Cooking from the heart and the head


Story by Barry Kaufman + Photography by Mike Ritterbeck

There are two ways to cook. The first is with your head. You follow the recipe the same way you would any scientific formula, mixing ingredients in the precise combination of proteins, acids and minerals to illicit the desired taste. As someone who earned a degree in biochemistry and genetics from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, Wexford chef Josh Goetz certainly understands that systematic approach.

However, he’ll be the first to tell you that you need to cook with both your head and your heart, your creative left brain and your analytical right brain.

“I transition between the two,” he said. “Coming up with a dish, that’s more left-brain creativity. But when it comes to the how and the why, I switch brains. I start thinking of how we can make it more flavorful, so I look at the makeup of each ingredient. The proteins, muscle fibers and myoglobin help me understand the animal or plant.”

His academic background gave him the fundamentals of how food works, but it was his adventures around the globe, sampling culinary styles along the way, that gave him an appreciation for what food could do. In Europe he saw the reverence with which ingredients are sourced from markets on a daily basis. In Asia he toured the wet markets and tasted what a difference it can make when seafood is plucked right from the water and prepared in front of you.

“Seeing this and having that unique experience taught me a lot about food,” he said. “It was apparent that food is more creative than science. The love of both sent me on this journey of cooking.”

That journey brought him from a two-year stint cooking at the Grand Hyatt Kauai in Hawaii to the New England Culinary Institute, from Tuscany to New York to Beijing to Hong Kong in a global tour of what makes food such an indelible part of a culture. And now it has brought him to Wexford.

“When someone asks me to describe my cuisine, it’s definitely a world cuisine,” he said. “I bring all those experiences to the table when I cook and develop food and menus for our guests.”

While the world is his influence, perhaps no culinary tradition speaks to Goetz like the flavors of his native Pacific Northwest. In those flavors he sees a certain kinship with Lowcountry cuisine and an avenue for expanding what that cuisine can taste like.

“My formal training wasn’t in the Pacific Northwest, but my childhood roots are there,” he said. “Looking at the roots of Lowcountry cuisine and looking at the roots of the food I grew up with, there are similarities.”

Growing up an hour from the shore, where ingredients from his grandfather’s ranch informed the seafood that came in regularly from the coast, had as much impact on Goetz’s culinary upbringing as the scientific knowledge he gained at university. And both can have a unique impact on the influences Goetz is bringing to Lowcountry cuisine at Wexford.

“I’ll take a recipe and isolate components, then deconstruct it, if you will, swapping out ingredients that might be like for like,” he said. That can mean remixing the classic Lowcountry boil to include Pacific Northwest-inspired ingredients like Dungeness crab, elk sausage and mushrooms. “It adopts a different flavor that represents the Pacific Northwest but is still Lowcountry.”

Joining Chef Goetz in the kitchen, sous chef and Savannah native Colby Todd has been instrumental in grounding the food at Wexford in Lowcountry tradition. When Goetz wanted to add crispy Brussels sprouts to the menu, for example, it was Todd who recommended adding corn chow chow. It was the first time Goetz had ever heard of such an ingredient, but it turned out to be the perfect addition.

“He’s an excellent resource. He’s taught me a lot about the cuisine of the South,” said Goetz. “It becomes our cuisine, the cuisine of Wexford. Not mine or his, it becomes a thing in and of itself.”

