One in an occasional series of stories that highlights the work of local culinary artists.
Being the chef at one of Citrus County's grandest restaurants has its challenges and rewards, says Charlie Brown of K.C. Crump.
"You have to love what you're doing or you won't make it," he said. "There are lots of hours. I work no less than 10 hours six days a week and yesterday I worked 14 hours. It's 80 to 90 hours a week. It's every holiday and every weekend."
The long hours are sweetened by a special reward.
"I get paid every day," he said. "The way I get paid is after I feed 200 to 300 people after a long day, they will shake my hand or compliment me on their meal."
Brown has been cooking at Citrus County's best seafood restaurants since 1981. He arrived here when his parents moved from Gary, Ind., to Ozello. They purchased the Pirates' Cove Restaurant, and Brown's mother gave him his first cooking lessons and his first job.
"It was a culture shock," he said with a laugh at his first impressions of Ozello.
But there on the gulf his affinity for cooking the fish and shrimp caught by local residents took hold of him. He retains his passion for seafood.
Brown's stints in Citrus include working at Andre's, K.
C. Crump when it first opened in 1987, Misty River Seafood and again at K.
C. Crump under its new management.
Brown's specialty is seafood, and for him, the key word is fresh.
Fresh gulf grouper is prized for its flaky, light texture and sweet taste. The frozen grouper shipped from Taiwan is regarded as a poor substitute. If he has to pay $6.50 a pound wholesale for fresh grouper, so be it.
"And if I can't get any, then we won't be serving grouper that day," he said. "That's going to make the difference. You can't fool the public. They'll catch on sooner or later."
K. C. Crump was built in 1905 on the banks of the Homosassa River as a fishing lodge. It was restored in 1988 by Stan and Betty Olsen, who opened it as K. C. Crump's Restaurant, naming it after Kibbie C. Crump, its owner during the 1950s.
The Olsens recently sold the restaurant to Glen and Lori Gurkey, owners of two Ramshackle's Restaurants in Citrus County.
Brown's menu contains 11 seafood entrees, six seafood appetizers, clam chowder and seafood salad. One of the most popular items is broiled snapper or grouper with a shrimp and mushroom cream sauce.
While the fillet bakes in a 425-degree oven for about eight minutes, Brown prepares the sauce. Melting some butter in a fry pan, he sautes two fresh shrimp and a sliced mushroom, spicing the dish with fresh dill and rosemary. When all the ingredients are sauteed, the sauce is thickened with a generous splash of heavy cream. There is one element of the sauce that Brown prefers to keep secret.
The finished dish is served with a garnish of flowering kale and a jewel-cut lemon.
"It's on special nearly every night," he said. "And it's very popular."
Grouper amaretto with honey-glazed almonds and scallions, blackened mahi-mahi with ginger demi-glaze, fresh salmon prepared three ways, shrimp and scallops round out the seafood menu.
Brown has no formal training and taught himself how to cook. An apprenticeship under Dan Edstrom, his mentor at Andre's and K. C. Crump in the late 1980s, taught him about the dedication and commitment required of a top chef.
"I'm a hands-on chef. I'm here early in the morning to hand cut all the steaks and fillets. The reason I do that is to keep the consistency. The biggest word in the restaurant business is consistency.
"I'm on the line every night. I do all the saute and watch every meal go out," Brown said. "It's a long day, but it's enjoyable."
About the chef
CHEF: Charlie Brown
RESTAURANT: K. C. Crump, 11210 W Halls River Road, Homosassa. Open for dinner from 4-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 12-9 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 628-1500.
BACKGROUND AND TRAINING: Largely self-taught, Brown has been a chef at Citrus County seafood and fine dining restaurants since 1981. He specializes in seafood.