■ BY SUE ERWIN
Jack Cosgrove is relishing life in Boca Grande. He’s been working at Newlin’s Mainely Gourmet Market since September, but before that he was taking care of property for Mrs. Dodo Hamilton, who unfortunately passed away a few months ago.
The Pennsylvania native came here when his uncle and aunt, Tim and Celeste, asked if he’d be interested in working for Mrs. Hamilton.
“My uncle worked for her for about 12 years,” Jack said. “I was working as a private chef in Philadelphia when he asked me to come down and help out. The secret soon came out that I was a chef, and I very quickly became her personal chef.”
That was about two years ago, and since then he’s been appreciative of the opportunities available to him on the island, and he feels grateful for the people he has met.
“Mrs. Hamilton and her family did everything they could in my best interest to make sure I was secure … they’re some of the nicest people I know,” Jack said.
As it turns out, the Hamilton family members are good friends with Kim Newlin, so when they heard that Kim was looking for a chef, they recommended Jack.
“They really love Kim, and we always patronized her business,” Jack said. “She is like a mom to me; just very sweet and super friendly, and I’m so grateful to be working with her now.”
Jack was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania and has been working in kitchens since he was nine years old. He is one of eight children from an Irish and Italian family.
“My grandfather was from Italy, and he taught me how to cook when I was very young,” Jack said.
He had an entrepreneurial bent at a young age and used to offer to grill dinner for his neighbors in exchange for a few dollars.
One of his first jobs was peeling 50-pound bags of potatoes for a restaurant in his town.
“My dad and grandfather were very influential in teaching me how to work hard and be successful in life,” he said.
After graduating from high school, Jack attended Penn State University and studied community environmental development and finance.
“I’m very much into fishing, and I was interested in helping communities build sustainable fisheries and in promoting how important it is to keep an equal balance between economics and the environment,” he said.
When he graduated from college in 2010, he took a position with the United States Department of Agriculture in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to help sustain the fisheries in that area and help the local fishermen make the connection between the selling of fish and the sustainability aspect.
“There were a lot of boats coming over from other countries and depleting the fisheries, so we worked to try to fend off the bigger boats from coming and taking all the fish,” he said.
He lived in Mexico for about five years and met his wife, Margarita, while they were both attending a Quinceanera for a friend.
They have four children: Daniella, 15; Pablo, 9; Matteo, 5; and Mauricio, who recently turned one.
“My family lives in Puerta Vallarta, and they run our fishing charter boat business,” Jack said. “My step-brothers are all fishing captains. Our business is called ‘Boca Charters’ because the town we live in is called ‘Boca de Tomatlan’ – a small town just off Mexico’s Pacific coast. The beach has several restaurants and a small pier,” he said.
While Jack was living in Mexico, he was a chef on long-range tuna boats.
“It was recreational fishing, so we caught 450-pound yellowfin tuna. I was the cook as well as the mate, and I also got to fish,” he said.
Jack has done a lot of fishing in Mexico, and more often than not, he comes home with fresh red snapper, tuna, lobster or octopus.
“My wife expects me to bring home dinner when I go out fishing in the morning,” he said. “In Mexico, they-focus on farm-to table dining in their daily meal planning. It’s a staple. We eat the fruits and vegetables that are growing naturally in season, along with what we catch that day.”
He spends every September and October in Mexico because that’s the peak fishing tournament season there.
Last May, Jack caught his first tarpon while participating in the 2017 World’s Richest Tarpon Tournament. He fished on the Sweetwater charter boat with Capt. Randy Rhines. He had fished sailfish and marlin tournaments in the past, but he’d only seen tarpon tournaments on television before living here.
“It’s truly a gentlemen’s sport,” he said. “It’s the most prestigious type of fishing I’ve ever done, and I respect the locals and the traditions here in Boca Grande.”
The crew had the last fish caught with five minutes left to go, when Nat Italiano pulled up a tarpon.
“It was an experience that really connected me with the island, because I was in between jobs and my family was in Mexico. I wasn’t sure what my next step would be, and I realized what a great community Boca Grande is. It soon became my ‘second’ family. I really am thankful to Braxton and Betty Bowen for helping me during tough times.”
Jack said he’s also thankful to Mrs. Hamilton for being such a good mentor.
“She taught me so much about entertaining and how to be motivated in life and strive to be the best I can. She treated her employees like family, and that is something that will always stick with me.”
He said the transition to working at Newlin’s was quite natural. Kim recently encouraged him to take some time off and go to Mexico to be with his family over Christmas.
“Our kids live a life there that we would never be able to afford here,” he said. “My boys surf, swim and fish every day … and people really appreciate the basic things.”
Ironically, Jack has spent several summer seasons working on a seven-mile-long island in Avalon, New Jersey. He was a chef at a small resort.
“I like having the opportunity to work in small towns that are not heavily populated,” he said.
When he’s not working, Jack enjoys fishing and hunting, and being from Pennsylvania, he is a big fan of the Philadelphia Eagles.
He also enjoys reading and can be seen regularly checking out books at the Johann Fust Library.
As a chef, some of Jack’s favorite dishes to prepare are mostly seafood-based.
He likes to offer fresh catch options, and to use Italian recipes and incorporate them into new dishes.
Ceviche, which consists of salt, fresh fish, limejuice and vegetables, is one of his favorite meals to prepare.
In Mexico, he said the most common catches are tuna, bluefish and red snapper.
Jack’s goal is to hopefully stay and work in Boca Grande, eventually bringing his family to the United States and then to later retire to Mexico.
Recently he’s been trying to incorporate a variety of new items on the menu at Newlin’s.
The next time you’re headed to Newlin’s Mainely Gourmet Market on Fourth Street, say hello to Jack while he keeps busy preparing fresh meals for patrons to enjoy this season.