by GHM Staff
What makes food extreme? Is it using exotic ingredients? Or cooking under outrageous conditions? Chef Terry French is accomplished at both. A self-styled culinary bad boy, he has blazed a unique trail to being a celebrity chef. Before graduating from Scottsdale Culinary Institute he served two world tours in the U.S. Navy, spent nine years as a tournament fisherman, nine years as first mate on a sport-fishing boat, and earned his captain’s license to boot.
As a chef, it’s cooking outdoors and in adverse conditions that really gets the creative juices flowing for French. His years spent outdoors, which began even as a child hunting and fishing with his dad, have forged tough mental attitude and innate resourcefulness. As long as he has fuel, materials and fresh ingredients, he says he is happy to cook anything, anywhere, anytime. That claim was put to the test in 2012 when he entered and won the Food Network’s Extreme Chef competition. In the final episode, French found himself atop an elephant navigating the remote jungles in Thailand, then racing up hundreds of stairs to a Buddhist temple. He wowed the judges with his “perfect bite,” and earned the title, World Extreme Chef.
Today Terry splits his time between the road participating in special events and cooking at Tavolino Della Notte in Coral Springs, Florida. But regardless of his locale, he seems to be always on the move, looking for another event, adventure or culinary challenge. Through the years he has prepared meals in the most unlikely places and using whatever methods were available.
“I’ve cooked fish on hot rocks over bamboo and over coconuts. I’ve smoked fish in palm leaves and even steamed it in bags by the heat of the sun. Every situation is different, but even if you can’t find a heat source to cook with there’s always sashimi,” he says with a grin. “That works, too!”
Having a background as a fishing pro has also influenced French’s approach in the kitchen. Practically, he says being a captain and being a chef carry a similar responsibility, as you’re always looking out for the welfare of your team and you’re always trying to prepare for the unexpected. But he also carries a deeper appreciation for the seafood he prepares.
“I have a real respect for the environment and the sustainable development of our oceans and waterways,” says French. “The fish that I catch are treated with respect and reverence. I’m taking a life that is meaningful and beautiful and I handle it that way from start to finish.”
Of course, it’s obvious that when French speaks of “respect” part of what he means is creating incredible flavors worthy of the fish that’s been caught. When asked what he likes to eat after a long day on the water, the answer comes easily.
“There are a couple definites on my list. I’m after french onion soup to restore my electrolytes. and I like to pair that with a great piece of fish simmered in coconut milk curry and fresh hot chili’s with lime. Of course a tall glass of rum over ice is also a must–simple, plain and comforting.”
These days, Chef French is spending a little less time fishing and little more time cheffing. When he’s not globe trotting as an ambassador for brands such as Gunter Whilhelm and Chef Works, he’s participating in special events or working with his nonprofit organization, Chefs for Life. But the wilds are always calling, and remain his inspiration for creating extreme eats.
Snapper Grille with Dipping Sauce
Whole snapper, scaled and cleaned(one 3-5 lb fish or two 1-1/2 lb fish)
Coconut oil, for brushing
Salt and pepper
Big handful of fresh herbs cilantro or basil
2 lemons/limes or 1 orange
3-inch section of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
Additional lemon or lime wedges for the table
1/2 tsp brown sugar
2 tbl coconut oil
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 to 1 fresh chili pepper, sliced thinly (depends on your heat preference)
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 tsp fish sauce
Pre-heat your outdoor grill. Clean the fish inside and out, and pat very dry. Cut 3 to 4 vertical slashes to the bone on each side of the fish. Brush the fish inside and out with coconut oil. Season the fish with salt and pepper inside and out. Stuff with the fresh herbs, citrus slices and ginger slices, both inside the fish and tuck them inside the slashes. Place the fish inside a fish grill basket and close the basket. Grill for 6-8 minutes on direct heat (covered) then flip the basket and grill another 6-8 minutes (covered). The fish is done when it flakes easily at the thickest part of the fish.
To make the dipping sauce, heat a small sauce pot over medium high heat. Add the cooking oil and when hot, add the garlic and the chili peppers. Cook for 30 seconds. Add the soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar and let cook for another 15 seconds. Serve the sauce with lemon/lime wedges with the fish.
Whole steamed snapper with spring onion
1 lb whole snapper fish
4 tbsps light soy sauce
4 tbsps coconut oil (or grapeseed)
white pepper (fresh)
1 bunch spring onions (thinly sliced)
Set up a wok or a pot wide enough to use as a steamer. You’ll need a trivet or a rack to put the fish dish onto to, something to keep the dish off the bottom of the pot and the water. Put some water into the pot, cover with a lid and bring to a boil over a high heat. If you choose to serve this dish with rice, now is a good time to start cooking that as well.
Make two diagonal slits onto both sides of the fish. Place the fish into a shallow heatproof dish that will fit into the steamer. Pour the soy sauce, oil and ginger over the fish, rubbing it onto both sides and into the belly. Sprinkle the white pepper over the fish.
Put the dish into the steamer that’s already come to a boil. Cover and turn the heat down to medium. You want a medium rolling simmer of steam as opposed to a furious boil. Steam for 10 to 12 minutes. Resist lifting the lid before the first 10 minutes. The flesh should be white and easily come away from the bone. Be careful not to overcook the fish though. After 10 minutes time, sprinkle the spring onions over the fish, cover and steam another minute just to soften the spring onions. Present whole and serve with rice.