Chef Damion Norton of Ford's Oyster House and Cajun Kitchen in Greenville says his high school home economics teacher changed his life.
It was Mrs. McMakin, he says, who first suggested Norton pursue an education in the culinary arts. She even brought in a recruiter to meet with Norton, and he went on to enroll in Johnson and Wales University in Charleston after graduation.
Norton started his work in the food industry when he went to work at Burger King at age 14. Since then, he's worked at Bocci's Italian Restaurant in Charleston, the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta and Ruth's Chris Steak House.
In June 2011, Norton became the executive chef at Ford's Oyster House. The Louisiana-style restaurant "brings all the authentic flavors of the Big Easy to our guests," he says. "Along with dishing up classics like crawfish etoufee, gumbo and jambalaya, we also do a great hot Muffaletta and have weekly oyster roasts."
Q: What are you cooking these days that excites you the most?
A: I am working to make my dishes healthier by using the natural flavor of food and herbs to season my dishes. Understanding the way things taste and highlighting the natural flavors already in food -- the saltiness, the sweetness -- makes it healthier for consumption.
Q: What is the one ingredient you'd always splurge on?
A: Smoked Gouda cheese.
Q: What five things are always in your refrigerator?
A: Gouda cheese, shrimp, prime oysters, mussels and gumbo.
Q: What music play in your kitchen?
A: None. I love the sounds of the kitchen -- dishes, pots, pans, liquids boiling. That's the best.
Q: What would your dream meal be?
A: Lamb shank prepared osso buco style with a demi glaze; a side of roasted red potatoes tossed with black truffles. And fresh green beans. (You've got to have a vegetable on your plate!)
Q: Is there a food you simple refuse to eat?
Q: If you could cook with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
A: Master Chef Daryl Shular. (Shular is the corporate executive chef for Performance Foodservice-Milton's and a member of the International Culinary Olympic Team 2012.)
Q: If you were not a chef, what would you be?
A: I love working on cars and trucks.
Chef Damion Norton's Seafood Gumbo
½ cup vegetable oil
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup diced onions
½ cup of celery
½ cup scallions
½ cup of red and green bell peppers
3 cloves of minced garlic
teaspoon of gumbo file
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon of black pepper
2 cups of okra
1 pound of lump crab meat
1 cup of andouille sausage
1 pound of 16/20 shrimp
2 bay leaves
8 cups of crab stock
Creole seasoning to taste
In a large stockpot combine oil and flour and cook over low-medium heat about 15 to 20 minutes or until the roux is very dark brown, almost brown-black. Stir constantly to bring roux together.
Add onions, celery, scallions, bell peppers, and garlic and cook for 10 to 15 minutes until vegetables are tender, stirring regularly.
Then add crab stock and Creole seasoning, bay leaves, gumbo file, cayenne and black pepper.
Add okra. Cover pot and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally
Add crab, shrimp and andouille. Simmer for 10 minutes.