Chef Demetrios Haronis really knows his Jersey seafood, and now he has the credentials to prove it.
Haronis beat out eight other contestants from around the state to win the 2012 Jersey Seafood Challenge on Thursday at The Governor's mansion in Princeton. But the 42-year-old executive chef at Tropicana Casino and Resort's seafood restaurant, Fin, isn't one to rest on his laurels. Immediately after the competition, he was back at work for Chef's at the Shore event in Gardner's Basin.
"I'm kind of tired, but it's a really good thing - it validates what we're doing," he said. "We started with a seafood restaurant but it's really evolved to focusing on New Jersey ingredients. We started tasting wines (from state vineyards) and we were surprised how good they are and it just snowballed from there."
The winning plate Thursday night featured New Jersey produce such as corn and fava beans around soft-shell crabs from Absecon Bay. But Haronis' dishes are not just about fish caught at the Jersey shore, he goes out of his way to find chicken from Griggstown Farm in Princeton, cheese from Valley Shepherd Creamery in Long Valley and Mangalista pork, which he describes as "the kobe of pork."
"We have the finest products here, we might as well highlight it," is his philosophy.
Haronis' will represent New Jersey when he competes with other state champions for the title of King of American Seafood at the Great American Seafood Cookoff in New Orleans on Aug. 11.
"That part is great, I feel really great about that," he said, adding the input he received from judges mostly centered around presentation and kitchen efficiency.
But the dish itself, he'll leave alone. After years of working in shore restaurants such as The Lobster House in Cape May, Longport Inn in Longport and Windrift in Avalon, he knows seafood.
"I'm really happy with the dish we have now," he said, but you can give him your own feedback on it whenever you see beer-battered soft-shell crab on the specials menu.
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