He frequently punctuates the end of his sentences with a firm thump of his hand. He speaks quietly, but clearly and quickly and rattles off the language of haute cuisine with alarming efficiency. Listening to him is like listening to a well-studied philosopher breeze through something as impenetrable as Gödel's proof.
Seth was named executive chef at the Inn this summer.
We met at the loading dock where Seth was removing what he'd later explain was tomato coulis from the smoker in preparation for a charity event, Dining by Design, a $1,000 per plate dinner in Louisiana. It is an event where six chefs who've been invited from all over the U.S. will present multiple courses.
Seth came from a family of people who appreciated food from all over the world. His parents, Keith and Kathleen, were able to travel extensively with him because of Keith's job with US Air. They encouraged him to experience local cuisine wherever he was.
"My parents were always very adamant that when you were in Jamaica, Germany or Switzerland you ate what they ate," he said.
His parents also always cooked and dinner was an important part the family's day.
"Dinner was always at 5:30 every day, no excuses," he said.
Still, what would be his passion for everything culinary wouldn't manifest until later in life when he took a job at a small restaurant called Jeffrey's Landing for some spending money.
He met his wife Joni there as well, so you might say he fell in love twice. She is now the food and beverage director's assistant and studying radiation technology at Edison State College.
When speaking about culinary matters, Seth frequently stressed two things, one of which was the importance of taking pride in work. It seemed to extend to every possible aspect (and there are many) of his operation. He spoke about rebuilding the kitchen in great detail. French top burners, sous vide machines and The Rationale were added. He attended to every detail, down to the country of manufacture of the hardware.
That is also a part of the reason why he runs what he calls a "scratch kitchen."
"Everything that is served in that dining room is made here," he said, "be it pasta, soups, sauces, desserts, all done from scratch here."
The attention to detail and quality he said he requires in order to feel pride in what he serves can't really be accomplished any other way.
He also stressed efficiency.
"We built everything with the aim of being the most efficient that we could be," he said. "That's the name of the game. It generally translates to time. If you're sitting at a table waiting to eat and someone is slow or has to make 10 or 12 steps off his station, he's eating up time."
No pun intended, probably.
Events like banquets and weddings have strict timetables, and high levels of precision are required to complete courses or dishes at just the right moment.
"No one wants to sit at a wedding and have an uncomfortable silence after a speech," he said. "They would like their next course. Efficiency really is the hugest part of an organization."
Seth seems to welcome the challenges that come with a high-pressure kitchen. He said he writes the menu every day, something that most establishments don't allow. He appreciates that flexibility.
"If the lobster or sole comes in and they're not nice, we don't use them," he said. "If the oysters come in and we open them up and eat them and we don't like them, we're not going to serve them. It allows us a huge amount of freedom and flexibility to make sure that we do what we want to do."
This also allows him the freedom to offer ingredients and dishes that are too ephemeral for many restaurants, whose dishes may need to be offered throughout the course of an entire season. A menu that features something like ramps, white asparagus or fiddle ferns can last at most a few weeks.
He loves offering local ingredients such as caviar from Mote and stone crab and seafood from Charlotte Harbor fishermen.
Of course writing a new menu every day brings added responsibility and challenges, and it's a lot more work. But Seth loves what he does. He takes pride in every dish.
"It is a lot of work," he said, "but the kitchen is always work. If you're looking for an easy job, it's certainly not in the kitchen."
Anyone who's ever worked in a kitchen can attest that it takes a certain temperament to be successful. Seth's fascination with that scene officially began in college – for dentistry.
Seth grew up in Pittsburg, Pa., and started his education at Penn State University where he studied biology with the intention of becoming a dentist. Everything might have gone according to that plan, but in his first semester, way back in his first year, he'd taken a job at Jeffrey's Landing in Pittsburgh.
"I took that job to sort of have some spending money," he said. "I fell in love with it. I remember saying, 'I think I'm going to go to culinary school instead.'"
The responses he got were less than auspicious, he said. In some sense, his detractors weren't wrong. Seth agrees that it's hard work and at first very little pay.
"But when you hit the kitchen and there's that buzz," he said, "that speed that's in the kitchen and everyone around you is moving, you just get caught up in it. I fell in love with that constant buzz and hum of always having something to do or to learn."
He transferred to Le Cordon Bleu Institute of Culinary Arts in downtown Pittsburgh. After graduating, he completed a three-year apprentice program at The Greenbrier, a luxury resort in West Virginia where he studied under Chef Peter Timmins.
Think of the apprenticeship program as a finishing school, he said.
"It's essentially a four-year process," he said. "You work one year to get in and another three years, and that was sort of done in keeping with the traditional European apprenticeship which meant that you usually did about seven to 10 years of training."
He spent a year as sous chef at The Ritz-Carlton Lodge, Reynolds Plantation, in Georgia before coming to the Inn with Timmins.
"We kept in touch," he said. "When this opportunity became available, I came down, saw the place and fell in love immediately. It's great here. It was an easy sell."
He served as chef de cuisine for three years, essentially in charge of the Inn's dining room and all the food served therein.
In June, Seth was named executive chef, which is the person who oversees everything at all of the Inn's establishments.
Executive chef is the highest tier of what he explained is the classic, brigade system of cooking.
During his down time, Seth enjoys fishing, hunting and driving his Corvette.
"I always grew up around cars and said when I can afford it I'd like to have a nice one," he said. "Now I do. It's Florida, so I was able to get a nice convertible."
Seth said he tries to instill the same pride in dishes served in the students in the Inn's apprenticeship program. Students come from a year of training in nutrition, culinary math and restaurant design at the American Culinary Federation in Sarasota to apprentice for three years in his kitchen.
A good way to teach that he said, is to think of every dish as if it's going out to your mom on her birthday.
"Is that the meal you would serve?" he said. "They have to have that measure of control that tells them it's not right and has to be done again. It's perfect, or we wait."
With that, he wandered off toward the staff apartments at the north end of the property, bottle of wine in hand, that would no doubt pair with whatever magical thing he was going to concoct that night for dinner.
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