By Hope S. Philbrick
This year, New Orleans, Louisiana’s GW Fins was ranked #7 in the Top 10 Best Fine Dining Restaurants In the Country in TripAdvisor’s Travelers Choice Awards, and OpenTable’s 100 Best Restaurants In America.
Tenney Flynn, chef and co-owner of GW Fins, is a two-time winner of New Orleans Magazine‘s “Chef of the Year Award.” The Wall Street Journal has dubbed him “the fishmonger czar of the Gulf region.” He serves as Chef Council Chair of The Audubon Nature Institute’s GULF Chef’s Council and was on the board of directors of the Louisiana Seafood Association.
His first cookbook, The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories from New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef, will be released on August 15, 2019 (Gibbs-Smith, hardcover, $30). Grab a copy to up your seafood cooking game: It’s like Chef Tenney whispering secrets of the sea into your ear.
My advice: When New Orleans’ leading seafood chef talks fish, listen.
I recently had the opportunity to chat by phone with Chef Tenney.
Why write your first cookbook now?
I’d been playing with the idea for several years. A lot of the motivation was to dispel the notion that fish is difficult to cook—it’s actually one of the easiest and quickest-cooking proteins. I’ve been on a local fishing show here for the last 16 years or so and I’ve done a lot of three-minute videos to explain basic techniques. This is a technique book to help build on basic recipes. There is also a legacy piece: I’m 65 years old and I’ve been working in restaurants since I was nine years old, so I have some information to impart.
Your book promises “cooking seafood can be quick and easy with a little practice and the right techniques.” What are your top tips for cooking seafood?
Develop a relationship with the person behind the counter. Ask what came in that day. Don’t get too wedding to one particular species, use your eyes and nose and the input of the fishmonger to pick the best fish in the case. Most recipes list alternate species that will work just as well in a particular dish.
When you get to the stove basically have everything that goes with the dish ready. Have the water poured and the table set before you put the fish in the pan—that’s the way we do it in a restaurant. Even a thick piece of fish will take five to eight minutes to cook. Mise en place is very important because you’re less likely to overcook, and overcooking is a cardinal sin.
What types and/or cuts of fish are most economical?
It depends on the part of the country you’re in. I don’t use farm raised catfish in the restaurant—it’s not a white tablecloth fish. But they are good and the best thing about farm raised is it’s a controlled harvest and the freshness is more likely. I recommend farmed catfish and rainbow trout over tilapia (I try not to eat tilapia).
You catch a lot of seafood yourself. For land-locked folks, what types of fish are best to trust in stores? What’s the best way to ensuring freshness?
No one is happy with regulations, whether it’s the commercial or recreational fisherman or varying degrees of ‘green’ groups. But regulation is why we have vibrant fisheries in the U.S. I scuba dive around the world and in places where there’s no regulation as a consequence there’s no fish. The U.S. has done a good job of managing resources. I’m a big proponent of buying domestic seafood. In the U.S., 66 percent of seafood comes from the Gulf of Mexico, so here in New Orleans I have a huge variety to draw from that I don’t have to pay freight for. If you want ocean fish and you’re inland, your best bet is frozen. In the cookbook I talk about different cooking procedures and recipes that lend themselves to previously frozen fish. It goes back to buying the best thing in the case.
What techniques might be revealed for experienced cooks to up their game?
Well, it gets back to having everything ready before you put fish in pan. Most fin filets take four minutes to cook, so that’s pretty much No. 1.
For people who fish: You can’t have too much ice. Don’t lay out your fish on a dock and take a photo of it. Have a whole fish on ice, one on the cutting board, and a pan of ice for filets and keep them moving from ice to ice to get a whole lot more shelf life.
After the BP oil spill, is Gulf seafood really safe?
I’m an old guy who’s been doing this a long time and pretty much seafood is not inspected—there really isn’t any government oversight on quality of fish with the exception of after the oil spill. The fish was tested and continues to be tested to this day: An unprecedented amount of testing goes on! So I don’t worry about that [oil spill], I worry much more about imported seafood, particularly farm raised, which is grown in a liquid that can’t be called water it has so many antibiotics, chemicals and metals. The Gulf of Mexico is a very large body of water, so I’m not concerned. It’s a very complex ecosystem. I’m more concerned about fertilizer runoff from farms along the Mississippi River contributing to algae bloom.
“The Deep End of Flavor”
During the past 18 years, Chef Tenney has found that as fearless as his restaurant guests have become in ordering fish they’ve never heard of, most people are often skittish about cooking fish at home. It’s perishable, delicate, and generally more expensive than other proteins.
The Deep End of Flavor: Recipes and Stories from New Orleans’ Premier Seafood Chef aims to alleviate fear and help home cooks prepare seafood with confidence. is an indispensable guide to sourcing, preparing, and serving fish and seafood like a pro.
Inspired by the vibrant flavors of New Orleans and tropical climates around the world, Chef Tenney shares his favorite techniques for creating fabulous seafood-centered meal. Featured dishes include Parmesan-crusted flounder, asparagus, capers, and crab; classic roux-thickened shrimp creole; lionfish ceviche with satsumas, lime, and chiles; and fried fish tacos with chipotle slaw.
Included are tips for choosing alternative species based on what’s freshest and best at your local market. Recipes for mix-and-match sauces, complementary side dishes, and French Quarter-inspired drinks and desserts complete the feast.
Chef Tenney Flynn
Tenney Flynn was born and raised in Stone Mountain, Georgia. He started cooking at his father’s landmark restaurant, The Plantation in Stone Mountain, went on to work at Manuel’s Tavern, and then was chef with the Buckhead Life Restaurant Group for several years, ultimately serving as opening Executive Chef of Chops. After serving as the International Director of Culinary Operation for Ruths’ Chris Steakhouse, Chef Tenney opened GW Fins with the former COO of Ruths’ Chris, Gary Wollerman (the GW of GW Fins) in 2001.
As an avid diver and spear fisher who is licensed to serve what he catches, Chef Tenney is especially passionate about encouraging consumers to open their minds beyond the better known—and often over-fished—species and consider the delicious possibilities of underutilized varieties.
Chef Tenney recently appeared on “Live With Kelly and Ryan.” Check the clip out here.
808 Bienville Street
New Orleans, Louisian 70112
– Photos Courtesy Chef Tenney Flynn
Thanks to Chef Tenney Flynn for chatting by phone on August 6, 2019.