Chef on Call

A Lesson in Seafood, Sustainably Speaking

Oceanaire's Chef Rob Klink teaches two ardent gastronomes about cooking seafood and sustainable practices.
By David Hagedorn
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, May 21, 2008; Page F01

As Shannon and Jamie Konn dined on fish cakes and salmon rillettes at the bar of the Westend Bistro in January, they unwittingly inspired today's column. Standing near the petite blonde and her tall, dark-haired husband, I noticed how carefully they savored each bite. But I could catch only snippets of commentary.

So I moved in closer and struck up a conversation. As I'd suspected, the Konns, both lawyers in their mid-20s, proved to be ardent gastronomes; they eat in restaurants two or three evenings a week and cook at their Dupont Circle home on the other nights.

Shannon characterized the food they prepare as Mediterranean: healthful meals that always include fresh vegetables and ingredients such as goat cheese, roasted peppers, olive oil, fleur de sel, olives, garlic, fresh herbs and one of the couple's passions, mushrooms. The more the two talked about food, the more animated they became.

Their enthusiasm sparked an idea. Instead of granting one of the usual e-mail requests, I contacted the Konns a few months later to find out whether they would like to have a chef teach them a thing or two.

They were delightedly amenable.

Remembering what they had ordered at Westend, I put the Konns in touch with Rob Klink, who has been the chef at the Oceanaire Seafood Room downtown since 2002. Klink is no poseur where fish is concerned. When he's not working, the 38-year-old, neat and trim like a Marine, is likely to be trolling the waters near his Southern Maryland home in Chesapeake Beach, where he lives with his wife, Pam, and 9-year-old daughter, Megan.

Klink and the Konns collaborated on the lesson plan. The couple requested steamed mussels as an appetizer, halibut with mushrooms, something with grilled swordfish and a side dish of broccoli rabe. The chef persuaded them to try stuffed squid -- something they had never had before -- and rewarded their good sportsmanship by throwing in the recipe for Oceanaire's prized crab cakes.

On a summerlike Saturday this month, Klink put the Konns to work. They were clearly at ease in their English-basement kitchen, well equipped with wedding swag received last year. Precision chopping, dicing and mincing posed no challenge.

The menu was blissfully uncomplicated. Chef and students prepared the crab filling for the squid tubes, then stuffed them and set them in the oven to bake. The broccoli rabe was done in less than 30 minutes. The rosemary vinaigrette was a cinch for Shannon, who was already used to making her own dressings.

Steamed mussels figure among the Konns' favorite restaurant dishes (the ones at Cafe du Parc are best, they say). But their only experience with preparing the mollusks was as a paella component.

Klink started with the basics: "Put the mussels in water in a bowl big enough for you to get your hands under them and bring them up from the bottom," he said. The idea was to sift them between their fingers to clean and inspect them at the same time. Then, "pull off any seaweed beards, if there are any."

The water reinvigorates the mussels. "If they aren't closed, that doesn't necessarily mean they are bad. That's an old wives' tale," he said, instructing the Konns to pinch together or tap on any open shells. "If they stay together, they're good." Noting Shannon's skepticism, Klink added, "Yeah, my wife throws them out if they're open even a crack."

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