THE HOT SEAT: Dave Snyder of Halyards Restaurant Group, St. Simons Island, GA

Chef Dave Snyder cooks over SIF Kettle

By Stephanie Burt, The Southern Fork

Chef Dave Snyder graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and sharpened his skills at New York City spots including The Essex House and Union Square Café, but it was when he arrived on St. Simons Island, GA that he took to the island like a fish takes to water. He’d like that metaphor too, because beyond operating his restaurants Halyards, La Plancha, and Tramici, and a catering side of the business, he also runs Hook & Knife Charters, drawing on his relationships with local fishermen and farmers.

Dave is also active in several organizations to improve and sustain the South Atlantic fishing industry. So, it’s easy to guess that after a day of fishing, he likes to invite friends for a delicious, easy dinner by firing up the Sea Island Forge Kettle and -- while the coals are getting just right -- get some fresh catch cleaned and dressed to hit the fire. 

  • Do you have a grilling or campfire memory that started your love of outdoor cooking?
  • It wasn’t a campfire moment, but cooking at home with my mom and dad. I grew up in Michigan, and I remember them suffering in the snow during the winter just so we could get the flavor of grilling. We had a gas grill, though, and I remember when I went to the neighbors up the street and they were cooking burgers, it was with charcoal. That was the first time I noticed the difference of that flavor.  

  • What’s one meal that really shines on your SIF?
  • Steak over a grill. That open wood flavor, you really can’t replicate that any other way. I love basting the steaks with butter and herbs, but you really need that open wood fire. [Wood] chips or anything else like that just doesn’t cut it. 

  • What is something that you’ve cooked on the SIF that surprised you?
  • Using the plancha [Griddle] as a stove top, not just a griddle. We put pots and pans on it, and it worked great when we made tacos at the farmers market.

  • How would you describe your style of cooking?
  • Very old school with a respect to the people that have come before me, and focusing on sourcing better ingredients and doing less to it. Honestly, that can be a little more difficult, because there’s no hiding something when you don’t cook it well. 

  • What type of wood do you like for your SIF and why?
  • Hickory seems to be everyone’s favorite, but oak is great when you’re using the plancha [Griddle] -- you can get a consistent burn. I also like apple and cherry when I can get them.  

  • What’s something tricky about open fire that the average cook needs to know?
  • That it’s tricky for us too! You don’t always know what batch of wood you’re using, and it could be more green, more dry, even though it might be from the same load. It can have different hot spots you’re not anticipating, and what you’re always going for is a consistent fire. 

  • What is your favorite element of the SIF?
  • Steve and the team at Sea Island Forge have really done a great job. My favorite element is the “old school” element of cooking over open wood. You can grill, rotisserie, but it’s all over an open wood fire. 

    Grilled fish on the fire kettle

    Sautéed Georgia Speckled Trout with Crab Scampi Butter Sauce

    from Dave Snyder, Halyards Restaurant Group, St. Simons Island, GA

    For the Fish

    2 Georgia Speckled Trout, gutted, scaled, and gills removed

    Salt and Pepper

    1 lemon, sliced into rounds

    1 shallot, thinly sliced

    4 sprigs thyme 

    ¼ c. Georgia Olive Farms Olive Oil

    1. Lightly season one side of fish with salt and pepper
    2. Stuff inside with ½ lemon sliced, 1 shallot sliced, and 2 sprigs of thyme
    3. Lightly coat each side of fish with olive oil.
    4. Over hot grill, lay down fish over medium heat area.
    5. Cook until brown, about 4 minutes.  Turn fish over and cook another 4 minutes, for a whole cooking time over the heat totalling approximately 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish. 
    6. Remove from heat and discard lemon, shallot, and thyme sprigs. 

    For the Sauce

    2 tbsp. peeled and minced shallots

    1 tsp. peeled and minced garlic

    ½ c. white wine

    1 tbsp. lump crab meat

    4 oz. unsalted butter, cold and rough cubed

    1 tbsp. tomato, chopped

    1 tbsp. parsley, chopped

    Juice of ½ lemon 

    Salt and Pepper to taste

    1. Place small saucepot over medium heat. 
    2. Add shallots, garlic and wine, and then reduce the liquid by 80%.
    3. Reduce the heat, add crab and slowly whisk in butter a bit at a time.
    4. Add tomato, parsley and lemon juice.
    5. Season with salt and pepper.
    6. To serve, either spoon some sauce on each plate, then place fish on top, or spoon sauce atop fish. Serve immediately.
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