James Beard award-winning chef Ricky Moore dishes on his Carolina roots leading up to his appearance at the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival
Story By Daisy Dow
Chef Ricky Moore is no stranger to the Carolinas. In fact, his track record as a globe-trotting chef has taken him all around the world, from Europe to Asia, and everywhere in between. To his core, chef-preneur Ricky Moore is a creative individual, soaking up inspiration from the world around him to influence the dishes he makes. But something about the South seems to keep us all coming back for more. Inspired heavily by his upbringing in North Carolina, Moore is bringing a lifetime’s worth of learning down to lower ‘lina for the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival this month.
Where it all began
Hailing from New Bern, North Carolina, Moore steeps his culinary creations in his life experiences, be those places he’s lived, worked or eaten. As a self-proclaimed “military brat” who grew up in Germany, Moore got a taste for worldly cuisines even before deciding on a culinary career. A high school home economics course opened his eyes to the possibility that cooking was more than just a means of sustenance but an exciting way to bring life into flavor and a means of creative expression.
“The craft of cooking is a creative process which appeals to my inherent creative nature,” Moore said.
Setting aside aspirations of being an illustrator or even a musician in his youth, he worked as an Army cook for seven years. This experience, however, cemented Moore’s passion for cooking and the opportunities available through the culinary arts. While preparing a meal is an act that brings out his inner artist, Moore also draws on other parts of his identity to guide his work, citing his ancestral connection to his cultural background as a key source of inspiration.
The (salt) crystal of the Carolinas
Ricky Moore has cooked in Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Paris, Toronto, Singapore, and he even competed on Iron Chef. In 2012 he returned to his roots in North Carolina and opened the Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham. Reminiscent of the fish camps and seafood shacks that have been a staple of the Carolinas’ waterways, the Saltbox Seafood Joint serves whatever comes off the most recent catch. The menu changes day-to-day, giving Moore and his team the opportunity to experiment with new foods and flavors.
In Moore’s words, “Southern food speaks to a particular heritage and culture and is the anchor of what constitutes true American cuisine.” Some of the processes he gravitates toward in this cooking repertoire, like pickling, smoking and salting, are heavily influenced by the regional practices of Moore’s Eastern North Carolina roots. Moore describes the influences of his recipe for Warsh Pot Stew.
“Its origins are a springtime tradition in Eastern North Carolina along the Neuse River, where I grew up. When the rockfish swim upriver to spawn, local fishermen take to the water, and cooks get out their biggest pots. In the old days that stew pot was often literally a tin washtub. These days it’s more likely a big cast iron kettle or an aluminum pot, but people still call them washtub fish stews.”
Fish camp flavor
Chef Ricky Moore was recently awarded the title of Best Chef: Southeast by the James Beard Foundation. The award cemented what those who had tasted Ricky Moore’s food already knew: as a chef, Ricky goes the extra mile to blend regional classics with international flavors. As an entrepreneur, Ricky honors the history of his home while feeding his community refreshing, innovative meals.
When it comes to advice on cooking seafood, Ricky Moore has enough experience to write a book on it. So he did. His cookbook Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook features recipes that highlight the ingredients and flavors that taste of his upbringing in North Carolina. Some of his favorite Southern foods to work with include rice, corn, Sea Island red peas, sheepshead, trigger fish, croaker, spot and butterfish.
“The best tip I can give anyone cooking seafood is the 10-second rule: it’s all about timing when cooking fish or seafood. In the cooking process you can either overcook it by 10 seconds or undercook it by 10 seconds.” If you are still working on timing your Lowcountry boil or finding just the right seasonings for your fresh-caught redfish, check in with Chef Ricky Moore at the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival later this month. He will be preparing fish and seafood local to the region with preservation techniques rooted in Southern heritage.
Ricky Moore – Grilled or Broiled Oysters with Carolina Treet Butter
Ingredients (makes 24 oysters)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoon Carolina Treet Cooking Barbecue Sauce
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
24 oysters on the half shell
Salt and pepper to taste
 Combine the butter, Carolina Treet sauce, shallots, garlic, lime juice, cilantro, salt and pepper in a small bowl and chill.  Prepare the grill or preheat the broiler for high heat.  Top each oyster with a dollop of chilled butter. Place the oysters, shell down, on the grill or the broiler and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Carefully remove the hot oysters with a pair of tongs or a wide metal spatula and arrange them on a plate to serve. Caution: The shells will be very hot!
Courtesy of SALTBOX Seafood Joint Cookbook
Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook – By Ricky Moore
In 60 recipes that celebrate his coastal culinary heritage, award-winning chef Ricky Moore shares his techniques for making Saltbox Seafood Joint dishes. This cookbook, written with K. C. Hysmith, explains how to pan-fry, deep-fry, grill, smoke and cook up soups, chowders, stews, grits and seafood. Moore has taken pity on us and even included the recipe for his famous Hush-Honeys, an especially addictive hushpuppy. Charts and illustrations in the book explain the featured types, availability and cuts of fish and shellfish used in the recipes.
Save the Dates
Hosted by the David M. Carmines Memorial Foundation, the Hilton Head Island Seafood Festival is a celebration of the Lowcountry’s fishing roots and culinary heritage. Get a taste of the South from the region’s finest cuisine through two pop-up pairing dinners: the Pig Pickin’ and Oyster Roast, or during the main event, the annual Saturday Seafood Festival. Live music, cooking demonstrations, beverage tastings and more are set to make this year’s festival another can’t-miss event. hiltonheadseafoodfestival.com.