Chef Tenney Flynn stood in the hot kitchen at Kyma in Buckhead, cooking his favorite preparation of rainbow trout, one in which salty Virginia country ham, briny oysters and herbaceous Swiss chard add multidimensional flavor to the mild, farm-raised fish.
His veteran hands never seemed to leave the skillet as he quickly wilted the greens, browned the ham and got the oysters curling. It took but a few minutes to sauté the trout fillets. Suddenly the whole ensemble was plated and Flynn was drizzling it with browned butter.
Next up was a fried oyster slaw dog on Flynn’s special Sally Lunn roll. That po’boy also took just minutes to make, being he had at the ready his flour mix, egg wash and cornmeal blend for dredging the oysters. He’d prepared the coleslaw and buns in advance, too. It was just a matter of frying oysters and whipping up a hot Tabasco butter sauce to toss them in.
Someone approached to pick up the slaw-topped oyster po’boy and hand it to a photographer. Was it ready, Chef?
“If it wasn’t ready, I wouldn’t have (expletive) handed it to you,” Flynn replied.
While folks made a fuss over the photogenic versions of the food, Flynn dug his fingers into the extra portion of trout he’d made for the two of us. “This is how we eat it,” he said.
At that moment, everything began to make sense about this stubborn Stone Mountain native, his deliberate ways in the kitchen and his newly released cookbook, “The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories from New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef” (Gibbs Smith, $30), written with former AJC food editor Susan Puckett.
Cooking has been part of Flynn’s life since his father opened the now defunct Plantation House eatery in Stone Mountain in 1962. In the mid-1970s, Flynn worked on and off at Manuel’s Tavern, then bounced around for a while (at one point even making a living as a professional bingo caller). Focus came in 1985, when, at the age of 27, he enrolled in the esteemed Culinary Institute of America in New York.
Upon graduation, he returned to Atlanta and joined the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group. His seven-year stint with the group began at the iconic Pano’s & Paul’s. “There’s a restaurant that’s going to totally change Atlanta,” he told himself at the time.
“He was a great teacher that summer,” said Kyma executive chef and Buckhead Life corporate chef Pano Karatassos, who was 16 when his father, the legendary Atlanta restaurateur Pano I. Karatassos, threw him on the line with Flynn at Pano’s & Paul’s.
After that, Flynn headed to the group’s Atlanta Fish Market. “I’d never had that quality and variety of fish before. It was quite an epiphany,” Flynn said.
When the company launched Chops steakhouse, Flynn was tapped as executive chef and spent three years there before moving to New Orleans in 1992 to become the director of culinary operations for Ruth’s Chris Steak House. In 2001, he opened his own place: GW Fins, “a fish house on a classic steakhouse frame.”
In the 18 years since unlocking doors to GW Fins, Flynn has become known as one of the country’s foremost seafood authorities. He shares that knowledge in “The Deep End of Flavor.”
His 200-plus page, technique-focused cookbook is teeming with recipes — and not just for fish and seafood, which Flynn calls “the quickest protein to prepare.” There are also recipes for side dishes, and sound advice for home cooks about shopping for and preparing the catch of the day.
It’s guidance that comes from a highly picky chef. “We reject fish a lot — even from the same people we’ve been buying from forever,” Flynn said.
Among his recommendations: “Don’t be wedded to any particular fish. Go to the fish market. Develop a relationship with the person behind the counter. Get the best fish in the case.”
Flynn also feels strongly about buying U.S. product. “There is a lot of dodgy imported seafood,” he said. “The more local, the better.”
His pantry basics are just salt, pepper, butter and lemon. What makes it New Orleans-style? “Layers of flavor,” he said. “It’s not that hard to achieve.” Especially when you’ve got Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends Shrimp Magic, or Flynn’s homemade riff, in your back pocket.
Rainbow Trout with Swiss Chard, Oysters and Country Ham
For this trout preparation, bits of salty, smoky country ham pull together the flavors of the mild, quick-cooking fish, oysters and chard.
Shrimp Sauteed in BBQ Butter
“Calling this dish BBQ only makes sense in New Orleans — there’s nothing barbecued about it, but that’s its name here,” writes chef Tenney Flynn in his new cookbook, “The Deep End of Flavor.” At his New Orleans restaurant, Fins, he serves the shrimp over grits enriched with goat cheese (find his Goat Cheese Grits recipe online at ajc.com/food), along with bread for dipping. The dish can also be served atop rice. “The flavors are big, and the aroma will have everyone heading to the kitchen,” Flynn says.
Home Creole Seasoning
This recipe is Flynn’s approximation of Paul Prudhomme’s Shrimp Magic, his favorite commercially made Creole seasoning. Use the blend with shrimp and crawfish boil preparations, as well as for seasoned fish breading.
Goat Cheese Grits
Tenney Flynn has strong opinions about everything, including grits. “Misguided folk sometimes label exotic, coarsely ground meal as grits, and there is nothing wrong with cornmeal mush, either alone or as an ingredient in polenta, but far as I’m concerned it ain’t grits. (Remember, I’m from Georgia.),” writes Flynn in his cookbook. “Buy the old-fashioned long-cook variety and spend the 20 minutes or so it takes to cook them,” he says.
All recipes from “The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories from New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef,” by Tenney Flynn with Susan Puckett (Gibbs Smith). Reprinted with permission.
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