Kitchen Inquisition: Chef John Critchley

The man behind Area 31's kitchen talks little fish, memorable oysters and his love of chicken soup

In its short existence, Area 31 at the Epic Hotel has earned quite a reputation for some of the freshest, tastiest seafood around -- a tough accolade to receive considering we live in such a sea-centric city. But Chef John Critchley has pulled it off, and here, the New England-raised chef tells us why it isn't the size of the fish that matters and when it is that he enjoys a fresh poke (the fish, duh).

You grew up in Massachusetts, what's the biggest difference between New England and Florida seafood?
When I think of New England seafood, or northeast seafood for that matter, I think of cold-water creatures like rock lobster, urchins, mussels, soft shell clams, flat fish and monkfish. When I think Florida seafood, my mind races with thoughts of kingfish, mackerels, tuna, wahoo, mahi-mahi, and the abundance of snapper, stone crabs and spiny lobsters that are available in the area.  

Chilean Sea Bass is so five minutes ago, what seems to be the seafood du jour?
The new trend that I am seeing in seafood is little fish. Right now, the smaller the fish, the better.

Every dish must be like a child, but if you had to pick your favorite from Area 31's menu, what would it be?
It is hard for me to choose just one, but if I had to it would be our handmade chittara pasta with spicy crab ragout.

Most popular dish on the menu?
The yellowtail snapper, which seems to be a crowd favorite.
Five ingredients every kitchen should have?
A great olive oil, rich vinegar, any kind of herb, salt and water.

Favorite dish to cook at home?
When I am at home I love to prepare fresh Poke. Zoey particularly loves it.

Favorite food memory?
The first oyster I ever ate, and luckily I've been able to enjoy many more since then.  

The five guests you would invite to your dream dinner party?
I'd invite my family, but I know that's more than five people.

First dish you learned how to make?
Soft pretzels, and I have to give all the credit to Suzanne for teaching me. Thanks, Suzanne.

If you had to eat one dish for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Chicken soup.


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