The new owners of the Peter Shields Inn took over with the idea of making it the best restaurant not only in Cape May, but in all of New Jersey. Part of the plan was to get the right chef to make that happen.
For Carl Messick, executive chef, accepting the job offer was a no-brainer. Joining the team in January 2011, they launched a brand new menu with a completely different philosophy behind the food.
The new menu constantly changes with the seasons based on availability of the products they serve on their table. They changed from signature dishes to plates showcasing the best of every season.
While a few menu items remain constant due to customer demand, most change throughout the course of the year. The menu has a special emphasis on sustainability. Their seafood dishes use nothing overfished or in danger of being overfished.
The menu also stays current by utilizing modern kitchen methods blended with traditional cooking techniques.
For the best table in town, ask about the secluded chef's table for two, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, on the second floor of the Peter Shields Inn. The special seven-course meal includes a view of Delaware on a clear night.
What are your culinary influences?
I have many culinary influences. First and foremost, my older brother who got me into this profession from a young age. I worked with him a few years and he will come bail me out from time to time when I need someone to fill in and he is available, always a nice thing to have. Chip Roman chef/owner of Blackfish, Mica and Ela in Philadelphia. I worked with him and learned a good amount. He is a young passionate chef who is very successful and does things the right way and there is a reason why he has some of the nicest restaurants in Philadelphia. I was lucky to be able to absorb so much knowledge from him. It helped me grow. There are so many chefs who have paved the way for our generation of chefs, who I looked up to and still do to see what they are doing and see how they adapt to new trends.
Which foods are your guilty pleasure?
Foods that I would consider as being my guilty pleasures would be the Wawa Italian hoagie with pickles and hot peppers. Seems to be a staple whenever I need something quick to eat. Sam's broccoli pizza during summer time, would be up there as well. As a chef, many people tend to think we eat such glorious things all the time. I do have a very fond love of foie gras, whenever it's on a menu. It's definitely one of the courses I order when I go out.
What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
I have had many over the years; Le Bernardin and Aureole in New York City always rate high on my list. I would say my favorite meal ever eaten was about four years ago, when I rented a limo for my sous chef, lead cook and myself to treat them to Bouley in New York City, as a thank you. We had an amazing nine-course dinner paired with the best wines available. The reason for this being the best meal was, not only was the food itself amazing but the company I was with as well. The overall experience shared together was what made it the best meal. I wouldn't trade that night for the world.
Which local chef is doing food you admire?
I have a few. I think Chef Jason Hippen owner/executive chef of Jays on Third in Stone Harbor is a friend of mine who I look up to. His menu is always so thought out and well presented in such a clean way. His flavors always compliment each other, something that is lost a lot of the time.
Executive Chef Anthony Micari of The Ebbitt Room at the Virginia Hotel has been doing some great things with his menus as well.
How would you describe your personal cooking "style?"
My cooking style .... the phrase Contemporary American is something that tends to be overplayed but my philosophy on cooking and creating menus is keeping it seasonal, keeping it simple, keeping it as local as possible, and letting the main ingredient do the work. We won't ever showcase anything that is in danger of being overfished or considered overfished. I like our plates to be simple in terms of, there might be 10 to 12 ingredients on the plate .... or there might be only 2 or 3, but they are all there to showcase the main ingredient not to over power it. Molecular gastronomy is something that is getting worked into a lot of menus these days. We try to have a nice balance of techniques to achieve our overall goal. Our menus are constantly changing with each season or when new ingredients become available to us.
Do you watch any culinary shows on TV?
I don't watch any shows consistently. I did enjoy Alton Brown's "Good Eats" because it actually gave you knowledge of certain items. I will pop on "Chopped" from time to time. "Top Chef" is another one I might flip on from time to time. One of the best culinary television shows ever was "World Class Cuisine" from the 90s. They would go around to all of the top-rated European restaurants and film a chef cooking an appetizer, entree and dessert. Half the time it needed to be translated, but you got to see the chef at their craft behind their stove, working in their kitchen. I wish we had more shows like that available these days.
