Tampa Bay’s Best Dish: Jaggery Glazed Halibut
A 2012 James Beard Award nominee, Chef Chad Johnson of SideBern’s selects the jaggery glazed halibut from Chef Habteab Hamde of Bern’s Steak House
How did you get started as a chef?
My first exposure was when I was a young kid. I grew up in Kentucky and my best friend’s mother owned a little Cajun/Creole seafood house called Whaler’s Catch. They served stuff like blackened fish, peel-and-eat shrimp and oysters Rockefeller and all those old Cajun dishes. It was nice, made-from-scratch cooking and I was always running around there as a kid. As I got older, she would pay us. I wasn’t really working that much, well, we thought we were working but we would just sit back there on the weekend for an hour and help make croutons. I did that off and on when I was in middle school and then started bussing tables for a little money and got hooked into the lifestyle, like anything else. It’s really the only thing I’ve ever done but I really like it.
What makes this Bern’s dish one your favorites?
In my field, being able to say something is my favorite dish is almost impossible because it’s constantly evolving. So whenever Hab (Habteab Hamde, Chef de Cuisine, Bern’s Steak House) changes his menu, I come down and taste it. I think every chef takes inspiration from each other and this dish is my new current obsession. Halibut is one of my favorite fishes and Hab puts a unique spin on this dish.
When was the first time you had the halibut?
The first time I tried it was about two weeks ago. But my favorite dish is always changing, you know? In two weeks, my favorite dish could be a hot dog from the Kwik-E-Mart. That goes with the territory of being a chef, though. I’m fortunate enough that I don’t have to leave my own company and I can get some amazing food. If I see something different, I’m trying it.
Even though your favorite dish is always rotating, what makes this one of the best in Tampa Bay right now?
Stylistically for what it has, you have halibut with pork belly, which is an insanely rich meat combined with the delicateness of the halibut to create a really cool contrast. And then the rice cake is really delicate and has this coriander seed in it, which has this unique, sweet perfume taste. So you have these really strong features and really light features to it and every bite is a little bit different. Texturally it’s all over the board.
As a James Beard Award nominee, you obviously have a diverse palate. Are there any foods you don’t like?
The only food I don’t eat is raw onions. I’ve eaten the brains of almost every animal you can think of. I’ve eaten more testicles than I care to admit to. Livers, kidneys; the blood and guts are one of my obsessions because as a chef, you get burnt out on mashed potatoes and green beans. You almost always try and push the envelope of your palate. But raw onions are just so simple of an ingredient and I love cooked onions but a raw, shaved onion is not my thing.
Jaggery Glazed Halibut
By Habteab Hamde, Chef de Cuisine, Bern’s Steak House
Halibut, pork belly, coriander sticky rice cake, Puy lentils, tangy stir fry vegetables, ramps
Bern’s Steak House is located at 1208 S. Howard Ave, Tampa, FL 33606. For more information, call (813) 251-2421 or visit www.BernsSteakHouse.com.