Daniel Graves, chef partner at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar (2001 Siesta Dr., Sarasota. 358-9463; flemingssteakhouse.com) in Sarasota, cultivated his culinary skills in early childhood while cooking with his grandmother and watching Julia Child on TV. Now he is known for his signature steaks, as well as his herb-marinated jumbo shrimp skewers and Cajun-seared New Bedford scallops.
What makes you excited to go to work every day?
I find tremendous tranquility in cooking. I love the smiles I’m able to put on our guests’ faces, and the memories remind me of when I was a child. Much of our time was spent enjoying each other’s company while sitting around a table of great food.
What is the most memorable compliment you have received from a customer?
I would say it came from actor Robin Williams. About six years ago, I was working in a restaurant in Tampa where we were preparing food for a surprise birthday party for Billy Crystal, a friend of Robin’s. Afterwards, Robin came into the kitchen unannounced to personally thank us for such a wonderful night. Robin said we completely surpassed his expectations for the evening. When I reached out my hand to shake his, he grabbed it and pulled me in with a bear hug, much to my surprise.
What was the first dish you ever cooked?
I was about 10 or 11 when I cooked a stuffed turkey for my mom. She was a single mom and worked two full-time jobs. I had watched a Julia Child show on how to cook a turkey and prepared it with her. I surprised my mom with it for Thanksgiving.
What is one of your favorite flavor combinations?
I love roasting fresh fish and incorporating light vinaigrettes to mellow the richness, not overpower it. These combinations also make wonderful salads or small-plate entrées. One of my favorite seafood dishes is our small-plate shrimp skewers with herb-marinated jumbo shrimp seared to medium rare. They are served over a salad of fennel, red onion, fresh chopped parsley and orange segments, tossed in lemon balsamic vinaigrette and placed with Chimichurri dipping sauce.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you like to do?
I’d be as some type of landscape designer. Much like cooking is an art form, I would be designing a garden or backyard area for a client, rather than a plate for a guest. I like to express myself and give my interpretation of how I feel something should look.
NEW BEDFORD SCALLOPS WITH VEGETABLE SALAD AND MEYER LEMON HONEY OIL
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon oil
¼ cup honey
1½ teaspoons cilantro oil (see recipe below)
1½ ounces carrots, julienned
3 ounces French green beans
2 ounces asparagus
2 tablespoons water
1 ounce red onion, julienned
1 ounce Kalamata olives
8 grape tomatoes
1½ teaspoons Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun spice
3 tablespoons flour
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons lemon balsamic dressing (store-bought)
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, finely ground
Place Meyer lemon oil in a small saucepan with honey, heat for two minutes and reserve. Prepare cilantro oil and set aside. Julienne carrot using a mandoline and place into a small, microwaveable bowl. Trim green beans and cut asparagus, and add to the carrot bowl. Cook vegetables in the microwave until crisp and tender (about two minutes). Julienne onion and add to the vegetable bowl, along with Kalamata olives and tomatoes split in half. Season both sides of scallops (abductor muscle removed) with Cajun spice and press them into flour.
Heat three of the six tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch sauté pan on high, and brown the scallops. Toss cooked vegetables with lemon balsamic vinaigrette and place in a 350-degree oven for four minutes. Place four scallops on each plate and divide vegetables evenly. Drizzle two teaspoons of Meyer lemon honey oil over scallops. Stir cilantro oil and drizzle ¼ teaspoon on each plate for color.
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red onion, minced
4 tablespoons cilantro, roughly chopped
1 pinch kosher salt
Combine extra virgin olive oil, minced red onion, roughly chopped cilantro and kosher salt in a food processor. Pulse six times without pureeing.
Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar is at