Many chefs preach about local, sustainable foods, but not many actually get to absorb themselves in the practice.
California-native William D'Auvray grew up fishing before moving to bucolic North Carolina; pair that with over thirty years of experience in professional kitchens and you have a whole lot of practical knowledge on the subject.
Since he recently returned to Thasos Greek Taverna, we figured it was about time to pick his brain.
Clean Plate Charlie: You recently returned to Thasos after a hiatus. What changes have you implemented, if any, since coming back?
D'Auvray: I'm bringing the standard as high as I can; we've gone back to the original recipes on everything. The goal in coming back was to focus on improving what sells while keeping the price points as low as possible and maintaining quality and consistency in the dishes. We make everything on premises; if we didn't make it, it doesn't go out. When I left last year the restaurant was so busy, I wanted to come back and finish the job.
Are you planning any new dishes or features?
I would eventually like to do whole beast dinners, but it's full tilt nose to the grindstone right now with the holidays and season starting. Over the winter I'd like to do some winemaker dinners, as many of the vintners spend time here through the season.
You've worked with all different kinds of cuisine in the past. What are you doing to put your stamp on your new dishes within the confines of a Greek menu?
It's a fresh approach to food. In South Florida people want to eat without feeling too full or heavy. I've kept the same proteins that have been on menu, but I've tweaked the preparation. Like the scallops; I'm serving them with an orzo, feta, steamed asparagus, and browned butter.
Thasos co-owner Sophia Mylona has a master degree in nutrition and places an emphasis on healthy cuisine. How does that tie into the way you cook at the restaurant?
We have a lot in common. I'm very into health and nutrition. Most of my life has been around the oceans; so, seafood is what I love to work with. We also make sure to cook vegetables in ways that don't cut the nutritional value. For example, I use zucchini in a warm Greek salad; I roast it quickly at high heat to soften it slightly; it caramelizes and stays green.
You worked in the fishing industry for a while. How has that played into the way you provision?
When I was in Santa Monica I saw bad fishing practices and good practices, sustainability that was amazing and things that would make people cry. When it comes to the oceans, I think you play by the rules; you ought to think before you eat. People assume that farm-raised salmon and things like that are good for you, because it's salmon; the reality is that a lot of these fish are fed from fish feed that is a basically concentrated form of DDT that has been ingested by the smaller fish. You're ingesting those impurities. That being said, there are responsible ways to farm fish. We buy Loch Duart organic salmon; it's highly regulated and raised in open water pens that are rotated, so it doesn't have the same concentrated areas of pollution found in other fish farming methods and the fish have room to swim around. It's important to know what you're buying.
Spending so much time in North Carolina, you must have seen that cross over into farming. Is there a difference?
There's a proper way to harvest fish, which is humanely in an ice brine. Same goes for other animals. In North Carolina I would get free-range pork, which is the best pork you can get. You can taste it in the meat. When animals are stressed, their adrenaline levels soar; it's that bad flavor. You don't get that when animals are free-range and are used to being handled a lot.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.