Do you cook at home?
If I had a dollar for every time I have been asked this question. I don't cook at home nearly enough. When I'm off, I like to go out and enjoy a nice dinner somewhere. My 2014 resolution will be to cook more at home this upcoming year.
What's one kitchen ingredient any home cook shouldn't be without?
Fresh herbs, salt and pepper. Many times I'm asked "How come I can't get it to taste like yours" from home cooks. Ninety-nine percent of the time it's the seasoning and the ability to use an abundance of fresh herbs.
What about a kitchen gadget?
There are so many .... to me I would say either a really good blender (Vita Prep) or a Kitchen Aid mixer. With the mixer you can bake, make pasta, sausage, etc. Vita Prep are great for making vinaigrettes, soups, and purees.
How about a cookbook?
Cookbooks are tough for me. The books I have are more about looking at big city chef's artwork on their plates. I would say any of the "Bible" cookbooks. That being said, for the home cook "The Sauce Bible," "The Soup Bible" or "The Bread Bible" all give you the foundations to work from and then you get to experiment from there.
When did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
I knew I wanted to become a chef at age of 13 or 14. My brother was going through culinary school and he was a little over six years older then me. He really got me into this profession. I washed dishes as soon as I could get a job at 14. I worked all through summers and school years as much as I legally could, to gain knowledge. Then I was saving money for a car, but I was so dedicated to that goal that I ended up not realizing what tools and fundamentals I was gaining through out my years as prep, working my way through the ranks of the kitchens. At 14, I started to grasp the idea of "this is what I wanted to do."
What do you enjoy cooking most?
I don't think there is one thing I enjoy cooking the most. I enjoy the seasons and what each season brings, for example, when the tuna run off our coast and down in the Carolinas, the ability to get amazing tuna, literally 30 to 40 miles east into the ocean. Then, when spring starts all of the fresh early vegetables start to come into season. Or when we go into the fall season and root vegetables are at their prime and more hearty dishes such as short ribs or venison go on the menu. It's cooking throughout each season that I enjoy the most.
What's your ultimate desert-island meal?
Hands down my mother's vegetable soup paired with my grandfather's lasagna. Maybe I'll score some brownie points with this answer from mom, but it's something that if I were away, I could have it to eat over and over again. I love her soup and I miss my grandfather's lasagna. His sauce was amazing, and it just is a childhood memory that will always hold dear to me. If it were a "professional" deserted island then possibly foie gras. Any sort of fish that could be used in raw forms with many variations to choose, and wine.
•18 ounces sushi grade yellow fin or big eye tuna loin, cut into small dice
•2 tablespoons lemon oil
•Salt and white pepper, to taste
•Fresh chives, finely chopped
•2 ripe mangos, peeled, cut into small dice
Mix tuna with lemon oil, salt and pepper, and chives. Reserve diced mango.
•2 ripe avocados, peeled, cut into large dice
•3 limes, juiced
•Salt and white pepper, to taste
Puree avocados in blender with lime juice, salt and pepper. Cover tightly and refrigerate until needed.
•2 tablespoons miso paste
•1 tablespoon ginger root
•1 each clove garlic, peeled
•1 each shallot, peeled
•2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
•1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
•1 tablespoon soy sauce
•1 egg yolk
•1 lime, juiced
•1 tablespoon sugar
•5 tablespoons soy bean oil or canola oil
•1 teaspoon sesame oil
In a blender: Puree all ingredients except sesame oil and soy bean oil. Turn blender on high, slowly add soy bean oil until emulsified. Finish with sesame oil. Adjust seasoning.
To assemble Tuna Tartare:
Using a 3-inch ring mold, spoon and press a layer of mango, then avocado into mold. Fill remaining space with tuna mixture. Spoon vinaigrette around tuna.
Makes: 6 portions