Chef Franco Paterno is the man behind the delicious menu of Bluefin Grille. We recently talked about his favorite cooking techniques and the one dish that captures his vision of showcasing Rhode Island’s shellfish.
How did you become introduced to cooking? What made you follow it as a life-long career path?
I started my first restaurant job at the tender age of 13. It was a small, family-owned place in Pawcatuck, CT. I was washing dishes and worked all through high school in different positions. The work became an integral part of who I was. When time came to graduate, Johnson & Wales’s culinary program was just emerging. When they came to the high school to talk about the program, it stuck with me – I’d already been cooking and I loved it. That’s when I decided to make it my career. I went Johnson & Wales and learned everything I could from wonderful chefs. I owe them a lot.
Do you have a favorite technique you like to cook with? How do you use it in your menu?
I think braising is an excellent technique that’s overlooked. You can braise anything – chicken, beef and pork. It really intensifies the flavors because the ingredients you add in stick to the product. I also love a nice, clean sear on a piece of fish. The sear shouldn’t do too much other
than give a contrasting, balanced texture. You have a slight crustiness on the outside, but a soft texture inside. Of course, we do a lot of grilling here over the summer and our guests always seem to gravitate to those offerings. The slow cooking approach to food is excellent too. A gentle steam to a piece of fish, believe it or not, can add an elegant touch because it’s very clean tasting.
If you had to choose one type of product to cook with, what would it be?
In today’s world, we have access to everything, so we try to take advantage of every resource. It terms of product , seafood is the medium I would choose. Last week we did a Chef’s Table event with a West Coast theme. So we had some beautiful Opa fish flown in from Honolulu. It was a terrific opportunity to cook with something unique and fun and flavorful.
Is there one dish that captures your vision for the restaurant?
The Seared Haddock with Clams. Since our restaurant is located within the Marriott, we serve many guests from across the country. They’ll ask what we’re known for here in Rhode Island, and obviously to me that means clams. Shellfish is an integral part of who we are as a state. This particular entree marries our native product with a well-known fish. We lay the haddock over a bowl of pan chowder made of clams, smoked mussels, fingerling potatoes and celery.
What else stands out in your menu?
One part of our menu is called “Simply Fish” where we offer all of our different varieties of seafood and give them a platform to stand out. We offer four to five different cooking methods for the fish, and guests can pick and choose how they want them presented and what kind of sauces they would like to accompany.
Tell us more about the Chef’s Table.
The Chef’s Table is where we give our guests a customized tasting menu. It’s a private dining experience for individuals and groups. My sous chef and I meet and greet the customers and we set up a cooking station in the room as well. It’s five-courses with hand-picked ingredients from local farms and producers. One of the courses I prepare and plate in front of the guests, so it gives us an opportunity for dialogue and an educational experience. These dinners give us opportunities to stretch our boundaries.
1 Orms Street, Providence