It’s an entirely new style, one whose roots can be found in Oregon, in the chemistry lab and markets across the world. Chef Goetz is creating it one dish at a time at Wexford, cooking with his heart, his mind and his soul. LL

Skillet-roasted Corvina

Ingredients (cauliflower rice and pickled crab)

2 pounds local Corvina, cut into 6-ounce portions

1 head cauliflower, grated

4 tablespoons butter,

salt and pepper

1/2 pound picked crab meat (backfin crab, 1/2 cup tarragon vinegar, pickled thyme)

Ingredients (vegetables)

4 pounds Swiss chard, shredded and stems diced

1/2 pound slab bacon, diced

Ingredients (sauce)

1 pound sour cherries

1 cup raspberry vinegar

1/4 cup chopped tarragon

1/2 cup local honey

8 grams Xantana Powder

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 pinch sea salt

Directions [1] Start by making the sauce so it can sit and marinate. Whisk the honey and vinegar together. Add a pinch of salt. Add chopped tarragon and Xantana (this is a thickener that is available from Bob Red Mill). Pour this over the cherries and let sit. Reserve the olive oil for the platting of the dish. [2] Prepare the vegetables. Shred the chard and start by sauteing the diced bacon olive oil. When the bacon is rendered and starting to look crispy, add the stems. Once those are soft, add the leaves and cook until just wilted. Season with more salt as needed for your taste and reserve on the side and keep warm. [3] Sauté the cauliflower rice in butter until that is tender and cooked. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Keep that warm on the side. [4] Next the fish. Always cook the fish last as it will overcook quickly if you let it wait while you prepare other things. Season the fish with salt and pepper on both sides. Get that skillet or nonstick pan really, really hot. Add a bit of oil and gently lay the fish in the pan. Let it get color and start to caramelize. Turn the fish over and add 2 big spoons of butter, fresh thyme and a garlic clove. Now tilt the pan with one hand and baste the butter over the fish until the fish is just done. Don’t overcook it. Remove the fish onto a napkin. [5] Plate the cauliflower rice, spoon the pickled crab over the rice, then arrange the Swiss chard on top the rice and around the plate. Next dress the edge of the plate with cherries and sauce. Place the fish on the stack of veggies and drizzle olive oil around the sauce and on top of the fish. Serve as warm as possible.

Pecan salad dressing


1 bulb fennel

1 Vidalia onion

1/4 cup toasted pecans

1/2 cup apple cider

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Directions [1] Slice the fennel and onion paper-thin on slicer, mandolin or very carefully with a knife. The thinner the better. Dress the veggies with the pecan cider dressing and let sit a few minutes to macerate.

Beaufort County honey-braised pork belly sandwich

Ingredients (braised pork belly)

2 pounds pork belly without skin

1 cup honey

1/2 tablespoon soy sauce

1/2 tablespoon liquid smoke

1 tablespoon salt

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon allspice

1 cup water

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Directions [1] Cut the pork into 6-inch square blocks. No need to trim anything. [2] Mix all ingredients and place in a baking tray, topped with foil in the oven at 300 degrees for 2 hours. [3] Let cool in the liquid. Remove and chill the pork. Once chilled it is easily sliced into thin slabs for this sandwich.

Ingredients (sandwich)

4 hoagie rolls or baguette, cut 6 inches

Butter for bread

16 large belly oysters, as local as you can find

Buttermilk for oysters

Cornmeal, salt, and fine black pepper for breading

1/2 cup thick mayonnaise for slathering on the sandwich

Directions [1] Building a sandwich takes thought and engineering skills. If the food slides out the back, it is not designed properly. If the ingredients are out of proportion, then it changes the flavor. Decide how you want it to taste and proceed as planned. I like a lot of oysters and a little pork, so it tastes like a po’ boy. [2] Take the oysters and soak in buttermilk. Start by cutting the bread and slathering it with butter and toasting it in a skillet. [3] Once toasted, remove the bread and use the same pan to fry the oysters, dredge the oysters in cornmeal and salt, test the oil with a drop of water to see if it splatters. If so, then it is hot enough. [4] Remove the oysters and let rest on a napkin. [5] Return to the bread and slather the bottom bun with mayo, then slice pork belly, then top it off with a nest of shaved veggies, then place the oysters in that nest like a momma bird would. [6] Put the topper on the sandwich and slice using a serrated knife. Toothpicks help this one. I like to serve my sandwiches with salt and vinegar chips, but a little of the extra shaved salad would be nice as well.

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