Tampa Bay’s Best Dish: Seared Red Snapper
BT Nguyen of Restaurant BT chooses the seared red snapper from Vizcaya in North Tampa
How did you get started as a chef?
Well, I’m not a chef. I’m a good cook. Chefs are professionally trained, go to culinary school and they train under a master chef. To give someone a name like chef, I feel like he/she has to earn it. I don’t feel like I’m entitled to that title because I’m self trained and I studied fashion design and business before I was able to channel my passion and become a restaurateur. I made sure I learned how to wash dishes, how to cook and all of the ingredients that are available before I got into it, though.
When did you get your first taste of the restaurant world?
In 1987 I was in a partner in a restaurant called Exodus. That was my first restaurant in Tampa. It was a French Vietnamese restaurant. I was working the front of the house while my partner handled the cooking. It’s funny I still serve some of the same customers from Exodus. It was a 30-seat restaurant that was just different.
When did you really start to explore the culinary world on your own?
It was about 17 years ago when I opened my first very restaurant on Gandy Boulevard called Café BT. At that point, I didn’t want to work for anyone else. But in order to do that, I had to learn how to do cook. So I started with a small menu and everyday I learned how to do new things. I read a lot and I trusted my palate. I base my food on one word: balance. I grew up in a culture where you don’t eat 20 pounds of steak. You have a little bit of steak, a little bit of vegetable and a little bit of starch so you have balance. You have to let the food express itself without overpowering.
When’s the first time you came to Vizcaya?
When you’re in this industry, you have a lot of chefs who talk about other chefs. And it’s funny because I’ve always heard about Felix and how difficult he was and how the great the food was (laughs). The reason why I came was because my family goes to France every summer in the Basse region, which is where Felix is from. Going there, I fell in love with the style of food and the way they take the purest food and cook it without killing it with sauce. And it’s also very healthy, and I’m a health nut. So I decided to try Felix. The first day I came in, I’m just blown away. I’m like ‘are you kidding me? We have this in Tampa?’ Felix is a rare commodity in Tampa Bay. He’s not only talented, he’s very passionate and to have this in the community is incredible.
What makes it one of the best dishes in Tampa Bay?
I love whole fish, so that’s one thing that attracted me. To me, it’s the best way to eat any seafood, especially fish. It takes guts to be able to cook a whole fish like that. It’s very basic, healthy and clean. When we would go to Spain, we’d eat a whole grilled fish. Felix uses the same technique but with local fish from Tampa Bay. In my opinion, he’s one of the best chefs in Tampa Bay.
Seared Red Snapper
By: Felix Piedra, Vizcaya Restaurant
Pan seared red snapper that’s baked with chicken broth, saffron, potatoes, extra virgin olive oil, sherry wine vinegar, diced garlic, fresh pepper, chilis and parsley.
Vizcaya is located at 10905 N. Dale Mabry Hwy., Tampa, FL 33618. For more information, call (813) 968-7400 or visit www.VizcayaRestaurante.com.