In this segment of The Happenings ‘Mixing it Up with Area Chefs’, we sat down with Mark Cooper from Cooper’s Seafood House ⛵️⚓️☠️
Where were you trained?
Initially, at home at the feet of my Mom who was an eclectic cook that not only did typical American food but did classic French with all of the different types of foods that would be considered strange in most households. Brains in brown butter, veal chops with the kidney attached. Mealtime was somewhat of an adventure in our house. I also was tutored by a remarkable Italian chef, Vincent Tarentino, who studied at Escoffier, could speak a plethora of languages and was an idol to a young boy trying to learn the kitchen. Also working under another remarkable chef Louis Makar who taught me the importance of fresh, clean and constant attention to detail. I studied at Luzerne Community College, did courses at CIA, Cornell and a smattering of advanced training all over the East Coast with one unforgettable training session in the white mountains of Vermont. But I think that my passion for reading and learning is what helped me most.
Who’s your professional inspiration?
I watched Graham Kerr (Galloping Gourmet) Chef Tell and Julia Child and they inspired me to be a professional chef along with books by Pierre Franey, Jacques Pepin and of course my favorite and mentor Paul Prudhomme, who taught me to look for the purpose that any chef has when creating a dish.
What made you decide to become a chef?
All of the above mentioned people. I had an engineering degree, commercial pilot’s license and when it came down to it I was most happy cooking, creating and sweating in the kitchen.
What’s your restaurant known for?
Bisque of crab soup, quality seafood and also Cajun dishes, which were inspired by my mentor Paul Prudhomme.
Describe the dining experience at Cooper’s:
Casual, with a little extra time needed to peruse the halls with our large collection of memorabilia. We have a great selection of fresh soups, appetizers, fresh seafood and a beer list second to none. We pride ourselves on great food and reasonable prices, and of course great homemade desserts.
What food trends will be popular in 2017?
I think that it will reflect what we saw in 2016, with an abundance of comfort foods being popular, fried foods have increased in popularity, which have not been as popular since the ‘50s and ‘60s. I think that the desire for non GMO foods and farm-to-table will increase as people become more aware of the environment and the part we play in it.
How will your menu reflect the trends?
We try to offer what the public wants although we will continue to offer our standard seafood items. Monthly items will reflect what we think the public wants .I would love to see less fried foods being popular, but comfort foods are what they are.
What’s your personal favorite dish to eat?
As I love so many foods and will eat anything (I could do the Andrew Zimmern show with Bizarre Foods) if I had to choose one dish it would probably be fresh soft shell crabs sautéed with fresh garlic shallots in sweet butter over a bed of basmati and wild rice with some fresh cabbage slaw infused with shredded radish and root vegetables.
What sets your restaurant apart?
The fact that not only is it a family business but we have so many family involved and we all get along. We work together to bring great food and a memorable dining experience to the diner who chooses our restaurant. We are partnered with the Everhart Museum and do many charitable events and it is almost a museum experience when checking out our many items of memorabilia. We have the ability to change the menu at a moment’s notice and are not locked into corporate regulations. Chefs are encouraged to be creative and are rewarded for outstanding dishes.
What restaurant/dining destination is on your bucket list to enjoy?
I have always wanted to try Emeril Lagasse’s in New Orleans, and there is a little restaurant in Charleston, SC called Jestine’s that I hear is fabulous.
What makes an unforgettable dining experience?
An unforgettable meal has many components one is attitude of the diner, second is pleasant atmosphere and third is superb ingredients blended together correctly, not too much food not too little– a fine balance. And for most experienced diners I think a good wine pairing or beer pairing will also help to create a memorable meal. Of course it needs the perfect ending which can be as simple as a petite dish of spumoni, a B&B cordial or a great cup of coffee.