Hailing originally from Illinois, Chef Joshua Smith spent most of his culinary career restaurant hopping around St. Augustine, Florida – known for its shrimping history and great local seafood – before landing the executive chef position at Catch 27 seafood restaurant three years ago. Since then, he has been crucial in expanding the restaurant’s farm-to-table menu, using more local providers. We’re thankful Chef Joshua took time out of his busy schedule to tell us all about his favorite methods of preparing seafood and why it’s so important to shop local when you can. Read on to find out more!
Tell us about yourself and your background as a chef.
I was born and raised in Galesburg, Illinois. My first food memory is from the late ’80s or early ’90s, visiting my great-grandmother Edna at The Pizza House, where she worked in the kitchen for a couple of decades before retiring….She would also make huge family dinners from scratch – by herself – for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I moved to Florida in 2003 at the age of 19 and soon got my first cooking job, in St. Augustine. A year later I moved back to Illinois to attend culinary school at the American Culinary Federation, and I graduated from there in 2006.
I moved back to St. Augustine later in 2006 and worked mostly in fine dining for three years. In 2009, I moved to Chicago to work in fine dining restaurants there, as well. In 2010, I moved back to St. Augustine for the third and final time. I worked as a pastry chef for three and a half years before being hired as executive chef at the Ice Plant restaurant and bar two months before it opened, in 2013. I filmed an episode of “The Grill Iron” for Cooking Channel at the Ice Plant in 2014. That first season of “The Grill Iron” was nominated for a James Beard Award for visual and technical excellence. In 2015, I left the Ice Plant to help reopen Catch 27 restaurant, and I’ve been working as the executive chef at Catch 27 ever since.
What is your favorite way to cook seafood, and what is your favorite seafood dish to make (either at work or in your spare time)?
My favorite way to cook seafood is on the grill. It’s easy and it’s faster and a little healthier than sautéing it. My favorite seafood dish would probably be grilled shrimp with rice and seasonal veggies. St. Augustine has a very strong shrimping history and the motorized shrimp trawlers – the boats that catch the local shrimp – were invented in St. Augustine. Those boats were shipped all over the world until about the 1980s. Some of them are still functioning to this day.
Many people are intimidated by the idea of cooking seafood at home. What is your advice for aspiring seafood chefs? Can you share a tip for prepping seafood?
Always buy fresh local seafood the day or day before you plan on cooking it. A good local seafood shop can give you great tips on taste, preparation and serving ideas. Just do not overcook it! Shrimp cooks very quickly and I try to cook mine to a medium/medium-well. It will continue to cook a bit after you take it off the grill, so pull your shrimp from the flame a little early.
What is the biggest misconception about seafood?
Some people think that in order to get fresh seafood and have it prepared properly, you have to go to an upscale restaurant. But because Florida has so many local seafood vendors, shops, stands at farmers markets, etc., it’s just as easy to cook shrimp at home, and it’s cheaper.
What’s your favorite thing to eat at your restaurant Catch 27?
My favorite thing to snack on at Catch would probably be the fried oysters. Our best-selling appetizer is a deviled-egg BLT – it has tomato-bacon jam, local micro greens and crispy fried oysters on top. It’s so good!
Editor’s Note: We’ll definitely visit Chef Joshua the next time we are in St. Augustine – and hope you will too! If you don’t live in a coastal area, here are some tips for finding great seafood where you live.