By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
Mitchell McCamey estimates he’s worked in 60 restaurants in his lifetime – everything from a greasy spoon to a James Beard award-winner.
“I’ve worked for two of the greatest chefs in the country and I was lucky enough to work with them when they were up and coming, rather than already at the top,” said McCamey, referring to Mike Fernandez of Vail, Colo., and Bill Schleusner of Birmingham, Ala. “From them, I learned the value of fresh, local cuisine.”
McCamey, who grew up in Okolona, has brought those lessons home to Tupelo, where he is the new chef partner with Lizzette Van Osten at Home Chef Market.
“No matter what you want to eat, support your local restaurants, support your local farmers,” McCamey stressed.
And he practices what he preaches.
The Home Chef Market specializes in locally produced products, such as milk, honey, coffee, bacon, craft beer and produce.
“The whole farm-to-table concept – I had to learn that – but my grandparents’ generation didn’t,” he said. “They always had a garden. They raised their own vegetables. They’re good people and they know good food. I learned more from them than any chef.”
McCamey began working in restaurants as a teenager.
“I grew up cooking in Okolona,” he said. “I made my way to college working in any restaurant you can think of between Okolona and Mississippi State,” including Anthony’s in West Point.
In his 20s, he moved to Vail, where he would find work in more progressive restaurants. He attended culinary school there and went to work for Chef Fernandez.
“I love all food – mom and pop as well as fine dining,” he said. “Truffles are amazing, but they’re not better than the best cheeseburger you ever had.”
McCamey’s desire to move closer to home eventually landed him in Birmingham, where he went to work for Chris Hastings at the Hot and Hot Fish Club. He would also spend time learning from other chefs, such as Schleusner, George Rice and Frank Stitt in Birmingham.
“You’re only going to get out of a job what you put in to it,” he said. “To be a chef, you’ve got to love washing dishes. That’s what it boils down to.”
McCamey has begun some interactive cooking classes at Home Chef Market to help spark the cooking passion in other people.
“We teach some basic stuff, but a lot of times we throw people into the fire,” he said. “You’re not being lectured to. You have a knife in your hand or a whisk in your hand.”
Ironically, McCamey said he never cooks for himself when he’s at home.
“If you look in my house, you’re probably going to find protein shakes and fresh fruit,” he said. “I go to my grandmaw’s house on Sundays and she cooks for me. It’s funny, when I go to my grandmother’s house, they never ask me to cook. They don’t even think of me as a cook.”
12 head-on large pink shrimp
1⁄2 pound bay scallops
6 long, thin strips of orange peel, pith removed
1 small leek, cut in half and sliced into half-inch pieces
2 small carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 ribs of celery, roughly chopped
4 Roma tomatoes, crushed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups roughly chopped fennel fronds
4 fresh thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
12 long basil stems, leaves removed
2 quarts vegetable stock
2 teaspoons toasted and ground Spanish saffron
1⁄2 stick unsalted butter, divided
1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
3 shallots minced
4 large cloves garlic, minced
8 fresh thyme sprigs
1 fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups trimmed and diced ribs of celery
2 cups halved and sliced leeks
11⁄2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
6 long, thin strips orange peel, pith removed
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
6 Roma tomatoes, blanched, peeled, seeded and quartered
12 ounces black grouper fillet, cut in 1-ounce pieces
4 large stone crab claws, cracked (optional)
12 mussels, scrubbed
2 tablespoons minced fennel fronds
1 cup finely chopped basil leaves
1 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
6 fried soft-shell crabs (optional)
12 slices grilled sourdough bread
For the seafood broth, peel the shrimp, leaving the heads and last tail segment intact. Set the shrimp aside to use for the bouillabaisse and reserve the shells. Pick the feet (tough muscle where the scallop is attached to the shell) off the bay scallops, reserve, and set aside the scallops for the bouillabaisse.
Combine shrimp shells, reserved scallop feet and the remaining seafood broth ingredients – except for the saffron – in a large, stainless steel saucepan. Bring the broth to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat to low and simmer the stock for 40 minutes. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve, discarding the solids. Stir in the saffron and set the broth aside until ready to use.
For the bouillabaisse, heat 2 tablespoons of butter and 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stainless steel pan over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes; do not allow vegetables to brown. Stir in the fennel, carrots, celery and leeks. Season vegetables with 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and black pepper. Add the bay leaves and orange peels and continue cooking for about 5 minutes or until vegetables are tender.
Add clams and tomato quarters, cover and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the reserved seafood broth, increase heat to high, cover and cook 3 minutes more. Stir in the reserved shrimp and scallops, grouper pieces, crab claws, if using, and mussels. Cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until the mussels have opened. Remove the lid and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, fennel fronds, basil and parsley. Season the liquid with the remaining teaspoon of salt. Arrange vegetables and seafood attractively in 12 wide soup bowls and ladle about 1⁄2 cup of the broth into each bowl (enough to come three-fourths of the way up the sides of the bowls). Top each bowl with half of a fried soft-shell crab, if using, and 1 grilled sourdough crouton smeared with several tablespoons of rouille. Serve immediately.
* Rouille is fiery-flavored, rust-colored sauce of hot chiles, garlic, fresh breadcrumbs and olive oil pounded into a paste.