Native Australian James Saftich quit a career in advertising to train at New York’s French Culinary Institute. He worked at a few high-end restaurants in Manhattan before following his wife to San Antonio, Texas, where he worked as a private chef. The couple came back east in 2013 and Saftich took over the kitchen at Claddagh on the Shore in Fenwick Island. When the Delaware pub was sold early this year, he became executive chef at the Canton location. Saftich has revamped the menu and tweaked the sourcing, with more local and seasonal produce and proteins, crabcakes loaded with lump, and a sandwich that’s listed
on the menu as “Chef’s Blended Burger.”
Tell me about the burger.
If you’ve traveled to Australia, you’ll recognize the Aussie Burger. It consists of grilled pineapple for the sweetness, beetroot for the earthiness and a little barbecue sauce for spice. You’re hitting the major flavor touch points. That flavor profile works—otherwise 33 million people on the planet wouldn’t eat it.
And you’ve tweaked it for the James Beard Blended Burger challenge?
The rules say that at least 25 percent of the burger has to be mushrooms. So we use shitake mushrooms with Thai chili and shallots. That adds a great umami flavor. By replacing 25 percent of meat with raw mushroom, you remove 25 percent of the fat. Everyone knows the flavor profile of mushrooms resembles meat, so it’s a perfect match. It’s also better for the environment. It has a huge impact. To grow cattle, what are we looking at—two years? They’re eating grass and live at the top of the food chain. Mushrooms thrive in dank places or show up in your backyard after rain and are easy to grow. Besides, who doesn’t like mushrooms?
Is the Claddagh going gastro in other ways?
I’ve redone the menu from top to bottom. I was conscientious of the Canton audience, the younger crowd, who turn the upstairs into a nightclub after 9. Yes, they order chicken wings. But rather than eating chickens that have lived in darkness for the last 35 days, we are now offering a beautiful, sustainable, fresh product. If you respect your body, it’s like owning an expensive turbocharged car. You’re not going to use the cheap fuel.
When was your real food awakening?
Ever since I tried that pork thing they have at McDonald’s, the McRib. It doesn’t have a bone, it looks like a rib. Real food tastes so much better. If I came to your house and started reading all the ingredients on the packages in your cupboard, wouldn’t you be disgusted if half of them we can’t pronounce? Except you wouldn’t find that in my kitchen. Ah, excellent. Then we’re in agreement. My parents retired in the country, in New South Wales. And they decided to have some chickens. They built a little chicken coop. If you look at those eggs from a natural chicken that ran around in the backyard eating moths, whatever, they are bright orange, as opposed to the insipid partially pale yellow color you find at the supermarket. Wouldn’t one be better for you? There it is.
So will you keep the James Beard burger on the menu?
The competition ends in July, so we’ll keep it at least till the end of August, based on sales. I think it’s a great idea, to make a flavorful burger with mushrooms. I thought it would be fun to let the Canton audience partake in something trendy and now. If you have some friends who have traveled to Australia, ask them if they’ve had an Aussie Burger. We’re taking something we know works and we’re slightly rearranging it.