.
To learn more about Salt Fish visit the restaurant on Facebook — Facebook.com/CBsaltfish — and stay tuned for a special Vietnamese dinner in the works for late February.
Source: Thanks https://www.thetimesnews.com/foodanddining/20200218/chef-kirsten-mitchell-pushed-pause-to-go-forward