Q: Could you start off by introducing yourself and sharing a bit about your culinary journey?
A: My name is Linda Hampsten Fox and I am chef and owner of The Bindery in LoHi Denver. I started cooking at a very young age, I was very interested in food. My mom was a great home cook, and really took a lot of time to plan our meals and make things from scratch. She had a garden and was growing tomatoes, and cooking a sauce all day long. Lots of inspiration from my mom. Big family – my mother and father were immigrants, very large families. Celebrations, food, and gatherings was a big part to my upbringing. It started at a very young age.
Q: What do you love about cooking seafood in particular?
A: I love seafood so much. Another nod to my childhood, we grew up not far from the Jersey Shore and my dad loved to go fishing. He took us crabbing, digging for clams, fishing – we just ate a lot of seafood growing up. It was one of my fondest memories. I’ve always loved seafood, I still love seafood, and its in my DNA. I gravitate to the sweet, salty, briny flavor of the ocean.
Q: What’s a seafood dish you’re currently working on or have perfected? What unique elements or flavors does it have?
A: I’ve been working on a few new dishes for the fall menu, which is really fun. One is a Bronzino, that’s a European Sea Bass. While we usually serve as a whole fish, this is the first time we are butterflying the fillet open and working with a bright, herbaceous, spicy green harissa. With lots of jalapenos, serranoes, cilantro and parsley – really bright and delicious. As everyone knows fish and potatoes are a great marriage, and we have a layer of very crispy Yukon potatoes on top of that butterflied Bronzino that’s swimming in a pool of green harissa with a little saffron aioli.
Q: Many chefs draw inspiration from sources like travel, culture, or personal experiences. What inspires your seafood creations?
A: Interestingly, I do think I connect our menus all year long through different bodies of water. Whether it’s the Atlantic – growing up on the shores of New Jersey, to having lived in Tuscany and the Mediterranean, or the Sea of Cortez in Baja. Those different waters are resources for lots of inspiration in seafood. Having lived in Italy for a long time, learning dishes that were particular also to Tuscany, central Italy, off the Mediterranean, is seen throughout my cooking.
I fell in love with this beautiful unique ingredient while I was in Baja, off the Sea of Cortez, where you only find these giant, coco colored clams. A chocolate clam is very unique. When I had my first bite of chocolate clams, I fell in love. I just thought – this is the most incredible taste of seafood I’ve ever had.
Having had the opportunity to have traveled so much, I’ve been able to experience a lot of different cultures that led to the waters that are near there. From Cabo, to Kenya, to California – it’s all so different but it’s also so inspiring.
Q: SAGE’s mission is to empower women and genderqueer people and promote gender equality in the seafood sector. Could you share your thoughts on initiatives like this in the culinary industry and how you see them impacting the profession?
A: I’m seeing more and more young women in my kitchen and in the culinary arts more than ever. It’s great to see and feel that femininity that they bring to cooking. Myself personally, I have walked between this idea of different ingredients that have seen robust, hearty, and kind of aggressive – yet, I still want them to be kind of feminine, and reflective of who I am. It’s great to see a lot of young women bringing their voices to cooking, and cooking with seafood in our profession.
The most important thing I tell young women coming into my kitchen, or whoever I’m working with in whatever context, to find your voice and make sure you stay true to that. It’s one of the biggest thing you can do for yourself in the cooking arts.
Q: Your journey can be an inspiration to many aspiring chefs. What advice do you have for people who are starting out, especially those interested in seafood cuisine?
A: Don’t be afraid. Seafood is a beautiful and interesting ingredient to work with. I think it’s interesting that some people feel intimated by it, but it’s actually so lovely to work with because of the nuances that you find in the flavors. Your work is to be somewhat gentle with the ingredients and honor that flavor that comes with them.
Having said that, I also have a Scottish salmon fish on the fall menu, that I’m kind of treating opposite of what I just said. We are offering a salmon steak which is a little more of an aggressive cut because the bone is still there. We have the salmon belly as well as the bone. I’m pairing it with porcini mushrooms which are wild mushrooms that have an incredible musky, woodsy flavor that is so delicious and speaks to fall. Salmon is a big mouthful fish in my opinion. You have a weight to it that can hold up to the mushrooms, and the mushrooms can really bring out the beauty in the salmon. It’s a fun dish to marinate the woods and the sea.
I mentioned one of my fondest memories growing up – these big seafood dinners, picnics, and festivals that I would have every summer with my family. It was so much crab, clams, catfish, and buckets of mussels – everything you can imagine. Seafood is probably my favorite ingredient in the world and I always gravitate to eating fish. I love eating it and when other people can embrace it.
That’s what’s so beautiful about it – going to different places and traveling and having the seafood that is particular for that place and time. It’s the terroir of the sea.