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All in a Hard Day’s Work

Ben Sargent

Surfing, scuba diving, sunshine and sea urchins in San Diego: now we’re talkin’.

It was time to move on from the cold weather, burly man stuff. I wanted sunshine and surf and that’s just what I got in beautiful San Diego. The first thing I discovered is I need to work on my West Coast surfer lingo — “gnarly,” “rad” and “hella cool” are in frequent use. I also discovered my actual surfing skills could use some work. Compared to the locals, I was totally not “one with the ocean” that day at all.

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Halibut and Rock Crabs in Santa Barbara

Ben Sargent of Hook, Line & Dinner

On my way to Santa Barbara

Ah, Santa Barbara, Calif. — a welcome relief weather-wise after Oregon. The sun shone brightly for three days straight, and I could feel my fingers for the whole trip (which are essential for braking on a motorcycle). Craig Lewis, a local trawler who traded the high seas of Alaska for the area, refers to it as “cupcake cove,” because the weather is nice and the fishing so good. As he would say, “No worries in this bay, right mate?”

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Secrets to a Better Oyster Chowder

Ben Sargent at Swan Oyster Depot

Swan Oyster Depot is my favorite place to stop by when I’m in San Francisco. It’s a San Francisco institution that’s been serving nothing but seafood since 1912. Leaving aside the fact that this was the only place I got skunked on the fishing, I still hold strong to my belief that San Fran has some of the best seafood in the entire world.  And who better to help me prove this point than Tommy Sancimino, owner of Swan Oyster Depot?

I was determined to learn the secret to Tommy’s “off-the-menu oyster chowder.” It’s a dish known to locals, but it’s extremely hard to come by if you are not in the know. It’s quite possibly the best stew I have ever tasted in my life.

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Where to Find the Best Crab Cakes

Cooking Channel's Ben Sargent

When I decided to ride my 1973 BMW motorcycle for this entire seafood odyssey, I neglected to factor in something major: Oregon. While Oregon is one of the most beautiful places on earth, the elements of the Pacific Northwest can be far from friendly.  I think I averaged about three layers of clothing and a hot chocolate or coffee every 40 miles.

By the time I got to the fishing boat, I had to dig deep to muster the enthusiasm needed to layer on rain gear and head out on high waves. If you caught the episode, you noticed I had some issues with those waves (or was it the sardines?). But, I have to say, after all that, the crab cakes sure were worth it! 

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Gumbo Secrets From the “Queen of Creole Cuisine”

Ben Sargent of Hook, Line & Dinner

“I went to Dooky Chase
To get me something to eat
The waitress looked at me and said

Ray, you sure look beat,

Now it’s early in the morning
And I ain’t got nothing but the blues”

—Ray Charles, “Early in the Morning Blues”

For anyone traveling to New Orleans on a food pilgrimage, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant is a must-stop. Thanks for the tip, Ray!

Leah Chase, co-owner and star chef at Dooky Chase, was just about the coolest person I have ever met.  I don’t just mean that in the sense of nice or friendly; cool is a much more suitable word.  Even better, she had moves in the kitchen and makes a mean shrimp gumbo.

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The Best Seafood in the South

Ben Sargent of Hook, Line and Dinner

Fishing for Sheepshead Fish Outside of Charleston, S.C.

Charleston is a town steeped in history. The first shots of the Civil War were fired here. In fact, you can still find live cannon balls from the war in the oyster flats! But in the modern era, Charleston has become a tourist town where you can find some of the best seafood in the country.

I was in town to discover three of the tastiest commodities it has to offer: oysters, blue crabs and sheepshead fish.

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Behind the Scenes of Hook, Line & Dinner

Ben Sargent of Hook, Line and Dinner

Ben Sargent holds up his catch while fishing with the Garcia brothers in Miami, FL.

I unexpectedly fell in love with the city of Miami while we were shooting last night’s episode of Hook, Line & Dinner. I hadn’t spent much time in the city before, but by the end of the shoot, I was telling everyone I was planning to move there. The city has something special going on. Everything that would be described as cheesy in New York City is a-ok in Miami: Lamborghinis and Ferraris, loud music and dancing, sunbathing and clubbing. It’s Latin, and it is wild. Everyone just seems to say “It’s OK here.  It’s Miami.”

It took a little bit of time for me (and my old BMW bike that had a tendency to leak oil and gas) to get into the rhythm of shooting this series. Long rides, a crazy shooting schedule and too much sunshine were a few of my challenges. Yes, even sunshine. Three-hour bike rides in summer resulted in some painfully pink arms! But in the end, it was worth it. I got to learn from expert fishermen and experience the challenges they face everyday; I was able to uncover the best seafood joints and cook with their chefs; I followed the day’s catch from sea to table and enjoyed the freshest seafood in the country. All in a hard day’s work.

So what was a typical day like while we were filming Hook, Line & Dinner?

Well, here’s a basic outline:

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Crawfish in the Bayou

Crawfish

I am ashamed to say my knowledge of crawdads (also known as mudbugs, yabbies, mudpuppies and crawfish) goes only as far as Buck — the bright blue one I have in my fish tank at home. I watch him every day, but at no time have I ever thought to eat him because, to me, he looks like a terribly undersized lobster. You would be shot at the docks up North for eating a guy of his size. So this was the first hurdle I had to get over while hunting for these little critters down in the bayou.

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