If Deep Blu Seafood Grille chef de cuisine Thomas Op't Holt had his own restaurant, it wouldn't be your average sort of place.
"I'd name it Antoinette’s Parlor & Liquor Bar: A French Bistro set in Jack Kerouac’s Secret Lair... a gastropub-style French bistro," says Holt. "I really love how cutting-edge Kerouac's writing is, still to this day. He was the original beatnik, and I feel like his vibe would be the perfect backdrop for a hip restaurant."
Given his penchant for fantastical French fare, you might be surprised to learn that isn't what Holt is preparing at Deep Blu, a 10-month-old restaurant located at the new Harbourside Place shopping center in Jupiter. Instead, the sophisticated supper club — and its Michel Star-trained chef de cuisine — specializes in serving fresh, local, and sustainable seafood.
Each day, Holt will walk the nearby docks across the street from his restaurant's kitchen, meeting fishermen straight off the boat to select the best catch of the day. It's what he calls a true "dock-to-dining-room" menu. So fresh, in fact, the menu will change on a daily basis depending on what Holt brings in from the local fishermen, highlighted with a ceviche of the day and the "chef feature" — a full fish fillet prepared to order and paired with a wine, beer, or cocktail.
We caught up with the 29-year-old chef to find out what the South Florida food scene means to him.
Title: Chef de cuisine at Deep Blu Seafood Grille
Hometown: Elmhurst, Illinois
Education: The Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, New York.
New Times: What inspired you to begin cooking professionally?
Holt: Cooking is something that I identified with at an early age. For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a chef. My inspiration came from several places. Shows like Emeril Live or The Frugal Gourmet showed me that there were many different opportunities out there for chefs to be creative and unique. I also had a great mentor at an early age that guided me towards the professional side of being a chef.
What’s the first important meal or dish you remember making?
The first time I cook for something important was while I was at York High School competing in FCCLA cooking competition. I made pan-seared salmon with herb potatoes and apple crostata. This competition led to the Culinary Institute of America noticing and recruiting me.
What’s your favorite restaurant in South Florida (besides yours, of course)?
Calaveras. It's right across the street from Deep Blu inside Harbourside, but that's not why I love it so much. It's my Cheers. Their staff is great, make you feel at home, ice-cold beer,
What’s your favorite dish on your menu right now?
The surf-and-turf tartare is my favorite right now. We use Alabama's Southeast Family Farms beef tenderloin and a fried oyster. I got to work with my sous chef very closely on this dish. Both of us brought some great ideas to the table, and I love [that we are able to] push each other to be more creative. It also showcases some very simple ingredients, even though the resulting flavors are anything but. It will leave your palate craving another bite.
Do you have a favorite dish at another restaurant?
The #23 at Manzo's Italian Deli [in West Palm Beach]. Best sub I've had since I moved to Florida. Simple food made the right way with quality ingredients. I try to get there once a month.
What do you cook for family and friends or for yourself when there's no one to impress?
I love to cook for family and friends. People really seem to like it when I cook up large cuts of meat like prime rib or beef tenderloin. But if it's just me, it will be a roast beef sandwich with Swiss cheese, lettuce, and spicy brown mustard. Or if I'm really feeling uninspired, just a pepperoni pizza.
What's the best dish you’ve ever eaten in South Florida?
I know exactly the best dish I've ever eaten without a doubt. But it was not in Florida. I'd have to say it was the entire dining experience, from start to finish, at Aliena in Chicago. Of course, if I had to name the best dish here — I'm sorry, but I have to be honest. In Palm Beach, it was the chicken and waffles at Coolinary Café. Perfectly cooked chicken and a crisp waffle served with honey and lemon. Again, just simple food prepared the right way.
Who is your favorite local chef?
Daniel Boulud. He has been one of my favorite chefs for years and years. His book Letters to a Young Chef was one of the many I read that prepared me for culinary school and also the industry after I graduated.
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Name one kitchen tool you could not live without?
What do you feel is lacking from the South Florida food scene?
Passion. It seems that there are a lot of restaurants that are all about the all-mighty dollar. They pay more attention to their bottom line than the true satisfaction of the guest. I feel that it's our job [as chefs] to take the guest under our wing and share our passion for the best ingredients and the latest cooking techniques. If we do that properly, the guest leaves informed and sharing that passion. I would like to see more independent chef-driven concepts and
Deep Blu Seafood Grille is located at 119 Dockside Circle, Jupiter. Call 561-273-6680, or visit deepblujupiter.com.
Nicole Danna is a food writer covering Broward and Palm Beach counties. To get the latest in food and drink news in South Florida, follow her @SoFloNicole or find her latest food pics on the BPB New Times Food & Drink Instagram.