Backup plan leads cooking team featuring Mark Swierkowski to victory in competition

By Douglas McCulloch | Jul 28, 2017
Photo by: Douglas McCulloch Chef Mark Swierkowski from Ella's Wood Burning Oven worked with Edward Roszak to win the competition.

Chef Mark Swierkowski went into a seafood cooking competition with an open mind, as he had no idea what he would actually be cooking.

The head chef at Wareham’s Ella’s Wood Burning Oven, working with Mattapoisett’s Edward Roszak from How on Earth, had to brainstorm ideas, coming up with the New Bedford Seafood Throwdown’s winning dish in about 5 minutes the day of the competition, held July 27. The pair came up with several ideas, which came in handy as they had to quickly pivot when the mystery ingredient of hake was revealed, along with rainy weather during the competition.

“We had a plan A and a plan B,” Roszak explained. “Plan A was to do something with a little bit more Spanish flavor, and plan B was this idea. When we saw the hake we flipped to plan B, especially with the rain because it was a little more brothy and more warm.”

They served hake dredged in garbanzo, in a sautée of sunburst tomatoes, green beans, zucchini squash and flavorings he picked up at the New Bedford Farmers Market.

Swierkowski said their secret weapon was imported Spanish chorizo.

“It’s drier than the typical linguicia you find here in the states,” said Swierkowski, who has owned and operated Ella’s for nearly a decade. “There’s a lot more spice, more depth and more flavor.”

As the competition began, competitors were given a strict $25 budget to secure ingredients to go along with the hake alongside three ingredients they were allowed to bring.

By a narrow margin, the Swierkowski and Roszak’s dish won the approval of the judges, and the competition.

Swierkowski was invited to compete as Roszak’s sous chef. Both have been close friends for a long time, sharing similar backgrounds (both have been cooking since they were teenagers) and have trained in world class culinary cities, such as Los Angeles.

Swierkowski said competitions such as the throwdown help showcase the South Coast’s culinary scene.

“It’s good to meet new chefs and talk shop,” said Swierkowski. “I think it’s great for people from the area to get to know their chefs, where they’re from and what ingredients they like to work with. Competitions like this one bring a lot to the table.”

Swierkowski and Roszak went up against chef Joe Rego, owner of Fairhaven’s Pasta House and Dartmouth’s Cask and Pig. While Rego has winning appearances on Food Network shows Chopped and Cutthroat Kitchen on his resume, Roszak said he wasn’t worried.

“I’ve spent my entire life cooking,” Roszak said. “I started at 13, and I’ve cooked in Los Angeles, I’ve cooked in Boston.”

For his dish, Rego prepared a seafood gumbo with a little local flavor using linguica. When the mystery fish was revealed to be hake, that didn’t change Rego’s plan at all.

He brought linguica, gumbo spice, and okra to follow through on his vision with him to the seafood throwdown, and purchased needed vegetables and spices at farmer’s market. But with a lack of ingredients, Rego had to come up with some creative solutions when he ran into problems.

“I had to improvise,” Rego said. “When you make gumbo, you have to use butter and flour to make the roux, so it was kind of hard to thicken the soup.”

Using potatoes he purchased at the farmer's market, he boiled them with fish stock to help thicken the gumbo, and used remaining potatoes in the place of rice to serve it with.

The seafood throwdown was held at Custom House Square in New Bedford, organized by several local and national fisheries organizations to raise awareness of the New Bedford fishing industry.

Comments (1)
Posted by: wtbarber | Aug 02, 2017 12:44

Congrats Mark and Ed!

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