Meet Sargent Lobster
Last week, I had a chance to chat with Ben Sargent, host of “Hook, Line & Dinner,” which debuted on the Cooking Channel on Tuesday, June 7.
Known as “The Lobster Pusha Man” thanks to his Underground Lobster Pound, where the surfer/restaurateur sold lobster rolls out of his Brooklyn apartment, “Hook, Line & Dinner” follows Sargent coast to coast as he joins seafood on its journey from sea to table.
Sargent, whose grandfather was a fishery head, grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and graduated with a bachelor’s in fine arts with a concentration in sculpture.
How did fine arts lead to owning a seafood restaurant?
I ask myself that all the time (laughs). I moved to New York to intern with an artist, and I discovered, strangely, surfing, which was a past passion of mine. I discovered it in Rockaway, Queens, and knew immediately that I wanted to open up a little place for these strange New York Surfers so they have a hangout … I couldn’t do a surf shop because there wasn’t a lot of us; I needed something to bring people in, and there’s nothing better than a little food and beer.
At the time, the thing I was most familiar cooking with was New England-style seafood, so I immediately called my father and said that I needed (my grandfather’s) recipe for New England clam chowder — my family does the New England seafood thing pretty naturally. I didn’t need much, just four to five chowders, some lobster rolls.
What can people expect from “Hook, Line & Dinner?”
It’s a really legitimate show in the sense that when I’m fishing with these guys, it’s following the fish from sea to table. I go to the end of the dock on my motorcycle. I find the fisherman, and I get on the boat with them. I will sometimes get seasick, which is really embarrassing, especially when the crew doesn’t.
Then we follow the seafood right to the processor, and from the processor to the chef in the kitchen. And what’s cool about that is we usually arrive at the worst times, right at their busiest hours, middle of lunch, middle of dinner. We want to be right in the action, and it’s amazing; burning, scalding-hot pans, tickets flying, everybody’s shouting at each other. It’s the real deal, and I just jump right into the action and try not to get in the way.
Where was the your favorite place you filmed?
It’s hard to say because on one hand, places like Portland, Oregon, felt so legitimate. You’re talking high seas, freezing-cold weather — this is fishing at its best. But here I am on my motorcycle freezing, freezing, and the next thing I know I have to get on a boat, which is going to get even colder!
While that was so legit, I have to say when I got to places like San Diego, and the sun was shining on me, and I’m in a T-shirt I was so happy! And then I got to do cool things, like diving for urchins … and the next thing you know, you’re eating fresh urchin on the boat. It doesn’t get any better than that.
What is the No. 1 lesson you’d like your viewers to learn about seafood?
First off, I would just say that it’s not difficult. Seafood is actually one of the easier things to cook. One of the other things I would say is that, as a consumer, you’re going to learn a little something from the show.
Lobster rolls are your thing. What makes The Perfect Roll?
Simplicity. Like everything we do on the show, it’s starting with a fresh product. In my case, what makes my lobster roll somewhat famous is that my lobster was coming from Maine, sometimes it wasn’t even 24 hours out of Maine’s ocean water. Let the key ingredient, lobster, shine through. Don’t start with your mayonnaise, start with your lobster — the mayo is a little something extra, and the butter is the same. I don’t do any garnishing, I don’t put a bed of lettuce on there, I don’t even put celery — it’s all about the lobster.
What are two things you always have in your fridge?
Well … lobster (laughs). Back in the day, I probably had $3,000 worth of lobster in my fridge at any given moment. I’d actually designate my entire fridge to lobster, even in the little egg compartment on the side. Another thing is Old Bay. I’m a big fan of Old Bay, and I have it everywhere, not in the refrigerator, but I should own stock in that company.
Originally published in the Weekender on June 8, 2011