“I actually came to America when I was about 8 years old and one of the reasons was my mom passed away, but when I was really young, you know, I used to go to the market with my mom. So... I think I was always gravitated to ending up in the kitchen,” said Haitian-born Sylva Senat, chef and partner of Philadelphia restaurant Maison 208.
“At this point in my life, as a chef, I want to start giving back.”
It has been a long journey for Chef Senat. With over 18 years of experience, he has made a name for himself by working at high-profile restaurants like The Sign of the Dove, Aquavit, Jean-Georges and Buddakan, while learning from culinary masters like Chef Andrew D’Amico and Chef Vongerichten. Later, he went on to participate in Bravo’s hit show Top Chef, where he became the last rookie standing, making it into the top five spot before getting eliminated in Episode 10 of Season 14.
In Senat’s exit interview for the show, the Top Chef contestant said “I have been chasing this dream since I was 18 and I am not going to stop...”
Well, “stop” he has not.
Today, not only does he spearhead a Philadelphia-based restaurant group, but he runs a full restaurant operation as Maison 208’s head chef while mentoring the next generation of culinary professionals via Careers through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP.)
Chef Senat’s journey can be traced all the way back to his time as a student at C-CAP, an organization that gives underprivileged kids the opportunity to follow their culinary dreams. Now, he serves as a proud alumni board member and a mentor to recent graduates.
This is how Chef Senat met his C-CAP mentee— Dominique Akers.
“In 11th grade, I was introduced to C-CAP and my eyes were just blown straight open. They have job opportunities and scholarship opportunities, everything I dreamed of was there,” said Akers, a Swenson High School graduate. “I’ll be starting my first semester at the Culinary Institute of America in January. I got my scholarship… my parents almost cried. It was probably one of the highlights of my life.”
In this episode of Food As A Lifestyle, Foodable got a glimpse into the lives of this culinary duo as they prepared to conduct a “Swap Meat” demo at the Community College of Philadelphia for a C-CAP Chef Conference.
Chef Senat believes that when you take a fish and you treat it like a meat there’s really unlimited possibilities to what someone can actually create. This is the whole premise to the “Swap Meat” demo where the chefs participating in the conference got a chance to see how to prepare and taste two delicious and sustainably sourced fishes from Alaska: the Pollock and Rockfish.
Chef Senat and Akers personally went to pick up the fish from their local fishery, Samuels and Sons Seafood, because Senat thought it would be a good experience for his mentee to learn from the guys who butcher the fish by hand.
While at Samuels and Sons, they meet the Vice President of New Product Development, Joe Lasprogata, who teaches them a little more about the types of fish they will be featuring in the demo.
For example, the Alaska Rockfish is low in saturated fat and very high in selenium, phosphorous, and vitamin B12, and it is known for its delicate, mild flavor, pearly-white color, and tender yet meaty texture. On the other hand, the Alaska Pollock is low in fat, calories and an excellent source of protein. It offers wide appeal with its snow-white, tender fillet with a mild flavor and beautiful flake. Additionally, the Pollock is the largest sustainable fishery in the world and accounts for 30 percent of all U.S. seafood landings by weight.
“Sustainability has always been important for the Alaskan people. The concept of sustainability is built into their constitution to make sure they take care of these natural resources, so they’ll be around for years to come,” said Lasprogata.
To get an idea of the yields from the Alaska Rockfish, a fish Samuels and Sons is experimenting with, Chef Senat is advised to get 60 pounds of the whole fish for a yield of 20 pounds of fish meat.
C-CAP “Swap Meat” Chef Demo
To get ready for the following day’s demo, Chef Senat and Akers have to prepare about 90 portions of each fish.
For the first dish, Chef Senat decided to swap the meat of a Dewey burger he has in his Maison 208 menu with the Alaska Pollock by shrinking it with baby buns to make sliders.
Chef Davis Denick, Samuels and Sons’ seafood executive chef was a big help when portioning the fish filets.
They cooked the fish with a little cayenne and salt and used fresh brioche buns with butter lettuce and a tomato slice in each slider.
For the second dish, Chef Senat decided to serve seared Alaska Rockfish plated over a corn mash alongside cherry tomatoes with a shallot dressing finished off with fresh basil.
The demo end up being a huge success, where all the chefs participating in the conference alongside the C-CAP student volunteers were introduced to two sustainable fish products that could be easily swapped for dishes that typically use meat like chicken, pork or beef.
Chef Senat not only was able to give back to the organization that propelled him to success but was also able to educate his peers about creative ways to incorporate sustainable fish in their menus.
“I want to show them that it’s not just a piece of fish anymore, the creativity and the limitless of what you can do with it can truly be inspiring," said Chef Senat.
Watch the episode above for more tips for swapping sustainable seafood for meat!