Islamorada Times: Where did you grow up and did your upbringing have any influences on you becoming a chef?
Chef Benjamin Loftus: I was born and raised in southern Vermont, in a small town named Wardsboro. My family was involved in catering for music venues, mainly Hartford civic center in Connecticut. I was a little kid running around back stage at concerts while my parents cooked for the band and crew.
IT: At what age did you know you wanted to become a chef?
CBL: I was 16, a junior in high school when I took culinary arts in the vocational center. Soon after that I got my first job as a cook.
IT: Tell us about any schooling, on the job training, and the different positions you have had in your career?
CBL: I attended Johnson & Wales University in Providence RI., where I was accepted into their early access program for high school seniors. I was able to do my freshman year of college and senior year of high school in the same year. I have worked every position in a restaurant with the exception of bartending. I’ve worked at a handful of establishments including one season at The Ocean Reef Club. The majority of my experience came from Pierre’s Restaurant and Morada Bay Beach Café. I was executive chef of Pierre’s for 9 years and both Pierre’s and Morada Bay for 3 years. During this time Pierre’s was the 4th best restaurant in the state of Florida for 5 years in a row according to Zagat.
IT: What are the things that influence your style of cooking?
CBL: There are many variables that influence my style of cooking. Seasons, availability, location, style of restaurant, ect… In this industry you must adapt to your surroundings.
IT: What are some of your top ingredients, those that are must haves in your kitchen at all times??
CBL: This is a tough question to answer; much of it depends on the answer to the previous question. Style of restaurant, fine dining, family, casual, French, tropical, ect… But in all of these salt and pepper are a must…
IT: Do you have a signature dish or dishes you would like to highlight, if so, where did the inspiration come from?
CBL: I have many signature dishes. It is tough to pinpoint a single dish. A restaurant like Pierre’s your creating new dishes every day that are all signature. At the Hungry Tarpon we do breakfast, lunch and dinner for over 1,000 people a day on busy days. We focus on serving the best possible food in a timely manner. Different styles of restaurant that have different style dishes. It’s impossible to call out just one or two.
IT: When you choose to dine out yourself, what type of cuisine do you enjoy?
CBL: I enjoy all style and cuisines but French and Asian are my favorites.
IT: What can we expect to see you cooking at home? Any specialties that we won’t see at your restaurant?
CBL: My wife does the majority of cooking at home. Once in a while I’ll make a big dinner but the best meal you can eat is the one your wife cooks for you.
IT: What do you consider to be comfort food?
CBL: Dishes that remind me of my childhood. Venison & eggs, baked ziti and stuffed shells are some examples.
IT: What is your wine preference? Any favorites you would like to recommend?
CBL: I prefer a heavy thick red wine. Cabernet or Red Zinfandel.
IT: What do you like to do in your free time?
CBL: Spending time with my family, out on the boat, playing baseball, fishing, any kind of sport that keeps my 2 boys busy. I’m also big into music and love seeing live shows. I play a little bass as a hobby but it’s hard to find time.
IT: Any final thoughts?
CBL: Every restaurant is unique in its own way with different styles and situations. Being able to adapt and think on your feet is a must. This business waits for no one, be prepared…