Saturday, September 26, 2020

Honoring “Uncle Ernie”

 

 

By Chef Bob Aylwin

It doesn’t seem like 33 years ago when I worked every morning with my uncle Ernie in a small pastry shop at the The Cape Codder Hotel in Falmouth, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. It just doesn’t seem possible. But it was. Uncle Ernie was the second of my mother’s four brothers and had become an accomplished pastry chef. I can still remember the wonderful cakes and pastries that he would make for family birthdays and special events.

As a young boy, I longed to learn how to make his wonderful creations. On occasion I would ask him “Uncle Ernie, can you teach me how to make a chocolate eclair?” or “Can you teach me how to make cookies?” and he would always rub my head and say things like “Someday we will work together” and “Be careful what you wish for kid.”

Well, as fate would have it one fine summer, I indeed ended up working with Uncle Ernie in the pastry shop. It was hard work for me. I was 13 years old and realized pretty quickly that there would be limited learning actually. My job mainly consisted of meeting Uncle Ernie at 5:30 am every morning and then spend my hours washing various pots and pans, lugging 50 pound bags of flour and sugar up from the lower downstairs commissary under the hotel. I was basically a “gofer” and I can still hear him saying “Bobby! Get this” and “Bobby, get that.”

I worked hard and Uncle Ernie pulled no punches with me. He told me plainly one day “You have to earn the right to learn this trade. You have to prove to me that you really want to learn.” He also told me that someday I would understand that making an “eclair” wasn’t as easy as it might seem. He made me understand that respect for the business and dedication to it would provide the foundation for a real learning experience and I must admit that as I scrubbed those impossible pots and pans, there were many times that I wondered if I had the dedication he had spoken of.

But even though many of my days were spent day dreaming about my escape from Uncle Ernie’s pastry shop, the foundation he talked about began to appear. Slowly I worked my way into his good graces and slowly I earned his respect. And one day towards the end of that busy season Uncle Ernie came to me at 5:30 am and asked “hey, wanna learn how to make a chocolate eclair?” My eyes lit up. “Yeah” I said “of course I do.”

And Uncle Ernie smiled and in his trademark comedic way he said “Not today, today you learn something much better than that.” I smiled. “Like what?” I asked. “Today you learn my famous “clams dimarco.”

The last thing I wanted to eat at 5:30 am was clams. But arguing with Uncle Ernie was never an option and so I grabbed a pen and paper and Uncle Ernie and I made “clams dimarco.”

Ingredients:

  • Fresh clams
  • Raw bacon
  • Spinach
  • Feta cheese
  • Red bell pepper
  • Onion
  • Fresh garlic
  • Chicken stock
  • Italian bread crumbs
  • Fresh shredded Parmesan

Preparation:

Chop bacon coarsely and saute in frying pan until slightly crispy. Add onion, red pepper and garlic. Stir frequently until onion becomes translucent. Add spinach and cook until softened. Add chicken stock a little at a time just to cover your ingredients. Add bread crumbs until your mixture becomes a soft paste. Add crumbled feta cheese to taste. Remove from stove and refrigerate.

Shuck clams and top generously with mixture. Sprinkle a little fresh Parmesan on top and bake until golden brown.

Don’t worry too much about exact measurements. Just use your heart. This mixture has many applications. Try it on oysters or mussels. Roll some up in a thin slice of grouper or snapper. Spread it on a steak or add some cream cheese to it and make an interesting dip for baked pita chips.

Uncle Ernie DiMarco passed away June 6, 2009. I thank him and miss him every day. Thanks Uncle Ernie!

Chef Bob Aylwin is the former dining room chef for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Chains in Boston, Massachusetts, Naples, Florida and San Francisco, California. He won the title of Collier County Ice Carving Champion in 1992 and 1993. He is the Owner/Operator of “Premier Catering by Chef Bob.”

 

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