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Shuck an oyster; eat a masterpiece


Last updated 10/21/2016 at Noon

Executive Chef John Clark, foreground, and Sous Chef Anthony Eads work on the oyster appetizer that won them a gold medal at the recent annual Oysterfest and Washington Seafood Festival Cookoff in Shelton.

People who like to cook sometimes get an urge to be adventurous, adding a pinch of spice here, an herb from the garden there, breaking free from the recipe, if just a little.

Good cooks aren’t afraid to experiment even more, sometimes coming up with recipes on the fly.

But the experts! Like an artist painting a masterpiece or a musician composing an opus, a talented chef can create new, original recipes that delight the eye as well as the taste buds.

That’s what Executive Chef John Clark and Sous Chef Anthony Eads did recently when they created an appetizer out of whole cloth that judges deemed the best of the bunch on Oct. 2 at the annual Oysterfest and Washington Seafood Festival Cookoff in Shelton.

The pair from the restaurant at Mill Creek Country Club won the Gold Medal for Best Appetizer for their Coconut-Crusted Oysters with Serrano Jicama Slaw, Ginger Chips and Kumquat Rum Sauce.

Who woulda thunk it, right? But a scribe from the Mill Creek Beacon had an opportunity this week to watch the pros in action, then to eat the delicious creation. No food critic, he found that a potpourri of distinctive tastes melded smoothly into the delicious whole.

Their appetizer win was really just the cream on top, too; they also won the Grand Champion Gold Medal with best overall points at the cookoff, beating out 20 other chefs.

Some 30,000 seafood lovers attended the annual festival. Although Clark and Eads have entered and won medals at the event previously, the double gold was a first.

It’s an appreciated honor for two men who love what they do. When they’re not busy preparing meals for club members, wedding guests, service club groups and others who dine at the Mill Creek restaurant, they’re busy bringing the joy of cooking to food lovers throughout the Great Northwest.

In fact, coming up on Nov. 3 is an event, Focus on Farming, at which they will cook lunch for some 500 people at Evergreen Fairgrounds.

Using only locally grown and raised products, they have designed a menu that’s guaranteed to get the taste buds tingling: Jamaican carrot bisque; Mixed Greens Salad; Pork Polpettone; Salsa al a Crema Di Granturco; Roasted Rally Potatoes; Roasted Beets; and Mini-Sugar Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake.

Should food lovers want a chance to be part of the fun (and maybe get a chance to try some of the meal), they’re looking for volunteers. Contact John Clark at 425-743-1444 x116 or for more information.

Both chefs discovered a love of cooking early on. Clark grew up poor in the desert near Palm Springs, even living in a campground for a time.

When he was 14, he landed a job in a local restaurant and began working his way up.

Eads grew up in south Seattle, in an Italian family that – no surprise – loves food. He said he always had an interest in cooking, and began teaching himself.

They met at The Rainier Club, considered by many to be Seattle’s “preeminent private club.”

Besides their mutual love of cooking, they discovered they both loved the Beatles as well. With tongue only partially implanted in cheek, they use that metric when interviewing potential employees. They’ll ask, “Beatles or Rolling Stones?”

When Clark was offered the opportunity to become executive chef at the Mill Creek Country Club, he didn’t hesitate to ask Eads to come with him.

They collaborate regularly, whether it’s designing a new menu or a new recipe.

They like their freedom at the Mill Creek restaurant. “Here we’re Italian, Mexican, Asian – there’s always a lot of different things going on,” Eads said.

They also offer cooking classes, showing small groups of six to eight how to prepare a meal, followed by the joy of eating it.

And they regularly enter competitions, such as The Slurp, a shellfish, wine and beer tasting event in Olympia, and the Black Box Culinary Competition, where Clark was so intent on his work while listening to the Beatles through his headphones that he failed to notice his time was up.

“They’re pretty harsh on docking points when you go over your time,” he laughed.

They like to create new recipes using strange ingredients you’re not likely to find in your local grocery store, too.

Take their Crab-Stuffed Jackfruit recipe, for example. Jackfruit is a big, hairy tropical fruit related to breadfruit, usually found in Asian markets.

It’s sticky and distinctive (Jeopardy question: What’s the secret flavoring in Juicy Fruit gum?).

Eads said he went through an entire box of gloves when they were making one recipe. And if you run out of Elmer’s glue but have a jackfruit handy? It’ll work!

So how did they come up with their winning appetizer?

“Usually, we start thinking about it a couple of weeks in advance. But this time we started last February. We just pass ideas back and forth,” Clark said.

“It’s a melding of the minds,” Eads added.

Clark looks on as Eads puts the finishing touches on a medal-winning appetizer.

As often as not, the result is mighty tasty.

“I have a lot of pride in what I do,” Clark said.

Alas, oyster lovers, the new appetizer isn’t on the country club menu. But if you call Clark a couple of days in advance, you just might talk him into creating it again, just for you.

Bon appétit!


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