A recipe from the late Matt Haley: uncomplicated, rich and smokily sweet
As a food writer, I could always count on Matt Haley for a recipe, a quote or an opinion — on just about anything. The coastal chef-restaurateur and I became friendly over the phone, but I didn’t meet him in person until around 2006, when I told him I’d never been to the Historic Lewes Farmers Market. Without hesitation, he offered to take me, and I met him in the CVS parking lot on Route 1 one Saturday morning and climbed into his pickup truck.
Once on the grounds of the Lewes Historical Society, where the market is held, we stopped at the table of a vendor, whom he knew by name. Haley picked up a bunch of thyme. I was not a fan, I said. It took too much time to chop. He gently ran his fingers down a stem, pulling against the tiny leaves, which fluttered like petals to the table. It was that easy.
Then again, Haley always made cooking seem approachable. The chef, who learned the culinary arts in a post-prison vocational program and worked his way up from minimum-wage earner to restaurant owner, preferred a straightforward approach to pretty much everything. In his eight restaurants, grouped under the SoDel Concepts umbrella, he looked for ways to enhance an ingredient’s flavor without overwhelming it. He also appreciated comfort foods. The first special-occasion dish he ever made was fettuccine carbonara, and he kept the blackened skillet in which he made it. Deviled eggs, Brussels sprouts, white beans, fried chicken and fried oysters were menu staples, but he gave them a kick. Deviled eggs, for instance, might come with a scrapple chip. Chicken was bathed in buttermilk before frying and served with ham-and-corn gravy.
He was always experimenting. In the early years at Bluecoast Seafood Grill, Haley’s first restaurant in the group, he would burst into the restaurant’s kitchen with bags of ingredients purchased along the route from his house in Rehoboth Beach Yacht & Country Club to North Bethany. (Haley knew about all the small farm stands in the area.) “I have fond memories of spending hours upon hours with Matt,” says Doug Ruley, then the chef at Bluecoast and now the corporate chef and vice president of SoDel Concepts. “We would be two chefs creating in our happy place, always bouncing ideas and flavors off each other.”
Sweet on Pie
Fresh fruits and homemade crust make for a popular seasonal treat
From the July 2015 issue
Few summer desserts are greeted with as much satisfaction as a freshly baked pie. Picture a golden-brown crust packed with sweet — and a little bit tart — seasonal fruit. Pam Minhas should know. Pie crust is the first thing she teaches new employees to make at Baked Coffee Bar, a bakery, coffee shop and deli in Dewey Beach. “It’s an easy recipe to memorize, and it allows new staff to immediately get their hands into dough,” she says. “Everyone knows that if you want to be a baker, you’ve got to love dough.”
Minhas learned that later in life. She and twin sister Patty grew up cooking for the family because their mother worked long hours. But when it came to a career, the Camp Springs, Md., native took the practical route. She spent seven years in the Army in personnel management, which involved travel to Korea, where she was exposed to exotic flavors, including fermented foods. She also spent time in California, the “salad bowl” of the U.S., which in the 1980s pioneered the farm-to-table movement. She lived in a vibrant Indian community and learned to love Indian foods. After getting a degree in business management, Minhas spent 21 years as an IT manager for Maple Press in York, Pa. In 2007, she took the culinary plunge and opened a wine bar and bistro in Harrisburg, but within two years she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. As a distraction from the chemotherapy treatments, she took a college-level online chocolate-making course and decided then that her next career would be a sweet one at the beach.
Coastal Delaware diners are embracing Mexican cuisine, and not just around Cinco de Mayo
On Cinco de Mayo, patrons in coastal restaurants will pop the tops off Mexican beers and order up a taco or two — even in non-Mexican establishments. But many of these diners don’t understand the holiday’s true meaning. It is not, as many believe, Mexico’s Independence Day. That’s Sept. 16. The May 5 holiday marks the victory of the Mexican militia over the French Army at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.
This year, there’s no shortage of places to celebrate the occasion. The Delaware coast now has a large number of Mexican and Latin-inspired restaurants, from Milton to Fenwick Island. It’s hard to toss a tortilla without hitting a fish taco on a menu, even in fish houses and alehouses. Last September, Billy Lucas, co-owner of Taco Reho, a food truck, pulled up to the curb near Big Chill Surf Cantina on Route 1. Before opening the business, Lucas spent seven years as a tour caterer for musicians and up to 150 crew members. “Everyone loved taco day,” says the Philadelphia-area native, who summered in Dewey Beach as a child. “They also loved enchiladas.”