With his classical training and more than 20 of years of practical culinary experience, it’s safe to say that executive chef Riah Kuenzi is no amateur when it comes to cooking and enjoying seafood. Day in and day out, he helps customers create the poke bowls of their dreams at Miko Poke, located in Madison, Wisconsin. We recommend following the restaurant’s Instagram page for some seriously mouthwatering dishes. We’re so glad that Chef Riah took time out of his busy schedule to dish with us on all things seafood!
Tell us about yourself and your background as a chef.
I have been cooking for over 20 years, with vast experience in haute French cuisine – working at all levels as a professional mercenary cook, falling in love with the production and finesse of fine dining, and applying classic French methodology to modern American cuisine. I still love the hustle, bustle and stress of being a chef, so I still throw myself willingly into the fire and run restaurants for a living.
What is your favorite way to cook seafood, and what is your favorite seafood dish to make?
Being a classically trained, French-inspired chef, “low and slow” is a preferred method on most things – braising, confit, even roasting. With fish and seafood, it’s more often high heat and faster. Mussels, salmon filet or a nice piece of mahi, a little oil, salt, and pepper, and a good sear in a hot pan…magic. One of my favorites is actually red wine-braised octopus, which is easy and decadent. It makes a wonderful terrine, cold salad or ceviche.
Many are intimidated when trying to cook seafood at home. What is your advice for aspiring seafood chefs?
Culinary students and new cooks are always afraid of the unknown – they’ll cower in the corner when asked to prep, butcher or cook new things. I’ve tried to believe that fear was healthy and understandable, because they just wanted to do it right, but I now think that tossing that fear out the window and going for it is a better mindset. Try it, taste it, feel it, mess it up, get better at it, and make new mistakes. It’s an adventure. Do it for the experience and the knowledge. Just get after it, make it, and then perfect it.
Can you share a tip for seafood prep?
Seafood should never smell fishy. If anything, truly fresh fish should smell sweet, like a melon.
What is the biggest misconception about seafood?
That frozen fish is bad, because it’s not. Flash freezing halts the fish’s decaying processes without damaging tissues, nutrients or taste. A report a couple years ago by the USDA estimated that from 2011 to 2012, about 23 percent of fresh seafood that made it to supermarkets was discarded before it reached consumers. For sustainability, a global switch from fresh to frozen would significantly reduce this waste, which in turn would help the world’s depleted fish stocks rebound. Freezing also makes shipping seafood to faraway markets – rather than flying it – possible and more economical. Plus, there’s a smaller environmental impact.
What’s your favorite thing to eat at your restaurant Miko Poke?
The Hawaiian Bowl and the Down Island Curry are my two favorites. Also, I like that we’ve created an environment and system that allows our patrons to mix and match any of our fresh ingredients, so people can make their own custom creations. Fresh and vibrant for the win!