Has cooking always been a part of your life?
I grew up watching my grandmother, Helen Dickerson, who cooked at the Chalfonte Hotel’s kitchen for 60 years. Some of my fondest memories are of her showing me how to make soups and sauces as a nine year-old boy. My mother followed in her footsteps and, at 84, she’s still working there. Eventually, I continued my own education at Johnson and Wales culinary school, and now I’m carrying on the family tradition at the Rusty Nail. My clam chowder is exactly the way my grandmother taught me to make it.
What does your family think of your cooking?
My wife comes here all the time. She’s a critic, too! She’s quick to tell me when a soup is too salty or not flavorful enough. My son had his rehearsal dinner here, and my grandsons – one is almost two and one is almost five – love coming every year for a visit. It’s the corn bread and chicken fingers they want. They play in the sand by the fire pit while their dad sits back in his lounge chair.
Do you cook at home, or are you sick of it by the time you get done work?
Oh, I love it. Broccoli raab and salmon is my favorite thing to make.
What do you do with your free time?
I love fishing, and I spend a lot of time working with my church. I also make the time to walk over to the beach and simply see the sky. You work 80 or 90 hours a week, and you need that time to just look out over the ocean.
Do you ever eat at the Rusty Nail when you’re off?
Yes, I do, but I make sure the kitchen staff doesn’t know it’s me out there. I want to make sure the food is consistent no matter who’s dining.
You have a reputation as a “nice” chef. Why is that?
It goes along with being the head of the kitchen; when you treat someone with respect, you don’t yell, scream or use foul language. Talk to people in a lovely way, you get more out of them. I treat people the way I’d want to be treated.
Why is it so important to you to use local seafood?
You can smell the difference. Our fish is coming off of day boats, so you know it’s fresh. I’m especially proud of our fish tacos – we sold close to 10,000 last season. Nothing on them is canned or frozen. Even the corn we top them off with comes right off the cob and onto your dish. Of course, we also have plenty on the menu for folks who don’t like seafood…steaks, chicken, burgers, spare ribs, and pasta.
You’ve always been accommodating to dogs at the Rusty Nail. What’s the most unusual thing someone’s ordered for their mutt?
They usually want chicken or a burger, but we made broiled founder for one dog. This year, we’re putting together a whole doggie menu.
What is the Rusty Nail’s relationship with Beach Plum Farm?
We use as many ingredients from the farm as possible. Our dressing comes from farm strawberries, and the vegetables in our primavera are all from the farm as well. I call the head farmer, Jaime, every morning to tell him what I need – if I could use more broccoli or eggplant or peppers, for example – and that’s what is delivered to me, right out of the ground, the following day. For a chef, it doesn’t get any better than that. And that goes for the diners, too. It’s a win-win.