When Daniel Montano, CEC, Executive Chef of Berkshire Country Club (Reading, Pa.), was just starting out in his career, he hesitated to express himself through his cooking.
“I was terrified to share flavors at work that I enjoy at home,” he says, “or of using too many colors outside of the ‘normal.'”
Now, one of his favorite elements of a dish is color, and he’s constantly thinking outside of the box when it comes to flavor, drawing on his heritage and looking to other chefs for ideas—in real life and on Instagram.
Montano shares more about his culinary philosophy today and how it presents itself in his Tempura Fried Soft-Shell Crab recipe, a member favorite at Berkshire CC.
Club + Resort Chef (C+RC): What inspired this recipe?
Daniel Montano (DM): Country club members go crazy when soft-shell crab season arrives. I don’t think I have ever worked at a club where the membership isn’t patiently waiting (and a few members not so patiently) for the soft shells to arrive.
I love to use color on my dishes, along with acidity. I fail if I don’t have these two things on every plate. The color purple has easily become one of my favorite colors to put on a dish. I like beets, purple potatoes, pickled purple cauliflower, red cabbage, etc.
Hominy is my favorite corn. If you haven’t had hominy, go get yourself a can and try it. Put it in a salad, a soup like pozole, and even dessert—hominy flan is fantastic.
Who doesn’t like authentic tacos, especially with salsa verde? Anyone like clam chowder? The purple potato purée carries a bit of a clam chowder flavor with the sherry. I guess my cluttered mind is trying to say that I took many of my favorite flavors, colors and components and put them on this plate.
C+RC: How would you describe the flavors?
DM: The bold flavors in this dish stem from my Hispanic roots and the diverse Hispanic culinarians I have been fortunate to learn from through the years. I love every bite of this dish! The salsa verde is a wonderful sauce for the chorizo hash, and the chorizo spices that leak into the hash are balanced with the fresh lime juice. The chipotle mayo is a killer dip for the fried crab. If you like dicing veggies, then you also know there will always be scraps. Why waste when you can make a purée, and not just any purée—a purple potato and crab purée! Tajín—let me tell you about Tajín. I’m a little too obsessed with the beautiful blend of dried chilis and lime! Give it a try if you haven’t. It’s also great on a margarita rim!
C+RC: Why do you believe this is an essential or successful dish?
It’s important to me because they are flavors and colors that I truly enjoy. As a chef, I feed off of the guest’s reaction. It will push me to do better every time. What greater reward than a stranger whipping out their phone in excitement, telling the whole table to pause while they take a picture of something you created. At least, that’s what I do when I’m enjoying a great meal.
C+RC: What about this dish makes you most proud?
The colors are are my pride and joy. I also love how the whole dish is tied together with the acidity from the lime juice.
C+RC: Do you think this dish could inspire other chefs?
It would be an honor if this dish inspired someone. A lot of my inspiration comes from chefs on Instagram. Get on it if you aren’t already.
If you are a young chef who is afraid to express yourself, don’t be fearful. Get out of your comfort zone. It is the only way to find your way. When I was younger, I was terrified to share flavors at work that I enjoy at home. I also hesitated to use too many colors outside of what is considered ‘normal.’ A lot of my experience has been with chefs putting green and brown foods with the occasional roasted red pepper and dark balsamic on plates. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just wasn’t my style.
Tempura Fried Soft-Shell Crab
Click here for the full recipe.