An interview with Ben Sargent
Surfer, chowder fiend, and TV personality
-Francine Segan, food+home editor
Ben Sargent, notorious for his incredible seafood chowders, his questionable surfing style, and his willingness to do almost anything for great waves and even better food, runs a surfing school in the summer and leads surfing travel adventures during the winter via citizensurfers.com chats with Betty’s Food+Home editor.
Francine Segan: So first question … why chowder?
Ben Sargent: I was taught how to make chowder at a young age by my grandfather in Cape Cod. When I came to live in Brooklyn, NY, two things happened – I discovered surfing in Far Rockaway Queens and I realized there was no good chowder in NYC. Being from Boston I combined my love for chowder and surfing! My surfing lessons in NYC include outdoor cooking lessons and seafood grilling. It’s a nice escape from the city!
FS: You’ve done TV segments with both Martha Stewart and Bobby Flay. Who was more fun?
BS: Bobby Flay is really a nice guy. They make him out to be a tough guy on TV. He was a blast on Throw Down.
FS: What is one of the wackiest things you’ve ever done?
BS: I decided to serve a big pot of New England Clam Chowder to Red Sox fans at New York City’s Yankee Stadium during a Yanks/Sox miniseries. That video of the event has gone viral at this point … about 35,000 views and a lot of comments. Never thought chowder could cause such controversy!
FS: Did any destination surprise you as being better or worse than expected?
BS: Argentina is the best place I have been to. Salta up North in the mountains … amazing! Wish I were a painter.
FS: You do short films about surfing and other topics. Do you prefer to cook or make films?
BS: I like to film cooking! The process is way more interesting than the end result. I used to think that about portrait painting too … I would have given anything to know what it was like in the room at the moment the painting was created; The tension between artist and model. Same with photo … so cool to film the life of a photographer and feel that moment when the shutter snaps. Cooking is a contact sport! Great to watch … dirty, fire, accidents – it’s like watching motorcross!
FS: Million dollar question: Where can you get the greatest bowl of chowder?
BS: You are going to hate me for this … It’s in Martha’s Vineyard at a place called the Bite. I did my research and bit of dumpster diving to get to the bottom of the secret recipe … Right, a can! No joke. They start with a base that comes right out of the can. I thought this was soo funny! People love that chowder … I still think it’s great. I guess they know what to do with it from that point on! Adding spices can be an art form, I guess.
FS: And where’s the worst?!
BS: You name it. Most thick chowders where they use a lot of flour are really bad. Howard Johnsons started this trend. It doesn’t taste like seafood at the end.
FS: Any recommendations for those of us who might try it at home?
BS: For great chowder use fresh seafood. No flour. And add lots of butter and things will taste good for sure. Not too much salt because the ocean will provide plenty if you are using fresh clams. Keep stirring. If you burn even one spec of chowder on the bottom of the pot the entire thing will taste singed. I have dumped gallons of chowder down the toilet because I let it sit for a second too long. Thick pots make all the difference. Don’t try to save a chowder by adding cream or milk if you smell that burned smell. Just get rid of it all together. Sorry clams!
FS: Any final words for travelers out there?
BS: Come on one of my chowder trips! It’s a great way to learn to surf and to learn to cook like a local. I do trips to South America and Central America. You can learn to shoot little food episodes and even how to make a surfboard! Check out brooklynchowdersurfer.com for more info.
Ben’s Martha’s Vineyard Corny, Crabby Chowder
I made this one up while shooting an episode on Martha’s Vineyard for Plum TV. I caught the fish and speared the crabs!
Fish and Crab Stock
Peel 3 pounds shrimp – and put aside a few large shrimp. Sautee shells in a little water … add entire crabs and fish rack of one bass. Fill water and splash of white wine to top of fish racks, crabs and shrimp shells. Cover pot and boil on high heat. Strain a little of the water after cooking for an hour to add potency. Add bay leaves and whole black peppercorns to stock. Boil till a nice frothy build-up rattles and pushes up top of the pot.
Cream of Corn
Get started on this as soon as you put the stock on to boil.
1/2 onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2 pinches kosher salt
8 ears fresh corn
1 sprig fresh rosemary, bruised
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 cup heavy cream
Fresh ground black pepper
In a saucepan over medium heat, sweat the onion in butter and salt until translucent. In a large mixing bowl, place a paper bowl in the middle of the bowl. Resting the cob on the bowl in a vertical position remove only the tops of the kernel with a knife, using long smooth downward strokes and rotating the cob as you go. After the cob has been stripped, use the dull backside of your knife to scrape any remaining pulp and milk off the cob.
Add the corn and pulp mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium-high until the juice from the corn has tightened. Add the rosemary. Sprinkle the corn with the sugar and turmeric. Stir constantly for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle the cornmeal onto the corn, using a whisk to combine well. Add the heavy cream and cook until the corn has softened, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the rosemary. Season with freshly ground black pepper.
In a new large pot:
Bag of red potatoes or yellow, quartered – keep skin on mostly. Should fill bottom third of a big lobster pot. Saute potatoes as you would to sweat onions for 15 minutes with a little vegetable oil to coat bottom of pot.
Add butter – two sticks in bottom of pot – add onions and one minced clove garlic. Sweat onions and garlic till golden brown for an additional 10 minutes in with the potatoes. (Big yellow onions – quartered and cut to same size as potatoes.)
Strain fish stock. Add stock in with the half cooked potatoes and onions, but only after the stock has cooked for a few hours and is nice and fishy smelling. Boil onions and potatoes in with fish stock. (Make sure you have strained the stock at this point, but not with a fine strainer – you don’t want shells or crabs in the stock but you do want texture from the stock.)
After about a half hour of boiling on high flame, bring down to a simmer and add cream of corn. Keep stirring – do not let ingredients settle while on a boil. Add in fresh milk or cream at this point but do not allow it to boil because milk will curdle and ruin the chowder.
Add in seafood at this point – lump crab meat and fish. Let this cook for 10 minutes on simmer. Do not add scallops and shrimp till you have turned off heat.
Add dill, cilantro and thyme to taste (will get measurements) Salt and pepper to taste.